Summer holidays are almost here and while we're all longing to spend a couple of weeks under the sun, protecting your skin outdoors shouldn't fall from the list of priorities (together with sipping margaritas 24/7 by the pool 🍹🌴).
I know you know this, but just as a gentle reminder: failing to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB sun rays could lead to skin issues such as inflammation, hyperpigmentation, rosacea flare-ups, dryness, premature aging, and worst case scenario, skin cancer. What's more, it makes little sense to follow a strict skincare routine and forget about the last and most important step: protection.
Understanding SPF jargon and protection index
Before we jump into specific recommendations...join me in a little sun care masterclass. This is Sun Blockers 101 📚.
When it comes to the level of protection a product can deliver, there are two indexes to keep an eye on: SPF and PA.
☀️ SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and even though this sounds like a holistic, complete index, it only measures how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from UVB rays. The number approximately indicates the multiplying protection factor the product provides to your skin. For instance, if you have sensitive, fair skin, and would burn without protection in about 5 minutes, applying an SPF50 product would approximately allow you to sit under the sun for about 250 minutes (4 hours) without your skin getting damaged from UVB rays. This is, however, to be taken with a pinch of salt as SPF is (more technically), a measure of protection towards the intensity of UVB ray exposure, not the duration of the exposure per se, so experts recommend re-applying every 2 hours.
☀️ PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA. Although until the 90s, UVA rays were not considered harmful (and sun blockers focused on protecting against UVB rays), they are responsible for most of the damage to our skin’s genes and are indeed the primary cause of signs of aging and skin cancer. PA protection ranges from "+" to "++++" and it also indicates the multiplying protection factor the product provides to your skin before it tans (or gets damaged). A product with PA+ protects your skin 2 to 4 times as long as opposed to how long it would take to tan while unprotected, while PA++++ would provide 16 times the protection.
In Europe, PA and UVA ray protection index is standardized. If you see a UVA circle in your product packaging it means the claimed UVA protection factor is at least 1/3 of the claimed SPF number and has a critical wavelength of 370 nm. For instance, a product with SPF50 and the circled UVA logo would deliver more than 16 times the protection against UVA rays, equalling PA++++.
Although recent iPhones provide UV index information for certain locations (check your weather app!), it's difficult to determine the strength of the UV rays in your specific location and the specific circumstances that might affect the efficacy of your products (you might be swimming in the water, or sweating). As a rule of thumb, I'd recommend not leaving the house in the summer without SPF30, and make sure you reapply your product every 2 hours. Due to my sensitive, rosacea-prone skin, my dermatologist recommended using SPF50 PA++++ and additionally wearing a cap or hat whenever possible, April through September.
So...how to find the right product for your skin
Sunblocks have been around for ages, and there's an abundance of brands in the market. It can be tough to find the right product that works best for your skin: some sting around your eyes (you have to protect this area too!), and some have ingredients you might want to avoid like fragrances, silicones, alcohols, parabens, or questionable filters (like oxybenzone or octinoxate). Some leave a horrible white cast, peel when reapplying, or have a very strong scent.
My advice for finding your holy grail is:
Do your research. Look online for products that "on paper" look like what you're looking for in terms of formulation, price, and positive reviews. I often use the Skin by Scamander 14 database, which was built by a biomathematician, data scientist, researcher, and influencer who has tried tons and tons of suncare products and documented important product details such as UVA/UVB protection, water resistance, added fragrance, cast, eye sting, finish, presence of alcohol, etc.
Once you have a potential list of candidates, do your best to try these on in real life before making a purchase. Go to your nearest Sephora, Douglas, or trusted drugstore so you can get the opportunity to try its consistency and see how well it matches your skin. You can even ask for samples if you're feeling cheeky!
Now, let me invite you to the exclusive Oscars Ceremony of sun care...
Here's my selection of TOP sun blockers for the summer season:
🏆 Best all-rounder 🏆 APIVITA Dry Touch Invisible Face Fluid
SPF50, PA++++, 50ml around 20€
Besides its impressive UVA/UVB protection, this lightweight cream additionally protects you from infrared + blue light and it's formulated with beautiful ingredients such as marine algae, propolis extract, Aloe, Vitamin E, or Hyaluronic Acid. It contains 75% of ingredients of natural origin. It's non-comedogenic and suitable for sensitive skin. But that's not all, the whole suncare range features clean formulas that include biodegradable ingredients and do not include sun filters that are harmful to corals. A 10 out of 10.
🏆 Best Mineral 🏆 Supergoop Zincscreen 100% Mineral Lotion
SPF40, PA+++, 50 ml $42
Mineral sunscreens are a good option for sensitive or acne-prone skins. While the majority of sun blockers include chemical filters that penetrate your skin to protect you from the inside, mineral filters protect you directly from the outside (in a less invasive way). However, there's a catch. Mineral filters are white by nature, so these kinds of creams tend to leave a noticeable cast, that's why most manufacturers include different tint shades in mineral sunscreen formulations. This product from Supergoop is a non-nano mineral face lotion that's lightweight and blendable. A very good option for fair to medium skin tones.
🏆 Most practical 🏆 KORRES Cucumber Hyaluronic Splash Sunscreen for Face and Body
SPF50, UVA Circle, 150ml around 24€
KORRES is a modern Greek apothecary brand that offers safe and effective natural care products such as this face and body spray, which is definitely a winner! Not only is it super practical (no need to get your hands all oily and creamy), high protection, lightweight, and fast-absorbing, but also SLS, PEG, paraben-, cruelty-, sulfate-, and hydrocortisone free. Thanks to the hyaluronic acid in its formulation, it also leaves your skin well hydrated. The cucumber extract helps in refreshing and calming sun-exposed skin.
🏆 Most affordable without fragrance, parabens, silicone, or alcohol 🏆 CeraVe AM Facial Moisturising Lotion
SPF50, UVA Circle, 52ml around 17€
If you've been paying attention to our beauty articles, in this magazine we STAN CeraVe. The brand offers a wide range of affordable products, which are formulated with essential ingredients to improve your skin condition. Besides offering really high protection, this lotion is packed with ceramides, niacinamide, and vitamin E and it's suitable for dry or sensitive skins as it's free from fragrance and alcohol.
🏆 Best in stick 🏆 Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick
SPF50, UVA Circle, 20gr around 30€
This award-winning stick provides a lightweight, fast-absorbing protective veil with superior UV protection for the face and body. Can be worn under or over makeup for portable coverage on outdoor days.
🏆 Best in powder 🏆 Supergoop (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder
SPF35, PA+++, 4,25gr around 30€
Powder sun care is a practical option to re-apply sun protection on the go. While I wouldn't recommend using such products in silo (to avoid insufficient coverage or missing spots), powder sun blockers are definitely a good option to avoid pilling and minimize unwanted shine. This one from Supergoop is available in different shades, has a matte finish and is 100% mineral, making it a good option for sensitive, acne-prone or oily skins.
🏆 Best for body 🏆 Naïf Sun Lotion Adults
SPF50, UVA Circle, 100ml around 25€
The goal of Naïf Care is to make the very best care products that are kind to the skin and nature. Not surprisingly, Naïf holds a B corp certification. This high-protection, water-based lotion is formulated without mineral oils, parabens and silicones. It spreads easily and protects your body through natural mineral filters (that protect your skin without penetrating your deeper layers). Additionally, this product is ocean-friendly (doesn't include nanoparticles, oxybenzone, or microplastics) and its package is made of sugar cane, which comes with lower CO2 emissions.
🏆 Guilty pleasure for body 🏆 Bali Body Watermelon Tanning Oil
SPF15, includes UVA protection (unknown factor), 100ml around 23€
Although I wouldn't recommend getting prolonged sun exposure without a decent level of protection, this is the only tanning oil I'd definitely recommend. Tanning oils tend to be formulated with paraffin oil (which can be comedogenic and may include substances that are considered inflammatory and potentially carcinogenic), or palm oil (which we'd always like to avoid for sustainability reasons). This one from Bali Body is my favorite because it's packed with natural oils such as grapeseed, almond, coconut, and watermelon seed oil, which not only are lovely to your skin but also make the product smell fruity and amazing. This tanning oil is also vegan and paraben-, sulfate-, alcohol-, and silicone free. I recommend using it outside of the highest UV index hours (which normally range from 12 PM to 4 PM depending where you are), and reapply every 1 to 2 hours.
And some good news...
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.