Not all face sunscreens are made equal when it comes to holiday sun protection – here’s why you should consider dedicated beach suncream rather than a daily SPF moisturiser

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Most derms and skincare experts agree: the best sunscreen is the one that you use. And that would be one one that makes it easy for you to stick to the sunscreen rules: use it all the time, use enough, and apply it regularly.

Thankfully, we now have a great choice of daily SPF moisturisers with textures, scents, added skincare ingredients and even colours to suit every taste and need - enough to banish every excuse as to why people don’t wear suncream. They’re so good, in fact, that you might choose to use them on your face to the beach rather than a specialist suncare SPF. But is that wise?

Can you wear your daily SPF moisturiser on the beach?

Indeed, some professionals are happy for you to take your favourite daily SPF moisturiser on your summer hols and wear it on the beach, the thinking, again, being that at least, you’re definitely going to wear and re-apply it.

Other specialists, however, are not 100% happy about that and strongly advise you don’t go on holiday without sunscreen from a dedicated suncare brand such as Soltan or Ambre Solaire. It’s all about getting the most ‘hardcore’ protection possible under beach or poolside conditions – which are some of the harshest and most treacherous you can subject your skin to (you of course know you should never actually bake in the sun, but, er, it probably still happens).

“When you go on holiday or spend significant amounts of time in the full summer sun, you need to trade up to a suncare specialist brand and to what I would call a ‘primary sunscreen’,” says Abi Cleeve, CEO of Ultrasun. “These dedicated sunscreen products are different from those marketed as daily moisturisers with sun protection.”

A brand such as No7 is upfront about the differences: their (brilliant) daily moisturiser Future Renew UV Defence Shield SPF50, £25, states on the tube that it is ‘not designed for sunbathing.’ No7 senior research scientist Clare O’Connor confirms it’s not a “primary sunscreen; those are specifically designed for deliberate exposure, offering greater wear and ideally water resistance.” So, she says, “while a measured SPF of 50 offers the same level of UV protection regardless of product, I would recommend using a primary sun protection product for any prolonged sun exposure.”

What is the difference between a primary sunscreen and a daily SPF moisturiser?

‘Beach’ and ‘daily’ sunscreens are sisters but not twins.

You can rest assured, says Cleeve, that both primary sunscreen brands and cosmetic brands have to adhere to strict standards set by cosmetic and drug regulators, such as the FDA in America and the EU Cosmetic Products Regulation (whose rules the UK follows), guaranteeing the products do what they say on the tin.

But there are differences in the levels of testing and the amount of proof either type of brand has to present before being approved.

“Primary sun protection products must test their final formulations not just for UVB protection, but also for UVA (the ageing rays), photo-stability (meaning the filters don’t collapse fast under the onslaught of UV radiation), water resistance and other claims,” says Cleeve.

Moisturisers or make-up with SPF protection, on the other hand, are only obliged to prove their UVB protection, which is expressed in the SPF number. The other difference with sunscreen brands is that cosmetic brands “are allowed to enhance a skincare formulation with a prescribed (meaning: high enough) ratio of an existing and thoroughly tested SPF ingredient or ingredients (such as avobenzone, zinc oxide, or octocrylene) and claim the protection associated with these ingredients,” says Cleeve. “But that is not the same as testing the final formulation and confirming the SPF protection of that mix.”

She is not saying none of these products have tested their final formulation. “They may have done, but they don’t have to,” says Cleeve. “They may also have tested for photo-stability and water-resistance, but are not obliged to.”

“And there is no obligation to test their UVA protection level in the way that primary suncare brands must, either,” she says, adding that if the bottle displays ‘UVA’ in a circle, that means that the product is tested for UVA protection and has a minimum level of 33% of the SPF number. However, that’s not very much. You want to go for a much higher UVA level: Ultrasun, for one, displays the exact percentage of UVA protection (in their case over 90 per cent) alongside the UVA symbol.

Seeing five stars or ‘PA++++’ on the bottle also means it’s tested for UVA, and its level is a lot higher than the minimum. Knowledge is power if you want to choose the right suncream !

In short: if you want your broad-spectrum sunscreen protection, photo-stability and water-resistance to be 100% ensured, you want to choose a primary sunscreen brand to be on the safe side. It is rather important on your summer hols or when, say, exercising in the full glare of the summer sun – anytime, basically, when your sun exposure is a lot more than ‘incidental’.

Thankfully, these brands are just as good at offering a choice of textures and added benefits as ‘cosmetic’ sunscreens, so you don’t need to miss out. Here are some our favourites.

The best beach sunscreen for face every skin type

For hyperpigmented skin: Heliocare Pigment Solution Fluid SPF50+, £32.99

A skin pro favoured brand for super-broad-screen UV protection layered with potent antioxidants and DNA-shielding technology, Heliocare’s skin tone-unifying (it’s gently tinted) anti-pigment fluid adds brown spot-busting ellagic acid and niacinamide into the mix to boot.

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For sensitive skin: Soltan Hydrating Sensitive Protect Facial Suncare SPF50, £8.50

Unscented, lightweight and featuring five-star UVA protection, soothing niacinamide and free radical-neutralising antioxidants, this is a great-value beach face screen for delicate skins

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For tinted-moisturiser protection: Ultrasun Face Fluid Tinted SPF50+, £28

Personally I won’t go on holiday without Ultrasun and its hydrating, stickiness-free, fragrance-free, everlasting superior protection. This very flattering caffe latte-tinted lotion (sheer enough to adapt to darker skin tones) hasn’t failed me once in 15 years.

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For a glass-skin glow: Ultraviolette Queen Screen Luminising Skinscreen SPF50+, £38

From an Aussie (they take sunscreen seriously) brand that seamlessly fuses hardcore sun protection with skincare, these milky-light, super-glowy drops are a (scented) pleasure to use and feature firming and pigment-busting pink algae, vitamin C and a load of other antioxidants alongside serious sun filters. Fun fact: Australian regulations stipulate that ‘SPF’ indicates both the UVA and UVB protection levels, which according to Aussie rules need to be on a par. So both UVA and UVB protection in this one re very high!

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For oily skin: La Roche Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Oil Control Fluid SPF50+, £16

UVMune 400 stands for broad-spectrum protection that goes beyond UVA and UVA shielding to protect from ultra-long (and nasty) UVA rays as well. This super-light, sebum-absorbing and mattifying lotion is a good choice for the oily and blemish-prone.

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For barrier protection: Garnier Ambre Solaire Super UV Daily Invisible Face Serum with SPF50+, £14

All the weightlessness of a milky serum with all the protection of Ambre Solaire, this also has ceramides to keep your protective skin barrier strong and stable.

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For mineral protection: Hello Sunday The Mineral One Lightweight Serum SPF50, £25

Another brand put on earth to make sunscreens sexy, Hello Sunday has options for every skin type and taste and this is their dewy-finish, full-spectrum solution for those who want their filters to be 100 per cent mineral.

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