Each season, out comes a new crop of sunscreens promising to protect our skins from those ageing, damaging rays.
Other than ever-higher SPF [sun protection factor] ratings, it is noticeable that more sunscreens are being marketed as skincare treatments as well as protectants. Label-readers will have also noticed some carry a PA rating, followed by varying numbers of plus signs.
The SPF rating measures UVB protection against the sunlight spectrum responsible for burning, though any "broad spectrum" sunscreen must, by regulation, also deter UVA (ageing and cancer-causing) rays. The PA rating is common in Asia, but not mandatory here and measures the degree of protection against UVA on a scale from one plus sign (or some protection) upward, with PA++ giving moderate UVA protection and PA+++ rated good. As awareness grows about the longer-term and year-round effects of the sun, expect to see more PA ratings.
Then there is the at times confusing issue of what is a sunscreen and what is a moisturiser with sunscreen in it. Remember that a secondary sunscreen will ordinarily not give the same degree of protection as a purpose-designed product (whatever SPF-rated additives it carries) because you would have to apply the likes of an SPF containing foundation with a trowel to build up the coverage.
To my mind it is a good idea to start with SPF30 or higher for serious sun exposure, but in truth SPF15 does not give you that much less coverage, both are well into 90 per cent plus filtration of harmful rays with SPFs above this giving incremental increases, not being twice as good as half the number.
Another area of confusion around sunscreens is around chemical versus physical barriers. Before you get all purist on this score it pays to know some chemical protection is naturally derived and some physical ingredients, not just chemical ones, can irritate skin. The main difference is that one screening system absorbs UV and the other deflects it and combined they give particularly thorough coverage. So it is a matter of what suits your skin and your personal preferences rather than a simplistic good versus bad argument.
To make matters more confusing, physical barriers are at the centre of arguments over the use of nano-particles. The jury is still out on the long-term safety implications of tiny nano-particles being absorbed into skin but because the process of breaking down component molecule size enables the likes of zinc oxide to be rendered near-invisible they are already in use. Micronized particles are usually coated, so are bigger than nano ones.
The most important thing to remember with sunscreen is to follow the basic rules: cover up, avoid the sun at the height of the day, reapply your sunscreen regularly - whatever the factor of coverage or degree of water, sweat or humidity proofness it claims - and ensure you apply plenty. Remember it is a sunscreen not a sun block, whatever the name may claim.
1. Elta MD Skincare UV Daily SPF40 $64
This can be used after IPL, peels or microdermabrasion when protection is particularly important but can cause irritation. Zinc (9 per cent) is the main barrier ingredient in transparent micronized form and there is also skin plumping hyaluronic acid. Elta MD, a Swiss-American company, has a wide range of targeted skincare and the sunscreens slot into this, including some suitable for people with acne and rosacea. They are fragrance-free and absorb well, making a good makeup base. (Found here.)
2. Clinique Super City Block SPF40 $50
Enhanced oil-free protection from Clinique which pioneered its lower SPF City Block years ago, back when most of us thought Baby Oil was best at the beach. The souped-up formula is still sheer, but with more antioxidants, the anti-oxidisers which every modern girl knows helps in the war against premature ageing. (Clinique counters.)
3. Evolu Protective Day Cream SPF15 $48.95
This is a reformulation with more skin-enhancing anti-oxidant ingredients which is good to wear with or without makeup. Evolu founder Kati Kasza has stuck with an SPF15 because she says it screens out 94 per cent of harmful rays whereas to get a higher SPF rating for only an incremental amount more protection would mean using thicker, gluggier formulas or compromising on ingredients. Natural sun-filters alone are not effective enough alone, but she says the available inorganic alternative titanium dioxide carries allergenic risks and the safety of other systems, such as nano-particles, has not been fully established. "We use proven synthetic sunscreens to ensure performance, and given that these are approved and safe we regard this as a balanced approach." (Stockists and online.)
4. Murad Anti-Aging Moisturizer with SPF20 $96
Developed for blemish-prone skin, with oil-regulating ingredients including Willow Bark, this moisturiser is said to stimulate collagen production to smooth the appearance of lines and wrinkles while protecting from ageing UVA rays with a PA++ rating. (Stockists and online.)
5. Osmosis Shelter Sunblock Moisturiser SPF30 $100
This physical barrier protection contains plenty of micronised zinc oxide (18 per cent), but Osmosis, an interesting American skincare company founded by a zealous dermatologist, says not to worry because it is silica-coated so the tiny particles won't absorb into skin as can micronized titanium dioxide, or break down like uncoated zinc. This moisturising product suits drier facial skin and contains shea butter. (Find salon stockists online.)
6. Skinnies SPF30 Sungel $34.95
A little goes a long way is the claim for this Napier-made new arrival on the sunscreen market which has a patented base gel formulation. Being free of water, it is concentrated so does indeed spread well from a small blob. Contains standard chemical barriers and a little titanium dioxide to lighten the look while giving water-resistant protection with a fresh apricot smell. (Find online.)
7. Clarins Sunscreen Control Cream for Face SPF50+ $50
Suitable for sensitive skin this chemical block is non-sticky and hydrating and, in typical Clarins style, smells good - because French and fragrance-free wouldn't seem right somehow. (Clarins counters and selected salons.)
8. Za Power Block UV Sunscreen SPF40 $20
I liked how this strong mostly chemical sunscreening, with PA+++ rating to ward off those ageing UVA rays, absorbed into the skin. The small tube is also very handy. (Farmers and selected pharmacies.)
9. Neutrogena Wet Skin SPF85+ Sunblock Spray $24.99
Tests show this sticks to skin even when it is damp, making it the ideal spray to apply after swimming. There's a kids' version too, which I have set aside for when we hit the beach, but first I need to wean my daughter off her addiction to the feel of Neutrogena's Cool Mist SPF70. (Supermarkets and selected pharmacies and department stores.)
10. Ego SunSense Sensitive 200g SPF30+ $33.50
Ego has been around as a skincare company for yonks and in 1988 it launched the first cosmetically acceptable sunscreen with broad spectrum protection using both physical blockers and UV absorbers. This big tube of water-resistant formula is suitable for babies and free of lanolin and fragrance. It uses titanium dioxide in preference to chemical absorbers. The Sun Sense Face range is also worth checking out, it includes tinted and matte finishes. (Pharmacies.)
11. Aveeno Continuous Protection Sunblock Spray SPF70 $24.99
Aveeno has you covered in a spray-on formula that, like its others, contains antioxidants. Oil-free, non-greasy and waterproof, with a spray that works at all angles. There's also a lotion. Good for the family beach bag. (Selected supermarkets, pharmacies and department stores.)
12. Nivea Ultra Beach Spray SPF30 $19.39
Offers Nivea's reliable broad-spectrum protection, but with boosted UVA filters and vitamin E to help protect skin that is exposed to the highly reflective beach environment which magnifies the effects of the sun.
(Supermarkets and selected pharmacies).
Orly Sunscreen for Nails $24.99
This is described as a UV Protection Topcoat to shield nails from UV rays which can apparently fade or yellow polish. If you normally apply a topcoat, adding one with sunscreen can't hurt, though reading the ingredients this looks to be more of the former, containing more of the usual polymers and resins in a nail coating than active sunscreen ingredients. (Selected pharmacies and department stores.)
M.A.C Prep + Prime SPF50 $62
Trust M.A.C to give sunscreen packaging a makeover with a black glitter tube with matte cap. Inside you will find a good protective fluid that carries a PA++ rating and works well under makeup or alone. (M.A.C counters.)
Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Booster $136
This is the odd one out in not being a sunscreen but it is ideal worn underneath, especially if you skip moisturiser in summer hoping you'll get enough hydration from your sun cream. The booster is an intensive hydrating fluid, apply a few drops as needed. Dermalogica also makes a host of good sunscreens including oil-free and sensitive skin formulas.
Babu Sunscreen SPF30+ $28
Lots of natural ingredients including organic coconut oil from Samoa, with sunscreening for the little ones from titanium dioxide and chemical agents. Babu was started by nurse and mother Alison Hui, who began by selling blankets and clothes for babies before starting a small skincare sideline, including this pleasant papaya-fragranced sunscreen with lanolin.
Ego Sun Sense Bronze Shield 200ml $42.50
Clever-clogs combo of an instant bronzed tint with SPF30. Perfect double-duty product when you've yet to build up much natural colour on your legs, though be warned it does wash off, so take it picknicking, not to the pool.