Will a 1 suncream protect your skin Read our expert guide to find the perfect sun lotion to suit you (and your budget)



03:43 GMT, 29 May 2012

There’s one surefire way to know that summer has started in Britain — and that’s the sight of lobster-red, sorry-looking people painfully making their way home from the park or beach.

Indeed, despite the fact that our recent soaring temperatures easily matched those in southern Europe, research by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support found only a quarter of people use suncream when in the UK, and a third of those use a low-protection cream, with an SPF of ten or below.

‘You are just as likely to get burnt in the UK as abroad, and as more than 2,500 people die of skin cancer every year, it is a real issue,’ says Carol Goodman, a Macmillan information nurse specialist.

Despite the fact that our recent soaring temperatures easily matched those in southern Europe, research found only a quarter of people use suncream when in the UK

Despite the fact that our recent soaring temperatures easily matched those in southern Europe, research found only a quarter of people use suncream when in the UK

However, other experts have recently warned that our paranoia about the dangers of the sun is to blame for the growing number of Britons deficient in vitamin D, vital for bones and teeth.

And is it worth choosing a more expensive product

Here, with the help of expert dermatologists, Good Health answers your questions on sun protection, and Dr Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic dermatologist based at the Woodford Medical Clinic in Essex, offers his verdict on popular sunscreens, which we then rated out of five.

So how much sun protection do you really need


The sun’s radiation reaches Earth in the form of UVA and UVB rays. It’s the UVB rays that cause sunburn, and research shows this can lead to some forms of skin cancer.

A product’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how much longer it means you can stay in the sun without burning compared to normal.

For instance, if you normally burn in ten minutes without protection, then using a sun screen with SPF 30 means you could theoretically spend 300 minutes in the sun without burning.


Dr Hillary Allan, a dermatologist at Woodford Medical Aesthetics, says anything less than a factor 20 is a waste of time: ‘I’d recommend wearing 30 to 50.’

If you’re fair, don’t go below factor 30 if you’re in hot sun, says Dr Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at the Princess Grace Hospital, London.

‘If you use factor 30, even if you apply it badly — which most people do — you’re still quite well protected for two to three hours. If you use anything lower than that and you miss a bit, you’ll burn. If you’re lying in UK sun, however, a factor 15 to 20 should be sufficient.’

The key is to know your own skin, says Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, dermatologist at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds.

‘Work out what you have to do to prevent burning — and by that I mean going pink, not blistering.’

And if you’re trying to get a tan ‘Don’t sunbathe — use an artificial tan. Who wants a red, shiny nose anyway’


Star ratings refer to protection from the sun’s UVA rays. The damage these rays do is not so easily visible as they do not cause the skin to go red. Instead they penetrate deep below the skin’s surface and can cause more serious, malignant melanoma and premature ageing.

Some — but not all — creams state the amount of UVA protection they offer, using a star rating from one to five.

‘Always choose suncreams with a five-star rating,’ says Dr Allan.


To use sunscreen at the recommended rate, use a generous fingerful on each area — one on the face, one on the neck, and so on. You would use about 35ml to cover a whole adult body, meaning two people would get through a standard 200ml bottle in about two days.

‘Do your first application 30 minutes before you go out in the sun, so it’s absorbed by the top layer of the skin,’ says Professor Newton-Bishop. Always reapply after swimming, but wait until the skin is dry or it won’t be effective.


Experts agree the most important thing is to find a suncream you like to use.

‘Sprays are easy to apply, which means people are more likely to apply them thoroughly and repeatedly,’ says Dr Allan.

However, others warn that people do not always apply sprays thickly enough.

Sunscreens work in two ways. They usually contain chemical ingredients, such as avobenzone, which absorb the sun’s rays, or ‘physical’ or natural compounds, such as zinc oxide, which reflect the rays off the skin.

Water resistant suncreams use a specific balance of chemical and physical ingredients that stick to your skin in a different way when you’re in water, says Dr Bataille. But she warns ‘they are not foolproof’, so reapply after swimming.

If you suffer with eczema and allergies, she advises ‘physical’ creams (choose products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) ‘as these sit on the skin and seem to cause less irritation’.


‘More expensive suncreams may smell nice and feel less greasy, but in terms of efficacy, deep down all these products are very good and you’re not putting your health at risk by choosing cheaper products,’ says Dr Bataille.


Dark-skinned people are more likely to have depleted vitamin D levels, says Professor Newton-Bishop. High levels of the pigment melanin are thought to block the body’s cells from synthesising sunlight into vitamin D.

‘So what we don’t want is olive and dark-skinned people religiously wearing a high SPF because they are sacrificing their vitamin D. Don’t let yourself burn, but don’t be paranoid.’

Experts advise the fair-skinned to get out in the sun in the heat of the day for around 20 minutes three times a week without suncream.

However, if you burn quicker than this, reduce the time.

Professor Newton-Bishop takes a different approach: ‘I find it easier to cover up in the sun, wear factor 30 or above, and boost vitamin D with cod liver supplements.’

Kalme SPF25 Day Defence cream
KALME SPF25 Day Defence cream

19.95 for 50ml, skinshop.co.uk, 0844 700 9975
UVA rating: ‘High’ (no stars given).
Contains a special transparent zinc oxide (which usually leaves skin looking white) as well as Indinyl, an antioxidant that prevents dryness and reduces inflammation. Also contains caper extract to reduce skin sensitivity.
Expert comment: I think some of the claims are marketing hype and it seems expensive. It will moisturise, but so will many creams. 2/5

Nivea Sun pure & sensitive sun spray with aloe vera SPF50
Sun pure & sensitive sun spray with aloe vera SPF 50

14.96 for 200ml, supermarkets and chemists

UVA rating: HHH
Free from perfumes, colourants and preservatives, this is for very sensitive skins. Apply once, allow to dry, then reapply ‘frequently’.
Expert comment: A lot of people are allergic to active ingredients and perfumes in sunscreen, though they think their reddening skin is sunburn. The application advice is good — important with sprays as it’s not easy to apply enough. Really good SPF and UVA protection. 4.5/5

Avene Sensitive Sun protection SPF50+ Very High Protection Cream
Avene Sensitive Sun protection SPF50+ Very High Protection Cream

13.50 for 50ml, Amazon
UVA rating: Minimum HHH
Contains Avene Thermal Spring Water, ‘proven’ to soothe irritated skin, as well as chemical and mineral sun barriers such as titanium. Water-resistant, with no parabens or alcohol.
Expert comment: The problem with chemicals is that these penetrate the skin (and absorb the sun’s rays); minerals such as titanium sit on the skin and reflect the rays. Chemicals also irritate some skin and I’m not sure how helpful the spring water is. 3.5/5

Soleil Suncare Sensitive lotion SPF 30
Soleil Suncare Sensitive lotion SPF30

4 for 200ml, Tesco
UVA rating: HHHHH
Fragrance-free, this has a ‘mild hypo-allergenic’ formula.
Expert comment: The fact that this is cheap is good as people may use it more liberally. Hypoallergenic is a bit of a meaningless term — just that the makers think it less likely to cause an allergic reaction, but it’s no guarantee. If you have sensitive skin, choosing the right product is often trial and error. 3/5

Naturally Cool Kids SPF 25
Naturally Cool Kids SPF 25

15.95 for 150ml, John Lewis and Amazon
UVA rating: HHHH
Contains zinc, which acts as a physical barrier to UV rays, and is free of artificial colours and petroleum (which sits on skin, blocking pores).
Expert comment: I like to see a higher SPF for children — at least 50 — because their skin is more vulnerable. What happens in childhood affects the risk of skin cancer later in life. I prefer physical blocks such as zinc for children as many have allergy-prone skin. 3.5/5

Soltan Once Kids Eight-Hour Play Suncare Lotion SPF 50+
Soltan Once Kids Eight-Hour Play Suncare Lotion SPF 50+

15.99 for 200ml, Boots
UVA rating: HHHHH
One application is said to give eight hours’ protection. Makers say it remains ‘bound to the skin’ and forms a protective film highly resistant to rubbing or washing off.
Expert comment: Excellent UV protection, but with once-only creams you can miss a bit. Applied properly this could be good for school or day trips when Mum and Dad aren’t around to reapply. People often don’t use enough, so I’d reapply it more than once a day. 4.5/5

Supergoop Sun wipes SPF 30
Supergoop Sun wipes SPF 30

30 for 40 wipes, huggle.co.uk
UVA rating: Offers protection, but no stars given.
These are meant to be an easier way to apply sun screen onto wriggly toddlers. They contain zinc oxide as a physical barrier to UV rays.
Expert comment: I don’t really get the wipe idea — it’s more of a marketing fad than a sensible approach. Compared to a cream, I think this might be harder to see which bits you have done. They are also very expensive. 2/5

Garnier Ambre Solaire resisto kids 50+ coloured lotion
Garnier Ambre Solaire resisto kids 50+ coloured lotion

16.70 for 200ml, supermarkets/chemists
UVA rating: HHH
The coloured lotion makes it easier to see which bits haven’t been done, though colours fade within minutes. Enriched with jojoba oil to help make it water resistant.
Expert comment: Parents like this because it’s easy to see which areas have been covered and children may enjoy the fun of applying it. Very good SPF, though UVA protection could be higher — this causes the damage you can’t see that can cause problems later in life. 4/5


Sun Tropic SPF 15
Sun Tropic SPF 15

1 for 100ml, Poundland
UVA rating: Offers protection, but no stars given.
As well as protection against UV rays, this contains moisturisers and vitamin E to protect against ageing and peeling.
Expert comment: The SPF is not high enough. I wouldn’t use sunscreen under SPF 30. UVA could be lacking as the amount is not stipulated. 2/5

Lacura Sun Spray SPF 30

2.79, Aldi
UVA rating: HHHH
This suncream contains an anti-ageing formula (exactly what is not stated) and is water resistant.
Expert comment: Sprays provide only light coverage so need to be applied thoroughly. This has OK SPF and good UVA protection and as it’s so cheap it means people may use it liberally. 3/5

Solero SPF 50 moisturising sun lotion with vitamin E
Solero SPF 50 moisturising sun lotion with vitamin E

5 for 200ml, Lloyds pharmacy
UVA rating: HHHHH
This contains high UVA and UVB protection as well as moisturisers to help keep the skin soft. Should be reapplied every two or three hours.
Expert comment: Good UVA and UVB coverage. 4/5

Soleil lotion SPF 30
Soleil lotion SPF 30

3.30 for 200ml, Tesco
UVA rating: HHHHH
The green tea and vitamin E in this cream help prevent premature skin ageing caused by the sun, says Tesco. It also contains moisturisers and has been tested to reduce the risk of sun-induced allergies.
Expert comment: A lot of creams contain antioxidants, but the benefits are subtle. To think of a sunscreen as an anti-ageing product is misleading. If you’re worried about ageing, then it’s best not to go into the sun. 3.5/5

Soltan Protect & Tan Suncare Lotion SPF30
Soltan Protect & Tan Suncare Lotion, SPF30

12.99 for 200ml, Boots
UVA rating: HHHHH
Encourages a tan to develop with less sun exposure. Contains Inositol, derived from the carob tree, which ‘stimulates’ the skin’s natural tanning ability.
Expert comment: Supposedly makes skin produce more melanin, the pigment that produces a tan. However, I know of no scientific evidence. It’s an adequate sun protection lotion, though. 3/5

Colladeen Visage
Colladeen Visage

18.95 for 60 tablets, naturesbest.co.uk, 01892 552 094
In a clinical trial, these tablets were shown to provide a factor ten sun protection after taking them for 12 weeks, thanks to extracts that protect plants from sun damage.
Expert comment: It would be easier to use a lotion than swallow these, and cheaper. You will have to use sunscreen anyway. 1/5

Tan Tablets
Tan Tablets

4.99 for 60 capsules, Holland & Barrett
Said to help produce a deeper tan with a reduced time in the sun. The main ingredient is L-Tyrosine, involved in the production of the tanning pigment melanin. The idea is you take these for about a month, but you still need suncream.
Expert comment: Not enough specific data. 0/5

Green People Sun Lotion SPF15
Green People Sun Lotion SPF15

12.99 for 100ml, greenpeople.co.uk
UVA rating: Offers protection, but no stars given.
organic sun lotion which, as well as offering protection, contains the naturally derived ingredient Inositol, said in trials to speed up tanning by more than 24 per cent compared to a placebo.
Expert comment: The SPF value is very low, so even if it does help speed up your tan you couldn’t stay out long without burning. Ingredients are 82 per cent organic. 1/5


Dead Sea Spa Magik Sunsafe SPF50
Dead Sea Spa Magik Sunsafe SPF50

17.70 for 150ml, Revital stores andrevital.com
UVA rating: Offers protection, but no stars given.
One application is said to protect for up to eight hours. Contains titanium, which sits on the skin and reflects UV rays, as well as 21 Dead Sea minerals, aloe vera and vitamin E, to condition the skin.
Expert comment: A good level of protection and the fact that the active ingredients sit on the skin mean it’s relatively less likely to cause an allergy. However, I’m not so sure Dead Sea minerals and vitamin E are worth the extra cost. 4/5

Riemann P20 SPF 20
Riemann P20 SPF 20

13.23 for 200ml, Boots and Superdrug
UVA rating: HHH
Ingredients in this alcohol-based formula are ‘photostable’, i.e. it won’t break down in the sun. Supposedly one application can give ten hours’ protection. Claims to be ‘very water resistant’.
Expert comment: This is chemical based — I prefer more reflective sunscreens such as zinc and less chemical ingredients because this combination provides the best protection. The SPF 20 is low to have on all day — it allows only four hours in the sun, maximum — so this claim that it lasts for ten hours concerns me. I’d also reapply more often if you swim a lot. 2/5

Ultrasun Sports High SPF 30 Clear Spray Formula
Ultrasun Sports High SPF 30 Clear Spray Formula

25 for 150ml, urbanretreat.co.uk
UVA rating: ‘High’, but no stars given.
Delivers ‘high’ all-day protection with just one application. Because it’s clear and easy to apply, makers say this spray is especially suitable for the scalp for thinning or receding hair.
Expert comment: Very expensive and I don’t like the fact they are calling it high SPF when it’s just 30. It will do the job, but there are cheaper options. 3/5

And if you like a gimmick …
Hawaiian Tropic with hydrating ribbons SPF 30
Hawaiian Tropic with hydrating ribbons SPF 30

14.99 for 180ml, supermarkets
UVA rating: HHHH
A standard sun lotion, but threaded through it, like striped toothpaste, are ribbons infused with silk proteins and glycerine to keep skin moisturised.
Expert comment: This will be moisturising and feel nice, which may encourage people to use more. It’s only SPF 30, so needs to be reapplied frequently. Again, it uses chemicals and not reflective materials. 3.5/5