The Best Sunscreens Right Now

Go back to basics with these simple sunscreen application tips to safeguard skin from the sun this summer


Be sunscreen savvy this summer with the latest breakthrough sunscreen formulas. Stylist / Annabel Dickson. Photo / Babiche Martens

Summer is officially here, and while the warmer weather is synonymous with sipping cocktails poolside or lazing about on the beach with a book, it also recalls the task of applying layer upon layer of sunscreen.  

Safeguard skin with a broad-spectrum SPF rated 30 or higher to help protect against UVA and UVB rays, and always apply it 20 minutes before sun exposure and every two hours thereafter (or sooner if swimming, sweating or towelling).  

How much you apply is also important — the SPF concentration advertised on the bottle relies on the right amount applied to skin.  

Generally speaking, a shot glass-sized amount of sunscreen should suffice for body, while two lines of sunscreen over the index and middle finger should be plenty to cover your face (and no, it should not be applied like highlighter despite what Gwyneth Paltrow thinks).  

It's not a case of 15 + 15 makes 30, either. If you're using a broad-spectrum SPF rated 15 sunscreen with an SPF15 foundation or CC cream over the top, it doesn't mean you're afforded factor 30 protection. Err on the side of caution by opting for a higher rated sunscreen, then anything that offers broad spectrum protection over the top is purely a bonus. 

Another SPF consideration is whether to opt for a mineral (physical) or chemical sunscreen. While chemical sunscreens absorb the sun's rays, physical sunscreens (or mineral sunscreens) act like a shield by sitting on the surface of the skin and reflecting the sun's rays. Physical sunscreens harness inorganic UV filters like zinc oxide and titanium oxide which help form a barrier on skin. 

But how do you know which sunscreen type is right for you?

Where sensitive skin is concerned, physical options are often better than their chemical counterparts which can be more irritating. Look out for formulas that are both fragrance and perfume free — these common irritants can aggravate sensitive or inflamed skin. 

Oilier skin types may like to try a sun gel, like Skinnies SPF30 Sungel, $36, which is often more easily tolerated. Otherwise, a mattifying formula will ensure product doesn't slip when layered with makeup or other skincare. Try La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Dry Touch SPF50+ For Oily Skin, $27

Mature or drier skin types respond best to sunscreens which contain nourishing ingredients like vitamin E, helping to drench skin with moisture while it protects. Consider Ultra Violette Queen Screen Luminising Sun Serum SPF50+, $52

This year, the season’s most foolproof formulas come laced with good-for-skin ingredients like skin-smoothing collagen and hydrating vitamin E, cocktailed with antioxidants for an extra layer of protection against harmful free radicals and blue light or in mist formats to easily spritz over an already made-up face.  

Not to mention newbies that are free from chemical nasties like oxybenzone, are reef safe and won’t leave a white cast upon application.  

One such brand driving the charge on the reef-friendly front is People4Ocean (or P4O for short) which is the first sunscreen developed by marine biologists in response to the damaging effects of sunscreen on marine life. Founded by Louise and Austin Laing, 

Their findings confirmed the devastating impacts sunscreens have on ocean pollution and reef ecosystems — which isn't only the result of swimming in the ocean, but what washes down the drain when showering. 

Following the brand launch on December 3, P4O released a short, informational video highlighting the importance of using sunscreen which protect the integrity of the ocean. It features familiar faces including Olympian & Emirates Team NZ Grinder Steven Ferguson, personality and surfer Jay Reeve, actress and wellness advocate Claire Chitham, and a host of other ocean lovers, ranging from surfers to underwater photographers. 

Another key shift in the sunscreen space is the advent of ingestibles, with brands like Heliocare revealing its new Oral Capsules, $54, which claim to support the body's natural resistance to sun damage. The brand advises taking two capsules daily before sun exposure (although the brand doesn't stipulate exactly how long before) and to take a third roughly four hours later. 

Its formulated with the patented ingredient Fernblock, which is said to support overall protection from sun damage when used in conjunction with a topical broad-spectrum sunscreen, including hard to reach areas like the scalp, eyes and ears. 

Earlier this year, watchdog organisation Consumer published its annual report of which sunscreens failed to meet the SPF specifications listed on the tube. Three out of the 12 tested failed to meet both the SPF label and broad-spectrum protection claims.  

The top five rated sunscreens included options to suit every budget and skin type, including the Cancer Society Everyday Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+, $14, and Viva forever favourite Mecca Cosmetica To Save Face SPF50+ Superscreen Oxybenzone Free Formula, $47. 

Those that didn't meet their claims included Banana Boat Daily Protect Sunscreen Lotion SPF50+, $17, Natural Instinct Invisible Natural Sunscreen SPF30, $19, and Sukin Sheer Touch Facial Sunscreen Untinted SPF30, $24, with further results to come from Consumer's additional testing in February (delays in results were due to the pandemic impacting the offshore labs Consumer uses for its testing). 

To ensure your sunscreen's efficacy, store it correctly (under 30 degrees) and be sure to check the use by symbol on the back of the bottle. If you're unsure if a sunscreen has expired or not, it's better to buy fresh. 

The latest flurry of hybridised sunscreens sit beautifully under (or on top) of makeup, not to mention contain skin-loving ingredients to hydrate while they protect. Photo / Ash Cometti

SUPER SCREENS 

These brightly-hued tubes, bottles and mists deliver big-time benefits to skin while defending against the harmful effects of both UVA and UVB rays.  

Bondi Sands Skincare Sunny Daze Hydrating SPF50 Moisturiser, $28  
Format: Cream  
Sunscreen Type: Mineral aka physical sunscreen (with zinc oxide)   
Why We Love It: Included in Bondi Sands new skincare line-up is this non-ghosting sunscreen which is loaded with zinc oxide, vitamin E and hibiscus sabdariffa fruit extract to hydrate skin for up to 72 hours while protecting it from the sun. Available exclusively from Farmers or online at Farmers.co.nz 

Naked Sundays SPF50+ Collagen Glow Perfecting Priming Lotion, $43 
Format: Cream  
Sunscreen Type: Mineral aka physical sunscreen (with zinc oxide)  
Why We Love It: A primer, moisturiser, broad-spectrum SPF and collagen-booster in one, this 100 per cent mineral sunscreen is lightly tinted, meaning it won’t leave a white cast in its wake. The smooth texture glides easily onto skin, lending an airbrushed finish and a healthful glow. Available from Mecca or online at Meccabeauty.co.nz  

Quick Screen SPF50+ Set Finishing Spray With Blue Light Defence, $49 
Format: Spray / Mist  
Sunscreen Type: Chemical filter sunscreen  
Why We Love It: Frequent re-application of sunscreen throughout the day is key, and f the struggle that comes with re-applying sunscreen over makeup is all too real, then consider a sunscreen mist that won’t disrupt an already made-up face. Quick Screen’s lightweight, invisible-finish sunscreen mist works to hydrate skin, set makeup and filter out UVA and UVB rays, HEV blue light and LED light. Whether worn on bare skin or over makeup, the formula won’t leave a white cast or produce flashback. Thequickflick.com.au 

Bondi Sands Hydra UV Protect SPF50+ Face Fluid, $25  
Format: Fluid  
Sunscreen Type: Chemical filter sunscreen  
Why We Love It: Your search for the perfect non-greasy foundation to wear under makeup ends here. This lightweight face fluid from Bondi Sands melts beautifully into skin, and harnesses the hydrating powers of ethically-sourced algae while lending broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. Gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin types, the non-comedogenic formula also works well on acneic or oily skin. Available exclusively from Farmers or online at Farmers.co.nz 

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