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

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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%), 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. In a nutshell, it's the single most important product to use to look after 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, or even knowing what makes a good one. The first thing to consider is the SPF (sun protection factor) and the broad-spectrum rating. Sunscreens with SPF 30 or 50 are best, as they block around 97 and 98% of UVB rays (the ones that are responsible for skin burning) respectively when applied properly. 

However, SPF alone is will not protect against UVA rays (these are the rays 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 offering the highest UVA protection.

Chemical vs. Physical SPF

You might see that some sunscreens are labelled as either "chemical" or "physical" (or sometimes "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 photo-degrade 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 adds, 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 two-to-three hours in 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 prone to conditions such as eczema. "This varies from person to person," says Dr Spierings. "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 2.5ml for the 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. Reapplying over makeup can be difficult, but you can apply your sunscreen 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. And importantly, she adds, "Always see your GP straight away if you notice a change in a mole. 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.

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(Image credit: 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.

On first impression, the texture of Beauty Pie Featherlight UVA/UVB SPF 50 reminds me a lot of La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios SPF; its watery lotion-like consistency sinks into the skin so well, and although it's white when it comes out of the nozzle, it blends in undetectably into the skin without leaving a 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 touts 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's a lotion, it sinks in well, which is handy for top-ups, however, if you’re looking to reapply over makeup then I’d recommend going for an SPF mist as to not ruin your hard work. 

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 another tube when this runs out, so it’s a 10/10 from me.

Rating: 10/10

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(Image credit: @eleanorvousden for Who What Wear UK)

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(Image credit: @florriealexander for Who What Wear UK)

When I found out I was trying this 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 does. Firstly (though least importantly), I like that the small bottle is really easy to slip into my handbag when heading out for the day. And as for the actual product, the light formula feels soft and refreshing but also ensures you get the highest UV coverage.

The packaging calls this an invisible fluid, and it really is. The light serum feels almost water-like as it glides easily over your skin, and it doesn’t pool in the crevices of your eyes or around smile lines. As someone who has acne-prone skin, nothing about this formula gives me the 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 can leave me with red, blotchy skin. But even whilst rubbing this in, my skin seemed pretty pleased.

Though the serum is white, it blends seamlessly to create a transparent layer that doesn't leave a 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 a hard-working SPF on top ensures my skin is protected.

Also, the lightweight formula means you can easily reapply on the go without worrying if your mirrorless application has left you with 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 I have no intention of stopping. 

Rating: 10/10

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(Image credit: @emilyjdawes for Who What Wear UK)

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 its core products for a while, but this summer it also launched an SPF 30 version, so I had the chance to test both. So, let’s start with the formula. Both have a really nice, lightweight, serum-like texture. The idea is that you can layer this 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 (Dr. Sturm’s favoured super-power anti-ageing ingredient that you’ll find in a lot of her other well-loved 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 Dr. Sturm’s Sun Drops? There’s absolutely no white cast in sight. Even the heavier SPF 50 melted into the skin like a regular serum would—both when applied alone and with moisturiser—yet I was confident in the protective coverage. Expectedly, the SPF 50 did 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, if you're wondering).

Despite this, there was no pilling at all when I layered moisturiser and light makeup (Glossier Skin Tint) on top. Sun Drops is water-based, so just try to avoid layering on any oil-based products and you should be fine. There was also no stinging or sensitivity on the eyes with either version, and both (especially the SPF 30) left a seriously good glow on my 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 as well as the sun protection.

During testing, I reapplied the drops a few times throughout the day, and found that the SPF 30 did sit better over makeup. 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 this comes down to a really personal choice over which level of SPF you prefer to use.

The only drawback, as with all of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s luxury products, is the price. 30ml of the SPF 50 Sun Drops comes 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 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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(Image credit: @joy.ejaria for Who What Wear UK)

I always start my reviews off with "As a Black woman…", but on this occasion, it's actually 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 Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen SPF 30, but my life truly changed that day.

I promise you, the brand isn't kidding with the "unseen" part. The velvety gel texture of this 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 there's nothing on my face. This sunscreen earns bonus points from me because it also acts like a primer for days I decide to wear makeup.

A little goes a long way—I start with a pea-sized amount which I dot around my face before 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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(Image credit: @florriealexander for Who What Wear UK)

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, of this one I noticed that there was no overpowering SPF scent, which I very much appreciate.

Dermalogica's Oil free Matte DPF 30 has a creamy consistency which made my skin feel smooth, soft and definitely moisturised. Though the first application does give a white cast, and the first few rubbing motions heightened this effect, once rubbed in there was no sign left. My skin did temporarily go a bit red as I was completely working the thicker consistency into my face, but it settled quite quickly after. Despite the thickness of this cream, it is lighter on the skin than I was expecting, which I love when I want to celebrate my freckles. But personally, I perfer a sheer feel on my skin if the SPF isn't also doubling up as a tint.

The water base is what makes this 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, the shine does tone down somewhat. 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.

Something I always look our for with sunscreen is piling, which tends to occur when a product contains silicones, which this one does. But I’ve found that if you warm the product in your palms before application, the ingredients disperse enough for the product to sit comfortably on the skin without pilling. 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 additions of caffeine and niacinamide, which will actively work to improve your skin whilst protecting from the sun's rays, for me, this would definitely be an investment. 

Rating: 7/10

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(Image credit: @remyfarrell for Who What Wear UK)

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 those people who, embarrassingly, relies on the sun protection factor of my foundation for any sort of protection, it was no surprise that a recent skin scan showed more a fair amount of sun damage. Having a dark skin tone may hide the damage 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 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 Bioré sunscreen, I’m immediately on board. It’s reassuring to use a product designed by skincare experts (and who didn’t start their beauty journey with Bioré's pore strips or charcoal scrub?), and the first thing that impressed me is the finish of the formula. A cooling, silky lotion that glides on and leaves a clear base, it doesn’t leave behind the tacky residue that you’d expect from a sunscreen. Light, fresh and breathable, it dries to a matte finish that I can easily apply makeup on top of without fear of a greasy layer forming. So far, so good.

Next, a moment for the SPF protection. I opted for the factor-50 coverage and was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s also a dose of hyaluronic acid in there 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 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 underneath my foundation, I love how this sunscreen looks and feels more like a serum or primer than a traditional cream. I will add that there's a light, citrusy fragrance that I personally love, but it could be an issue for those with sensitive skin. Having said that, there's little chance of stinging or watery eyes with this water-based, gentle formula. It's giving holiday skin in a bottle, especially underneath a glowy base like Huda Beauty GloWish Skin Tint or Urban Decay’s Hydromaniac Tinted Glow).

There were ups and downs in the weather whilst I was testing this, and on the particularly overcast days I only applied the lotion once in the morning, but I felt confident that being locked in under makeup kept the SPF set until the evening when I took everything off. With no breakouts or clogged pores, the breathable layer is just the right amount to protect without caking, which is a definite win. And at this price, it's the perfect option to throw into your makeup bag or carry-on. It's an easy, breezy sunscreen that I find myself dropping into conversation with anyone who asks why my skin looks so good. I'm impressed.

Rating: 9/10

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(Image credit: @maxineeggenberger for Who What Wear UK)

As someone who prioritises sun protection above all else (I'm Scottish, 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, even 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. It 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 looking for in their skincare. 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 eyes as possible 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 over it. I’ve reapplied it on top of makeup too, and it goes on with ease and without compromising the paint job I’ve spent time on earlier in the day, though it must be said that I do prefer a dewy base, so I’m not sure how reapplication would fair on top of matte-finish makeup. 

Whilst 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. 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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(Image credit: @sophie__cookson for Who What Wear UK)

Sunscreen is a really 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 applies year-round and even if you are inside all day.

Previously, I hadn't been able to find the right SPF that sits well above my makeup when I reapply it, without it making my face greasy and removing some of the makeup. This is where Preen Screen SPF 50 Reapplication Mist from Ultra Violette comes in. This spray formula is incredibly easy to re-apply over makeup, you don’t need a mirror, it doesn’t leave a white cast and it's small enough to carry in your bag. The result is a soft sheen on the skin that feels dewy and lightweight.

It also includes vitamins E and C, niacinamide and bisabolol to provide anti-inflammatory properties. I think these ingredients go a long way towards helping the spray feel refreshing to touch up with during the day. It's worth noting that I've found this can cause (temporary) stinging in the eyes if you accidentally get some product in there, but the recommended way to apply it is to close your eyes and spray in the shape of an "X" and then a "Y" to make sure your face is fully covered. Keep your eyes closed for a few seconds after you've sprayed. It does also have a fairly strong alcohol smell initially, but this subsides quickly. 

With summer holidays and another heatwave around the corner, I think this 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 this one from Ultra Violette includes.

Rating: 8/10

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(Image credit: @eleanorvousden for Who What Wear UK)

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, so I was intrigued by The Inkey List’s formula, which contains polyglutamic acid (a really hydrating ingredient) with glyercin and squalene, and promises a dewy result. The cream-gel formula feels instantly cooling and hydrating on the skin, quenching with moisture with a sun protection factor of 30. It comes out of the tube white, but this does disappear after rubbing into the skin. 

I found that whilst it was hydrating, this 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, but I found that it repelled foundation on areas in my T-zone when I applied it over the top of the product. 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.

Whilst this 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 having to wait for it to sink into my skin before applying makeup and it stinging my eyes, so I docked a couple of points.

Rating: 7/10

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(Image credit: @sophie__cookson for Who What Wear UK)

As previously mentioned, I'm having acne treatment, and sunscreen 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 it makes the skin at higher risk of damage. Since stopping the medication, my skin has remained slightly sensitive and is prone to pigmentation. So when shopping for a new sunscreen, my must-have criteria is a factor 50 rating with high UVB and UVA protection. I was excited to try Garnier’s Super UV Daily Invisible Face Serum, as it has all the qualities I look for in an SPF, plus it's 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 some other sunscreens that can feel oily or greasy. I was impressed that it was actually invisible on my skin and that it contains ingredients that give an extra level of protection against pollution.

It's a great product to layer under makeup—there isn't any pilling—but when applying skincare, I would recommend waiting 10 minutes for your other products to settle before you apply the sunscreen, as following it up any sooner can cause some pilling.

This 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 with regular use my skin has adjusted to the product.

Rating: 8/10

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Next Up: Of All the Cream Blushers We Tested, These Ones Came Out on Top

Beauty Editor, Who What Wear UK

Eleanor Vousden is the beauty editor of Who What Wear UK. She was previously deputy editor at Hairdressers Journal, health writer at Woman & Home and junior beauty editor at beauty website Powder. She has also contributed to Wallpaper and Elle Collections with written and styling work.

Working as a beauty journalist since 2015 after graduating in fashion journalism at the London College of Fashion, she has been highly commended at the BSME Talent Awards and also contributed to Powder, winning Website of the Year at the PPA Awards for her work in beauty journalism.

Eleanor’s journalistic focus is to provide readers with honest and helpful beauty content. Through words, video and live broadcast, she has interviewed several celebrity makeup artists, hairstylists and top dermatologists throughout her career. She has a particular interest in finding solutions for acne and eczema, which she has experienced firsthand. She has also amassed a large collection of fragrances and can never say no to a new candle.

When she’s not writing or testing the latest beauty product or treatments, she’s on the seafront in her hometown of Brighton and Hove, where she lives with her partner.