Experts Reveal The Best Sunscreens Of 2021

10 min read

The latest supercharged sunscreens not only boast high SPF but multitask as wrinkle fighters, pollution repellers and blemish blurrers

Ask any dermatologist, the fact that we need to wear sunscreen is not up for debate, and according to Clinique’s Guiding Dermatologist Dr. David Orentreich, the sun is responsible for as much as 80 per cent of skin ageing. So why don’t we all use sunscreen every day? One word, texture. It’s gloopy, sticky and suffocating. Well, not anymore, as sunscreen has been revolutionised. Thanks to million-dollar investment, UV shield systems now contain genius development that makes them more efficacious than ever. Not only that, but “patented revolutionary technology has made zinc oxide transparent,” says Dr. Catherine Borysiewicz, London-based consultant dermatologist, which means sunscreen is much more appealing as it looks invisible and feels so lightweight.

“The sun is the number one cause of wrinkles, with dozens of studies documenting the impact,” Borysiewicz explains, noting that a lot of people may or may not wear sunscreen throughout the year, even though it’s one of the most important things you can do for your skin. “It doesn’t matter what your skin tone or colour is, wearing sunscreen year-round will prevent skin damage from UV rays, thus minimising your risk of skin cancers and premature ageing.”

So, with this in mind, it’s time to start upping your SPF game with some of the most innovative options out there. Long gone are the days when applying sunscreen meant donning a greasy, pore-clogging mask with a side of ashiness and tell-tale white smears. The next generation of sunscreens not only avoid these common annoyances, but updated formulas have much more effectiveness together with additional benefits. For the first time, retinols, vitamin C, exfoliating acids, such as AHA and BHA, and other skin-enhancing topicals have been incorporated into powerful yet sheer sunscreens, with ratings from SPF15 to 75 matching the strength of a product’s protocol, premixed. Sunscreen was once marketed as a seasonal product that disappeared during the winter months, but brands are now actively working to change this antiquated perception. Conversations around beauty have shifted from focusing on tanning and bronzing during the summer as an ideal to celebrating natural, healthy, and protected skin, all year round.

However, like many skincare products, sun protection can be confusing, and there’s a lot of opposing information out there about the various types of sunscreens and which is best. There are two types of formulas, mineral which are also known as physical blockers, and chemical. Although both protect your skin from the sun, the way they do that on a scientific level is vastly different. “Sunblocks, or physical sunscreens, work by sitting on top of your skin to reflect UV rays, whereas chemical sunscreens sink into your skin to absorb UV rays like a sponge and convert them into heat,” explains sought-after skin care expert and aesthetician Renée Rouleau. “Chemical sunscreens also often include antioxidants that disarm free radicals, which cause UV-ray-based harm, and cut down damage to your skin cells.” And though chemical sunscreens used to have a bad reputation for containing oxybenzone, which has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage, brands have come a long way and there are formulas that are free of this ingredient and remain just as effective without it.

Rouleau goes on to explain that, “physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin. They offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays and protect from the sun as soon as they are applied.” Less likely to clog pores, physical sunscreens have come a long way from their chalky, white, hard-to-spread predecessors.

One brand at the forefront of ingredient-conscious, efficacious formulas—delivering broad spectrum protection in unique and user-friendly ways—is Supergoop. Born out of founder Holly Thaggard’s desire to create, “a clean, feel-good, innovative brand dedicated to protecting your skin from the sun,” the line-up includes paraben, sulphate and phthalate-free products with a wide range of SPF levels, including reef-safe sunscreen that’s free from octinoxate and oxybenzone. “Supergoop is on a mission to change the way the world thinks about sunscreen. I’ve spent more than 10 years challenging consumer myths about SPF and its perception as a seasonal product,” explains Thaggard. “Hence, I created clean, effective and feel-good formulas that make it easy to wear sunscreen every single day.”

Alongside Supergoop, many other brands are developing new formulas and textures in sunscreen with specific issues in mind, leaving us no excuse to not be protected. According to Garnier Ambre Solaire, 61 per cent of women find SPF too greasy or sticky, so by turning to SPF waters they make it much easier to integrate into everyday routines. “The water formula was developed in partnership with scientists in Japan,” says Louisa Gayford, Garnier’s scientific advisor. “They pioneer light textures as people in Asia are exposed to heat and humidity all year long and so they look for comfortable and efficient products.” The waters use the same bi-phase technology found in eye make-up removers. She explains, “The oil phase contains the UV filters, emollients and vitamin E, and the water phase has the hydrating and antioxidant properties that moisturise skin.” Taking the hassle out of the creaming up process, sun mists may just be the most fuss-free way to apply the all-important creams. They spritz straight on, absorb quickly and don’t leave behind any white residue like some of the thicker, more laborious formulas, while still offering the same level of protection.

However, if mists, creams and sprays are still not for you then try an SPF setting powder. “Most powdered formulations are comprised of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both, which are typically good options for those with sensitive skin,” founder and formulator Peter Thomas Roth explains. “Plus, some powders have a mattifying effect, which is great for oily skin.” He recommends looking for one made with iron oxides for additional protection against blue light if you have melasma, as this can contribute to hyperpigmentation. These formulas physically block rather than absorb the sun’s rays, so sweep on a few coats to make sure you’re getting adequate protection. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not possible to go overboard and you’ll reapply them regularly because you actively want to, not because you have to.

Here, we share our top sunscreen picks for protection year-round for both your face and body. From protecting against pollution and fading pigmentation to hydrating or mattifying the skin, these SPFs go well beyond the basic job description.


La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine Dry Touch Gel-Cream SPF50+

Formulated with acne-prone skin in mind, this imparts a matte, shine-free, and oil-free finish that doesn’t clog pores. Containing silica and perlite to absorb excess oil and reduce the appearance of shine, it stays water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine Dry Touch Gel-Cream SPF50+; shop now


Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Insurance SPF30

This protects against UV as well as the infrared and thermal radiation that ages skin. Treating both the short and long-term, an advanced stem cell active complex prevents and reverses sun-induced wrinkles and slackening, while an adaptive tint reduces the appearance of imperfections and evens out your tone. Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Insurance SPF30; shop now

Coral Friendly

Aethic Sôvée Triple Filter Ecocompatible Sunscreen SPF40

This natural sunscreen is not only safe for the sea, but also our skin, and won’t lose its effectiveness in the water. Its rigorous testing using professional surfers and America’s Cup contenders ensures its efficacy in even the most intense conditions. Aethic Sôvée Triple Filter Ecocompatible Sunscreen SPF40; shop now


Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart SPF5

Protecting skin from the sun is a given with SPF50, but this clever formula also shields against pollution, which can exacerbate sun damage. Tinted to even out the complexion and give the skin a flawless finish, it blends well when reapplied over your foundation. Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart SPF50; shop now

Best For Body

Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF50+

Shiseido’s WetForce technology belongs in the pantheon of great sunscreens, and its updated iteration of the beloved formula is made without coral-reef-damaging oxybenzone and octinoxate. It’s also completely invisible, ensuring that there’s no white cast left behind when you rub it in. Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF50+; shop now

Mattify Oil

Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF45

A revolutionary brush-on powder, providing a translucent matte finish whilst protecting, this formula is sheer, light, and will mattify your skin instantly. Plus, vitamins A, C and E hydrate and provide antioxidant protection. Swipe it along your T-zone throughout the day and it absorbs oil without looking chalky. Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF45; shop now

Invisible Protection

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF30

Completely invisible, Supergoop has revolutionised the sunscreen sphere. Weightless, scentless and utterly undetectable, this protective SPF not only shields skin from UV and blue light damage but from free radicals as a whole. With vitamin C, niacinamide, and Kakadu plum extract at its forefront, this clean sunscreen delivers healthy, hydrated, protected, radiant skin with a single pump. Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF30; shop now

Spritz Your SPF

Kate Somerville UncompliKated Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray SPF50

Lock your look in place with a makeup setting spray. Quick and easy to apply, the no-fuss formula is enhanced with fortifying ingredients to shield your complexion against damaging sun rays, leaving skin protected with broad-spectrum coverage. The mist is super-fine in texture, meaning it applies in visibly for undetectable results. Kate Somerville UncompliKated Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray SPF50; shop now

Customisable Care

Dr Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF50

Customisable sun care is the premise behind these drops from Dr Barbara Sturm, which can be worn undiluted as a serum or added to your daily moisturiser or favourite base for a super-lightweight but protective SPF50. Believe us when we say, a few drops of this ‘liquid sun umbrella’ go a long way. Dr Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF50; shop now

Multitasking Defence

Dermalogica Prisma Protect SPF30

Powered by intelligent drone technology, this light-activated sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. It works by cleverly detecting light and then shielding your skin against damage, whilst preventing further skin damage caused by external stressors with breakthrough antioxidant technology. Dermalogica Prisma Protect SPF30; shop now

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