Deep Reviews: We Tried Over 20 Facial SPFs—These Ones Passed the Test

Choosing the best SPF for your face is paramount. With the sun’s rays posing risk of skin cancer and premature ageing (of which UVA rays contribute between 80-90% to) finding an SPF that you want to wear every single day is crucial. Yes, really. Ask any dermatologist or skin expert and they’ll tell you that it is essential to wear SPF year round—not just when it’s hot and sunny outside or you’re on holiday, but during the winter and cloudy weather too, as UVA and UVB rays can make their way through cloud and even windows, too. In a nutshell, it’s the single-most important step you make make to help insure your skin.

SPF, Broad-Spectrum, UVA and UVB: What’s the difference?

With so many SPFs around, it can be tricky finding one that ticks all the boxes. The first thing to consider is the SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) and the ‘broad-spectrum’ rating. Sunscreens with SPF 30 or 50 are best, as they block around 97-98% of UVB rays respectively (the ones that are responsible for burning) when applied properly. 

However, SPF alone is will not protect against UVA rays (these are the ones that age the skin). So, it’s also important to consider if the sunscreen is ‘broad spectrum’. You’ll usually see this as a rating between one and five stars, with five being the highest UVA protection.

You might see that some sunscreens are labelled as ‘chemical’ or ‘physical/mineral’. This is important to consider when finding the best SPF for your face.Both work to shield against the sun, but in different ways.

“I prefer physical or mineral sunblocks made of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as they don’t photodegrade in sun like chemical sunscreens and are much less likely to cause skin irritation,” says consultant dermatologist, Dr Natalia Spierings.  “But they can be hard to use from a cosmetic perspective as they can be a bit chalky and leave a white cast,” she says, which can be tricky on darker skin tones. Thankfully, mineral formulations have come a long way, but you can also consider chemical SPFs. “Chemical sunscreens are perfectly adequate but do need to be reapplied every 2-3 hours with constant sun exposure in order to maintain the sun protective effect.”

Mineral SPFs are generally considered less irritating than chemical, which may be beneficial if your skin is sensitive or is prone skin conditions such as eczema. “This varies from person to person,” says Dr Speirings. “The moist important thing is finding a sunscreen that you like to use and doesn’t irritate your skin or make it feel uncomfortable.”

How much SPF should you apply, and how often?

“What is more important than SPF level is that enough volume is applied—so 2.5 ml for entire face, neck and ears,” says Dr Spierings. This roughly equates to the length of two fingers. 

In terms of re-applying, you should ideally top-up your sunscreen every couple of hours. Topping up over makeup can be difficult, but you can apply it to a makeup sponge and pat into the skin, or call upon spray SPFs for when you need to re-apply on the go.

However, Dr Spierings notes that the best form of sun protection is to physically stay out of the sun, so seek shade, cover your skin with clothing and wear a hat and sunglasses too. “Always see your GP straight away if you notice a change in a mole,” she says. “If it is new, has gotten larger, darker, is bleeding or has in anyway changed at all, see your GP.”

To help you on your way to find the best facial SPF, I called upon the Who What Wear UK team to test the best SPFs across different skin tones and skin types so you don’t have to.


Who What Wear UK

I’m a religious SPF wearer, so I’ve tried a lot during my time as a beauty journalist. My skin is combination, with more oiliness and breakouts prone in my T-zone. I also have sensitive skin and eyes, so I usually reach for SPFs that I know are gentle and won’t sting my eyes. On first impressions, the texture of the Beauty Pie Featherlight UVA/UVB SPF 50 reminds me a lot of La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios SPF; it’s watery lotion-like consistency sinks into the skin so well, and although it is white when it comes out of the nozzle, it blends in undetectably into the skin without leaving a white cast. No vigorous rubbing in required here. Instead, it makes my skin look hydrated and with a radiant finish that doesn’t feel heavy, or tacky. 

I experimented with wearing different moisturisers and foundations with this, and I’m pleased to report that it didn’t pill—it seemed to get on well with everything I wore underneath or on top. Beauty Pie tout this as a makeup primer too and I wholeheartedly agree. Anything I applied on top went on like butter. For this reason, I can get on board with wearing this daily. As it is a lotion, it sinks in well which is handy for top-ups, however, if you’re looking to top-up over makeup then I’d recommend going for an SPF mist as to not disturb your makeup. 

It also didn’t upset my sensitive-prone skin or make my eyes sting, and I like that it offers both UVA and UVB protection with SPF 50. It didn’t exacerbate the slicker areas of my skin or cause breakouts either, which is a big win. I really can’t think of any cons to report, and I like that it has the addition of extracts and antioxidants that work to protect your skin too. I know I’ll be buying a top-up when this runs out, so it’s a 10/10 from me.

Rating: 10/10

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When I found out I was trying the La Roche-Posay SPF, I was really excited. I’d heard a lot about it from friends and wanted to see if it actually lived up to the hype. The short answer is yes, it did. Firstly, and least importantly, I like the small shape of the bottle that I ended up slipping into my handbag when heading out for the day. The light formula feels soft and refreshing, but ensures you get the highest UV coverage.

When the packaging says invisible fluid, it really does mean it. The light serum feels almost water-like and glides easily over your skin, and doesn’t bunch in the crevices of your eyes (or smile lines for that matter). As someone who has acne-prone skin, nothing about this formula leaves me in fear of incoming breakouts, it simply feels hydrating and moisturising which every skin type needs. My skin can also sit on the sensitive side, meaning even the gentlest eye makeup removers have left me with red blotchy skin. But even whilst rubbing it in, my skin seemed pretty pleased.

Though the serum is white, it blends seamlessly to create a transparent layer that won’t leave a white cast behind and quickly absorbs without any stickiness, although I always give about ten minutes for my SPF to fully sink in before moving on to makeup. At this time of year, I tend to steer clear of heavy foundations and celebrate my skin in all its glory, but knowing I’ve got hard working SPF on top ensures my skin is protected.

Also, the lightweight formula means you can easily re-apply it on the go without worrying of your on-the-tube application leaving white marks where you’ve missed a spot, as the formula seems to dissolve with even the gentlest swipe. Coming in at only £20, the price feels fair for all the benefits. Yes, it’s a small bottle, but it goes a surprisingly long way. I have to say, I’ve been using it every day since it arrived, and have no intention of stopping. 

Rating: 10/10

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When it comes to finding an SPF for my face I’m extremely picky. Since it’s something I’ll be layering into my skincare routine most days of the year it needs to be really good. Luckily my skin isn’t too sensitive, so it can deal with a lot of different formulations, but in summer especially it can lean towards being quite oily around the T-zone. This means I’m always on the lookout for an SPF that doesn’t feel too heavy or claggy, blocking up my pores and immediately making me breakout. Until now, I’ve been a regular Skinceuticals SPF user, but since I’m a fan of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s other skincare products, I was excited to test its famous sun drops. 

The brand’s SPF 50 sun drops have been one of their core products for a while, but this summer they’re also launching SPF 30, so I had the chance to test both. So, let’s start with the formula: Both have a really nice lightweight, serum-like texture and applicator. The idea is that you can layer them on under (or instead of) moisturiser as a serum step, or add the drops to your regular moisturiser and apply together. As well as the SPF protection, the formulations also include purslane (Sturm’s favoured super-powered anti-aging ingredient that you’ll find in a lot of her other famously good serums), hyaluronic acid for skin hydration and vitamin E. The bottle also states that these SPF drops are particularly suitable for sensitive skin. 

The best thing about Sturm’s sun drops? There’s absolutely no white cast left on the skin in sight. Even with the heavier SPF 50, when both applying it alone and with moisturiser it melted into the skin like a regular serum would, yet I was confident in the protective coverage. The SPF 50 did inevitably feel a little stickier on the skin than the SPF 30 after application on its own, but I found this was neutralised when I applied it mixed into my moisturiser (currently, Weleda Skin Food Light).

Despite this feeling, there was no pilling at all when I layered moisturiser and light make up (my Glossier Skin Tint) on top (it’s water-based so just try to avoid layering on any oil-based products on top and you should be fine). There was also no stinging or sensitivity on the eyes with either—something I can struggle with with SPF— and both (especially the SPF 30) left a seriously good glow on the skin. I had to add a little mattifying powder to my chin and T-Zone with the SPF 50, but the SPF 30 left such a nice soft finish and you can definitely feel the skincare benefits from the formulations as well as the sun protection.

During testing I reapplied the drops a few times throughout the day, and found that the SPF 30 sit much nicer over make-up too. Personally, after trying both, I think I’d prefer to use the lower SPF and reapply more regularly as it had a much more lightweight texture overall, and I would be less worried about build up and breakouts with use over a longer period of time. But that comes down to a really personal choice over which SPF you prefer to use. The only drawback, as with all of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s luxury products, is the price. Thirty millilitres of the SPF 50 Sun Drops come in at just over £100, which is a pretty hefty price to pay for a product you’ll need to regularly use and replace. However, the science behind the molecular, doctor-led brand is what you pay for, and the skincare benefits, plus the lightweight formulation and ease of introducing such an important product into my daily routine make it worth the investment in my opinion.  

Rating: 9/10

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I always start my reviews off with ‘as a Black woman’ but on this occasion, that’s a pretty relevant thing to mention. I’ve tried plenty of sunscreens but was yet to find one that didn’t leave behind the dreaded white cast. I can’t remember when I discovered the Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen SPF 30, but my life truly changed that day.

When Supergoop! said ‘unseen’, I promise you they weren’t kidding. The velvety gel texture of the sunscreen is surprisingly easy to apply and requires little to no effort to rub in. It’s so weightless that when applied, it truly feels like nothing has been rubbed on my face. This sunscreen earned bonus points from me because when it also acts like a primer for days when I do decide to wear make-up.

A little goes a long way—I start with a pea-sized amount which I dot around my face before then rubbing in. The tube packaging allows me to only push out the quantity I need which is great. My one negative point about this sunscreen is how shiny it leaves my skin after use. 

Rating: 9/10

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Firstly, I have to say that during the summertime, I normally opt for a higher SPF. But for autumn and winter days, an SPF 30 enters my skincare routine. On first inspection, I noticed that there was no overpowering SPF scent, which I very much appreciate.

The serum is a slightly creamy consistency which made my skin feel smooth, soft and definitely moisturising. Though the first application does give a white cast, and the first few rubbing motions heightened the white effect, once rubbed in there was no sign of this. To completely rub in the slightly thick consistency, my skin did temporarily go a bit red, but settled quite quickly after. Despite the thickness of the serum, it is lighter on the skin than I was expecting, which I love when I want to celebrate my freckles. But personally, I like a really sheer feel on my skin if the SPF doesn’t double up as a tint.

The water base is what makes it an oil-free option, and as someone who has oily skin I was quite excited to get the opportunity to put this to the test. I’d say that when first applied, you still have a bit of shine, but once you let the product sink in that does somewhat dim. For my skin type, I wouldn’t say it is a very matte option if you’re looking to remove signs of shine completely, but does give that touch of dewy, hydrated skin without the oil. Also I have to highlight that the moisturised feel of my skin lasted all day long, which is quite impressive as I spent most of it staring straight into a fan to fight the heat.

The next thing I always look for is piling, which tends to occur when a product has silicones in, which this one does. But, I’ve found if you warm the product in your palms before application the ingredients warm enough for them to sit comfortably on the skin. Also, allowing enough time for the product to absorb before attempting your makeup, say ten minutes, can make a huge difference.

The last point is the price. At £55 this is definitely a more expensive purchase, and though I like the addition of caffeine and niacinamide that will actively work to improve your skin whilst protecting from sun rays, it is definitely an investment. 

Rating: 7/10

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I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been severely lacking when it comes to incorporating a daily SPF into my skincare routine. As one of the people who embarrassingly relies on the sun protection factor of my foundation for any sort of protection, it was no surprise during a recent skin scan that it showed more than healthy amounts of sun damage. Having a dark skin tone may have hidden that from the naked eye, but as I want to take my long term skin health more seriously, I’ve been keen to invest in an SPF that goes the distance (without being a heavy duty white liquid). Enter Bioré’s UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen.

On holiday I tend to rely on refreshing sprays like La Roche Posay’s Anthelios Protection Face Mist or Ultrasun’s Sports Spray formula, but as far as the Aqua Water Essence goes as an introduction to Biore sunscreen, I’m immediately on board. It’s immediately reassuring to use a product designed by skincare experts (and who didn’t start their beauty journey with the brand’s pore strips or charcoal scrub?), and the first thing to impress me is the finish of the formula. A cooling, silky lotion that glides on, leaving a clear base; it doesn’t leave behind the tacky residue that you’d expect from a sunscreen. Light, fresh, and breathable, as it dries to a matte finish, I easily apply makeup on top without fear of a greasy layer. So far, so good.

Next, a moment for the SPF protection, as I opted for the factor 50 coverage, but am pleasantly surprised to find that there’s also a dose of hyaluronic acid in there too for maximum skin hydration, a must for my combination skin. For those looking for something a little less substantial, there’s also the Aqua Rich Weightless moisturiser that comes in a factor 30, but having tested both side by side, there’s very little difference between the two. 

After applying the Watery Essence on clean skin, and underneath my foundation, I love how this sunscreen looks and feels more like a serum or primer than a traditional suncream. I will add, there is a light, citrusy fragrance that I personally love (but flagging for those with sensitive skin), but there is little chance of stinging or watery eyes with this water based, gentle formula. It’s all of the best bits of holiday skin in a bottle (especially underneath a glowy base like Huda Beauty’s Glowish skin tint or Urban Decay’s Hydromaniac tinted glow).

During testing there were ups and downs in the weather and on the particularly overcast days I only applied the lotion once in the morning, but I felt confident that being locked in under make-up kept the layer set until the evening when I took everything off. With no breakouts and clogged pores, it was clear that the breathable layer was just the right amount to protect without caking. A definite win, win. At this price it’s the perfect option to throw into your make-up bag or carry on without the need for clunky glass components or long spray bottles. An easy, breezy sunscreen that I find myself dropping into conversation with anyone who asks why my skin looks so good. Impressive.

Rating: 9/10

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As someone who prioritises sun protection above all else (I am Scottish after all and my skin can flare with a mere glance at the sun), I have a list of key factors I look for in a facial SPF. I have combination skin that is prone to occasional dryness and sensitivity, so finding a sunscreen that doesn’t exacerbate—and, if I’m lucky, addresses—these concerns is essential for me. Needless to say, I was very excited to try SkinCeuticals’ Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50. 

A lotion-type sunscreen that comes in a 30ml bottle, the formula feels lightweight and smooth. When applied, the sunscreen has a smooth and non-greasy finish. It blends seamlessly into my skin, providing a natural appearance without any residue or shine. I appreciate that it doesn’t leave a white cast, which can be a common issue with some sunscreens I’ve tried in the past, especially for those with darker skin tones.

With its SPF 50 protection, this sunscreen provides high-level sun defence, shielding my skin from both harmful UVA and UVB rays. This gives me peace of mind knowing that my skin is well-protected, especially since I have specific concerns surrounding discolouration. One aspect that sets this sunscreen apart is the inclusion of additional ingredients and benefits. It contains a combination of advanced UV filters that work synergistically to provide broad-spectrum protection. Additionally, it includes vitamin E, known for its antioxidant properties, which helps neutralise free radicals and protect the skin from environmental damage—something which anyone who lives in a big city should be integrating into their routines. Again unlike other SPFs I’ve tried, I experienced zero stinging or sensitivity around the eyes when using this sunscreen, which is a huge relief, as you want to be able to apply it as close to the eye as passive for maximum protection. 

When it comes to wearing makeup on top of this sunscreen, my experience is a wholly positive one. It acts as a good base for foundation, and pilling—my pet peeve—is non-existent. In fact, my makeup looks smoother than it ever did, and I find that my concealer actually goes farther when layered overtop of it. I’ve reapplied it on top of makeup too and it goes on with ease, without compromising the painting I’ve spent time on earlier in the day, though it must be said that I prefer a dewy base; I’m not sure how reapplication would fair on top of more matte finish makeup. 

While this sunscreen ticks many, many of my boxes, there are a few things you may wish to consider. The 30ml size may not last long if you use it consistently (as you rightly should be) and £45 isn’t an inconsiderable amount of money. However, in my opinion, the quality and performance of the product justify the cost in my opinion. Its high level of sun protection, lightweight formula, non-greasy finish, and compatibility with my existing makeup routine make it a no-brainer for me. A new beauty-bag must-have, without a doubt. 

Rating: 8/10

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Without repeating myself too much, sunscreen really is an important part of my skincare routine. My skin, especially on my face, is sensitive to sunlight due to years of acne medication, which can cause patches of pigmentation in the sun. My dermatologist told me that it is essential (for everybody) to reapply sunscreen every two hours for maximum protection against sun damage. This is all year round and even if you are inside all day. The issue I found with that previously is that I regularly wear makeup, and hadn’t found the right SPF that can sit easily above it without it going greasy and removing some of the makeup.

Enter the Preen Screen SPF 50 Reapplication Mist from Ultra Violette; the spray is incredibly easy to re-apply over your makeup, you don’t need a mirror, doesn’t leave a white cast and it’s small enough to carry in your bag. The result when sprayed is a soft sheen on the skin that feels dewy and lightweight. It provides protection against UVA and UVB, but also includes vitamin E, niacinamide, vitamin C and bisabolol to help with anti-inflammatory properties. It feels refreshing to touch up during the day, even for those ingredients alone. 

It can cause stinging in the eyes but that’s temporary, for recommended use you should close your eyes and spray in the shape of an ‘X’ and then a ‘Y’ motion to make sure your face is fully covered. Keep your eyes closed for a few seconds, otherwise it can cause some stinging. The smell is also quite strong of alcohol but it subsides quickly. 

With summer holidays and another heatwave around the corner, I think it is such an easy solution for reapplying SPF over makeup on the go. If I didn’t have it already, I would definitely buy this. It is slightly expensive for an SPF but there aren’t many over-makeup SPF mists on the market with the level of ingredients that Ultra Violette includes.

Rating: 8/10

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As I’ve mentioned, my skin is oiler in my T-zone so some SPFs can feel heavy or clogging on my skin. That said, I still love a dewy finish to my skin, I was intrigued by The Inkey List’s formula, which contains polyglutamic acid (a really hydrating ingredient) with glyercin and squalene that also promises a dewy result. The creamy gel formula feels instantly cooling and hydrating on the skin, quenching the skin with moisture with a sun protection factor of 30. It comes out of the tube white, but it does disappear after rubbing into the skin. 

I found that while it was hydrating, it did leave a slightly tacky film to the skin. This wasn’t a necessarily an issue for me, but if you hate anything too cloying on the skin this might be a deal-breaker. I did think that the slight stickiness would make it great for makeup prep, however, I did find that it repelled on areas in my T-zone when I applied makeup on top. I noticed that some other reviewers experienced this with their foundation too, so it’s always worth checking if your foundation is oil or water based, as oil and water repel one another and cause separation on the skin. I found that letting my moisturiser and SPF sink in for a good 10 minutes before applying foundation helped. However, on non-makeup days it was easy to top up and I liked that it made my skin look dewy and glowy.

While it didn’t irritate my sensitive skin, it did sting my eyes a little, so for that reason I couldn’t commit to using it every day. However, if you want an SPF with great hydration at an affordable price point and you don’t typically wear foundation, I’d recommend this. The dealbreaker for me was waiting for it to sink into my skin before wearing makeup and it stinging my eyes, so I docked a couple of points.

Rating: 7/10

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Suncream is the one part of my routine that I will never skip. It was drilled into me by my dermatologist when I started taking roaccutune as the skin is at higher risk of damage. Since stopping the medication, my skin has remained slightly sensitive and is prone to pigmentation on my face. When shopping for a new sun cream, my must have criteria for SPF is a factor 50 rating with a high protection and UVB and UVA. I was excited to try Garnier’s Super UV Daily Invisible Face Serum, as it had all the qualities I look for in an SPF, affordable and designed for sensitive skin. 

The texture is a lightweight serum, gliding onto the skin on application, and when it sets it feels secure on your face unlike other sun creams that can feel oily or greasy. I was impressed that it was actually invisible on my skin and that it contains ceramide providing an extra level of protection on the skin barrier against pollution. It is a great product to layer under makeup as it felt like the products stayed and there wasn’t any pilling. When applying skincare, I would recommend waiting 10 minutes for the product to settle in before you apply the sunscreen, any sooner than it can cause some pilling.

The SPF has now fully replaced my old sunscreen, my skin reacts well with the ingredients and the price point is low enough that I’m not breaking the bank with each application. I’m giving it an 8/10, just because I felt a tiny bit of sensitivity when I first starting applying it but since regular use skin has adjusted to the product.

Rating: 8/10

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