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Smart sunscreens to keep you safe this summer: Are these new products better than the big brands?

The heatwave might be over for now, but with the weather due to heat up again this weekend, experts warn that people shouldn’t drop their vigilance when it comes to protecting their skin against the sun’s damaging rays in the UK.

In fact we should wear sunscreen whatever the weather — and all year round, says Dr Ophelia Veraitch, a consultant dermatologist at London’s Cranley Clinic.

‘That’s because damaging ultraviolet rays can travel through clouds and even through windows,’ she says.

There are two key parts to a sunscreen. 

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how well it will protect skin from UVB rays, the type that cause sunburn and contribute to most forms of skin cancer, and ideally this should be 30 or higher.

A product should also protect against UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, contributing both to the risks of cancer and premature ageing. 

Sunscreens with the highest five-star rating offer the most UVA protection.

Sunscreens are either chemical or physical, explains Dr Faheem Latheef, a consultant dermatologist and honorary senior lecturer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. 

‘Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays, and contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate. 

‘These sunscreens tend to be easier to rub into your skin without leaving a white residue.’

Physical (mineral) sunscreens act like a shield, sitting on the surface of your skin to deflect the sun’s rays.

They contain titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide, or both — ‘if you have sensitive skin that reacts to certain chemical filters, opt for this type of sunscreen,’ advises Dr Latheef. Some products offer a mixture of the two.

‘Mineral sunscreens can be thicker and whiter than chemical sunscreens, so some may not be the best for acne-prone skin,’ warns Dr Veraitch.

Whatever product you choose, she says, it’s important to apply a sunscreen to your face, neck and any other exposed areas every day in all weathers, all year round and leave 30 minutes before going outside. Then reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

But with a bewildering array of sunscreens to choose from how do you know which will do a good job?

Here, Judith Keeling asked Dr Latheef and Dr Veraitch for their verdicts on a selection of recently launched sunscreens, which she then tested at home. 

We then rated them.

Root + Fruit Bright Start SPF 30 broad spectrum UV shield, UVA protection level not stated, £39/50ml, wildsciencelab.com

CONTAINS ANTI-AGEING VITAMINS 

Root + Fruit Bright Start SPF 30 broad spectrum UV shield, UVA protection level not stated, £39/50ml, wildsciencelab.com.

CLAIMS: ‘This cream is made with vitamin C, gardenia Florida fruit extract and ‘antioxidant vitamin E, nourishing sweet almond oil and organic aloe vera, scented with a stimulating blend of six essential oils’.

Use daily to ‘help restore equilibrium, maintain daily defence and help boost natural healthy glow’.

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This is a chemical sunscreen that will offer protection against the sun but from looking at the ingredients, I wouldn’t recommend this product for those with sensitive skin,’ says Dr Veraitch.

‘Some — such as limonene and citral — are known to commonly cause allergies or reactions.

‘And the numerous essential oils in this product will make it smell nice, but again, they’re big culprits for causing skin sensitivities.

‘I am surprised that a brand claiming to offer natural sustainable products that are cruelty-free has added octocrylene — it’s been well publicised that this can damage coral.

‘There is evidence that antioxidant vitamins C and E can offer protection against UV rays and also have an anti-ageing effect on skin.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: This has a delicious floral smell but was surprisingly thick and took ages to rub into my face.

WEARABILITY RATING: 5/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 5/10

Altruist Face Fluid SPF 50, five-star UVA protection, £9/50ml, altruistsun.com

Altruist Face Fluid SPF 50, five-star UVA protection, £9/50ml, altruistsun.com

DEVELOPED BY A SKIN CANCER SURGEON

Altruist Face Fluid SPF 50, five-star UVA protection, £9/50ml, altruistsun.com

CLAIMS: This super-light formulation was developed by Dr Andrew Birnie, a consultant dermatologist and skin cancer surgeon. 

‘Moisturising antioxidant facial sunscreen . . . enriched with vitamin E to help prevent cellular damage from UV-induced free radicals.’ 

Acne-prone and sensitive skin friendly.

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This is probably my favourite of all the sunscreens I reviewed,’ says Dr Veraitch. 

‘It’s evident from the formulation that a bona fide expert designed this sunblock, which combines a mixture of physical and chemical sunscreens. 

‘It’s more than just a sunscreen however as it contains other beneficial ingredients such as vitamin E, known to have powerful antioxidant properties, to help protect the skin against damage from pollutants and the sun, and niacinamide, to improve pigmented areas.

‘And because it’s non-comedogenic — which means it won’t clog your pores — it’s also suitable for those prone to acne.

‘It’s also paraben-free — these are preservatives that some people’s skin can react to.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: This comes in a handy size that would easily fit in a bag. It felt luxurious and rubbed in easily so make-up stayed put on top of it.

WEARABILITY RATING: 9/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 9/10

Green People Scent-Free Facial suncream SPF 30, UVA protection level not stated, £20/50ml, greenpeople.co.uk

Green People Scent-Free Facial suncream SPF 30, UVA protection level not stated, £20/50ml, greenpeople.co.uk

VEGAN-FRIENDLY AND ORGANIC

Green People Scent-Free Facial suncream SPF 30, UVA protection level not stated, £20/50ml, greenpeople.co.uk

CLAIMS: An ‘easily absorbed formulation’ containing antioxidants (from rosemary and edelweiss) plus green tea. 

Vegan, with 73 per cent certified organic ingredients. Suitable for sensitive skin and those prone to prickly heat, it is also non-comedogenic.

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This is designed to appeal to ‘green and clean-minded’ consumers,’ says Dr Latheef.

‘Some people are worried about using chemicals on their skin — in particular there are concerns that these might penetrate the skin and get into the bloodstream although there is little current evidence to show this poses a health risk.

‘The SPF 30 is the minimum I’d recommend, but the fact that it contains zinc oxide as a physical sunscreen is a plus because this gives protection without the need for other chemicals. I’m personally less convinced by the antioxidant claims because there’s little evidence creams marketed as antioxidant have a beneficial effect.

‘And although it’s marketed as non-greasy and non-comedogenic and scent-free, it contains a number of plant oils and extracts that could cause breakouts or be a problem in patients with eczema or sensitivity to natural fragrances. 

‘I would like to see a UVA star rating.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: A silky cream that rubs in without a trace and gives your face a light glow. Virtually scentless.

WEARABILITY RATING: 7/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 7/10

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Age Correct SPF 50, UVA protection level not stated, £25/50ml, amazon.co.uk

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Age Correct SPF 50, UVA protection level not stated, £25/50ml, amazon.co.uk

REDUCES SUN SPOTS AND WRINKLES

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Age Correct SPF 50, UVA protection level not stated, £25/50ml, amazon.co.uk

CLAIMS: An SPF 50 sunscreen that reduces the appearance of wrinkles and dark spots.

‘The formula is enriched with hyaluronic acid, PHE-resorcinol and LHA, niacinamide (vitamin B) and La Roche-Posay thermal spring water to hydrate and re-plump, target pigmentation and soothe the skin,’ says the manufacturer. 

It also ‘contains anti-pollution and antioxidation technology’.

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘An excellent sunscreen for people suffering from sun-related pigmentation including conditions such as melasma,’ says Dr Latheef. 

(Melasma is where patches of brown pigmentation form, mostly on the face, and which is linked to hormones, sun exposure and reactions to some skincare products).

‘The ingredients should be effective in reducing pigmentation by blocking the sun’s rays — pigmentation is exacerbated by further exposure to the sun. PHE-resorcinol helps with reducing pigmentation, too.

‘Sunscreen normally needs to be used in combination with other treatments for melasma for best results.

‘However hyaluronic acid is unlikely to have much effect on wrinkles if used topically,’ he says, ‘because the molecules are too large to penetrate deep enough, unlike with injections for dermal fillers.

‘Given the presence of fragrance I wouldn’t recommend it to my patients with eczema or sensitive skin. I was also unable to find a star rating for its UVA protection.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: This rubbed in easily without greasiness and my make-up looked good on top of it, too.

WEARABILITY RATING: 8/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 8/10

Dermalogica invisible physical defense SPF 30, UVA protection not stated, £49/50ml, dermalogica.co.uk

Dermalogica invisible physical defense SPF 30, UVA protection not stated, £49/50ml, dermalogica.co.uk

PROTECTS AGAINST BLUE LIGHT

Dermalogica invisible physical defense SPF 30, UVA protection not stated, £49/50ml, dermalogica.co.uk

CLAIMS: ‘Invisible weightless defence that blends easily on skin, featuring only non-nano zinc oxide. 

‘Provides added blue light protection and helps soothe away the effects of environmental aggressors. 

‘Bio-active mushroom complex helps soothe skin and reduce UV-induced redness and dryness. 

‘Antioxidant green tea helps defend skin against free radical damage. Ideal for all skin types.’

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A physical sunblock containing zinc oxide, the marketing of this product hinges on it having ‘non-nano zinc oxide’,’ says Dr Veraitch. 

‘In order to make thicker mineral sunscreens more wearable, some manufacturers have reduced the active ingredients to tiny ‘nano’ sized particles. 

But there have been concerns that these are so small that they could travel through the skin and into the bloodstream.

‘Although studies have so far shown there’s no evidence for this, some ‘non-nano’ physical sunscreens are now being marketed.

‘This cream also contains several ingredients known to cause skin sensitivities and allergies such as linalool, limonene and essential oils. 

Protection against blue light, emitted by screens, is very in vogue at the moment — studies show it apparently causes some ageing effect on the skin but this is tiny compared with the risk from ultraviolet light.

‘There is some evidence that ingredients such as mushroom and green tea can soothe the skin, however in some people they can also cause reactions.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: This smells gorgeous, but was surprisingly thick to rub in. It wasn’t invisible, though — it left a grey-green, chalky tinge on the face.

WEARABILITY RATING: 5/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 6/10

Soltan Clear & Cool Head and Scalp SPF 30 Suncare Spray, five-star UVA protection, £3.50/75ml, boots.com

Soltan Clear & Cool Head and Scalp SPF 30 Suncare Spray, five-star UVA protection, £3.50/75ml, boots.com

FOR SCALPS AND THINNING HAIR

Soltan Clear & Cool Head and Scalp SPF 30 Suncare Spray, five-star UVA protection, £3.50/75ml, boots.com

CLAIMS: Designed to protect your parting and scalp. ‘Five-star UVA protection that leaves no white marks, water resistant, transparent and cooling.’

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A sunscreen designed for the scalp and hair margin is important as these areas are often neglected,’ says Dr Latheef.

‘This offers good protection. Another plus is that it’s inexpensive. 

‘Although it is waterproof, the formulation is likely to be too greasy for some people considering it’s designed to be used on your head and you’ll need to re-apply it. 

‘And I wouldn’t recommend it for someone with a scalp condition such as seborrheic dermatitis [which causes a rash and scaly skin] as it’s a chemical sunscreen and also contains fragrance.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: This has a strong and unpleasant smell, similar to cheap hairspray. Disappointingly greasy, it makes your hair look unwashed.’

WEARABILITY RATING: 3/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 7/10

Incognito insect repellent and sunscreen SPF 30, UVA protection level not stated, £27.99/150ml, hollandand barrett.com

Incognito insect repellent and sunscreen SPF 30, UVA protection level not stated, £27.99/150ml, hollandand barrett.com

WITH ADDED INSECT REPELLENT

Incognito insect repellent and sunscreen SPF 30, UVA protection level not stated, £27.99/150ml, hollandand barrett.com

CLAIMS: A natural three-in-one product combining suncream, insect repellent and moisturiser, which is also DEET-free, nano-free, and contains aloe, geranium and edelweiss.

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘I like that this product is DEET-free. DEET, an insect repellent, has long been known to reduce the effectiveness of sunblocks by 30-40 per cent,’ says Dr Veraitch.

‘This product uses menthanediol as the insect repellent, which is not known to interfere with the effectiveness of SPF but is as effective as DEET as an insect repellent.

‘This is a physical sunblock, containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which makes it a good sunblock, too. But it contains common skin allergens — such as citronellol, linalool, eugenol, limonene and geraniol — so it’s not for those with known skin allergies.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: This rubbed in well and was much less sticky than using suncream and an insect repellent.

WEARABILITY RATING: 7/10

SKIN HEALTH RATING: 8/10

Lifejacket Sun Gel SPF 30, five-star UVA protection, £14/100ml, lifejacketskin protection.com

Lifejacket Sun Gel SPF 30, five-star UVA protection, £14/100ml, lifejacketskin protection.com

DESIGNED ESPECIALLY FOR MEN

Lifejacket Sun Gel SPF 30, five-star UVA protection, £14/100ml, lifejacketskin protection.com

CLAIMS: This is said to be the only UK sunscreen brand aimed exclusively at men. 

‘No more thick white greasy creams that smell of coconuts and get stuck in body hair’ promise the manufacturers. 

‘Suitable for sensitive skin, water resistant, reef safe and cruelty free.’

EXPERT VERDICT: Men have a higher incidence of skin cancer, says Dr Latheef. 

‘Studies show they don’t pay such attention to applying adequate sunscreen as women and also typically spend more time throughout their lives in the sun.

‘A chemical sunscreen, this protects well against UVA with the highest possible five-star rating and while SPF 30 offers reasonable daily protection — it would be better to consider the SPF 50 in the same range for hotter weather or higher altitudes. 

‘The fact that it is lightweight, water-resistant and non-greasy may encourage men to use it frequently — a real positive.

‘They state it’s reef safe yet it contains octocrylene — banned by some countries for its damaging effects on coral reef.’

CONSUMER REVIEW: My husband Simon says: ‘This is light, easy to apply and doesn’t feel remotely greasy like other products. 

‘I particularly like the fact it has a neutral smell. I don’t always remember to put SPF on my face but I might consider buying this.’

WEARABILITY RATING: 8/10

HEALTH RATING: 7/10

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