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Skincare 101: How to choose an SPF

By Georgia Seago
2nd May 2023

We want to help you make good skincare decisions, so welcome to our new Skincare 101 series, where we give you quick tips to choose the best products for you. Second in the series, but arguably the most important product to get right – SPF.

The reason we always bang on about the importance of wearing SPF every day is because it really is one of the single best things you can do for your skin – alongside not smoking and keeping up a healthy lifestyle – no matter your skin type. But there’s a lot of confusion around about what to look for in a facial sunscreen for everyday use, so here’s our guide.

What to look for in a sunscreen

  • First, SPF 30 or higher – No question. Cosmetic doctors, nurses, dermatologists – and any other aesthetic professional worth their salt – are in agreement that a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 is the minimum needed for adequate protection from the sun’s damaging, ageing rays.
  • Broad-spectrum protection – You want to look for broad-spectrum protection to ensure you’re protected from UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are associated with skin ageing, while UVB rays are the ones that cause skin to burn. Both UVA and UVB have a role in causing skin cancer, but UVB contributes more towards potentially deadly malignant melanomas.
  • Texture – Once you’ve got those important two bases covered, you can decide what sort of texture and formula will work for you. Facial SPFs are generally available in cream or gel, spray, or powder formulas. Be guided by your skin type and whether or not you’re a makeup wearer, but know that sprays and powders are just for top-ups; you’re unlikely to be able to give yourself effective protection with those alone. If you’re prone to breaking out, look for an oil-free, gel-cream formula, if you have drier skin you might like a richer texture; and if you wear a lot of make-up, apply your SPF before you start, and think about a spray or mist that  can be misted over your finished face later in the day.
  • Chemical or physical – Sunscreens come in either chemical or physical/ mineral formulations. They protect your skin in slightly different ways, but both get the job done, so in our opinion, this is only really a factor to consider if you have a darker skin tone. This is because the most common base ingredients in physical sunscreens – titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – can leave a thick, whiteish cast over medium-toned to Black skin. Chemical sunscreens tend to feel lighter and look more ‘invisible’ on the skin.
  • Colour – Many SPFs are available with a tint – some brands even have a few shades to choose from – so if you don’t wear a lot of makeup or like a more natural look, you might want to opt for a sunscreen with a hint of colour.
  • Extras – Sunscreen formulas have become very advanced, and additional ingredients like antioxidants and infrared and blue-light blockers will give you even more bang for your skincare buck.And remember, whichever SPF you choose, apply a generous amount and cleanse thoroughly in the evening to get it all off.

    Some of our favourite sunscreens:

     Heliocare 360° Oil-Free Gel SPF50

    If you hate wearing sunscreen as it feels sticky or heavy on your skin, this could change your mind. It’s a lightweight gel that melts into the skin and then dries down to an invisible, matte finish so you really can’t see or feel that it is there at all. It’s also oil-free and contains an antioxidant complex called Fernblock to help defend skin against the environment.

    Medik8 Advanced Day Total Protect, SPF30

    This chemical sunscreen absorbs very nicely and offers broad-spectrum UV protection. It’s good and hydrating but settles down to a dry-touch finish that is a great base for makeup. There’s also a pollution shield in here, and it offers protection against blue light – from devices – and infrared light too. It also contains carnosine, a peptide that helps stop glycation, a process where sugars effectively crystallise the collagen and elastin in your skin and speed up the ageing process.

    NeoStrata Sheer Physical Protection SPF50

    This has an SPF50 and is a mineral sunscreen, but the minerals are very finely milled, giving it a sheer finish. It has a flesh-coloured tint – a pale one – but by the time you’ve spread a good layer onto your face it feels like a make-up primer with a decent bit of colour coverage, so I find it’s a good make-up alternative if you are fair-skinned. If you have rosacea, it will help cover up flushing a bit, too, as well as giving you good, broad-spectrum protection from UV rays. Physical sunscreens are particularly good for sensitive or reactive skin.

The Tweakments Guide Takeaway

The bottom line is: find a sunscreen that you actually like using, and just use it, every day. If we could only use one product for our faces, it would be a moisturising SPF.

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