July 14th 2021
Sun cream has always been a dilemma for me and my lifelong battle with sensitive skin, with holidays that are filled with heat rash and reactions instead of simply sun, sea, sand and sangria. Those of us who are sensitive need to shop carefully for our sun protection; whether it's avoiding fragrance, irritating preservatives or chemical filters, it's important to know exactly what you're buying. As for me, I tend to avoid all of the above - fragrance is one of the most common allergens, preservatives such as MI can hurt even the stronger of skin and chemical filters aren't recommended for the fragile. (See my guide to SPF ingredients for sensitive skin here.)
Sun cream should be no different to your skincare - don't simply buy what's on offer, look closer at the label and know what you'll be putting on your face and body. Luckily formulas are improving all the time and are increasingly taking our needs for gentle but high protection into consideration - which is why I'm regularly updating this edit of the best SPF for sensitive skin. Here are my favourites, both old and new...
Ultrasun is the discovery that changed my holidays forever - it's my number one go-to for SPF, and is one of the very few SPFs I use that doesn't contain mineral-only filters (it uses a combination of mineral and chemical). However, its credentials are in its preservative- and fragrance-free formula. I use the Ultrasun Family 30 Super Sensitive for once-a-day application that doesn't leave you looking white or red, or sometimes the SPF 50+ for extra strength (it's worth noting I have found the SPF50 Face formula too much for my oversensitive skin because of the increase in chemical filters, so I stick to the 30). I've never had prickly heat when using it thanks to the fact it's non-comedogenic and even with my fair skin, one application really is enough. In fact, the full range is worth checking out as they really have thought of everything, including a tan optimising range (to help you develop a deeper, longer lasting tan), a full Anti-Pigmentation range, and beautiful tinted formulas for face and body.
From £19 for 150ml, Buy online
Pai believes that choosing suncream should be no different to choosing any other part of your skincare routine (i.e. we still need to be picky!), so they banished irritating ingredients such as fragrance, preservatives and chemical filters from this formula. It’s non-greasy and has been patch tested on sensitive and eczema-prone skin.
£32 for 40ml, buy online
While I’m still sad that Avéne discontinued my beloved Very High Protection Mineral Cream, I have to admit their 2018 launch is a sophisticated replacement. Available in a non-tinted or tinted version (note: the single shade is quite deep so opt for the clear version if you’re as pale as me), the fluid texture is as light as water, and provides an impressive factor 50 with 100% mineral filters; two sizes, in fact, of both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The fresh formula is also fragrance free, contains Avéne’s signature spring water and sinks in fast without any stickiness to leave a sleek, matte finish. The non-tinted version does leave a very slight whiteness behind, be warned - but if you want high protection in a sensitive-friendly, lightweight formula then this is a great option.
I love, love, love this product. A sheer, tinted, fragrance-free sun cream with no chemical filters, it ticks all the boxes for everyday wear which is why I wear it year-round come rain or shine. Available in SPF40 too, it offers not so much coverage but more a gentle glow that leaves your skin looking radiant while leaving you safe in the knowledge it's preventing premature ageing and sun damage. Lightweight and oil free, it glides on like a moisturiser but can be used as a primer or instead of your BB cream. Flawless.
In May 2016, Clinique also launched mineral filter-only sun screens for face (SPF50) and body (SPF30), again both fragrance-free and ideal for sensitive skin. Lightweight and non-greasy, they are equally pleasant to apply and great for summer.
£19 for 40ml, Buy online from Clinique
Fragrance free, organic, aloe vera - what's not to love about this natural sun cream from Green People's Scent Free range? With natural broad spectrum protection and detailed ingredients listings on their site so you know exactly what you're getting, this is one of my top products when I'm sunning myself. It contains no MI or parabens and is water resistant without clogging up pores, which is ideal for prickly heat sufferers. If natural SPF is your bag, add this to basket immediately (they also have one for the face which I recommend).
£22 for 200ml, Buy online at Green People's website
It may not have the colourful packaging of the sun creams your friends are slathering on, the fake scent of coconuts filling the air, but this sun cream from clinical-looking brand Medik8 more than does the job of protecting sensitive skin. A 100% physical sun cream, it absorbs brilliantly into the skin and leaves none of those tell-tale white marks that some non-chemical sunblocks do. It's light, non-greasy and is full of antioxidants. A beach bag essential.
£36 for 90ml, Buy online from Medik8
Bioderma is one of my go-to brands for fragrance-free products (their Sensibio range is excellent) so I was excited to see they'd thought of us sensitive folk again with this mineral sunscreen. A light, fluid spray, when first applying this I thought it a tad greasy - but as soon as it's sunk in you're left with smooth, supple skin. This handy spray is fragrance-free, paraben-free, chemical filter-free and non-comedogenic, all while offering UVA and UVB protection, plus antioxidant vitamin E for an added defence against premature ageing. I couldn't ask for anything more, except perhaps a larger bottle as it's for both face and body.
£16 for 100g, Buy online
A sheer fluid that offers broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, this mineral SPF contains no chemical filters and sinks into skin with a transparent finish (it has a pinky tone to it to start with but soon blends away beautifully). Super light and paraben free, it's ideal for even oily and acne-prone skin for sun protection that doesn't compromise on skincare.
£37 for 50ml, Buy online from Zest Beauty
I'm not a fan of SPF in makeup (it gives a false sense of protection, in my opinion, as you rarely use enough) but this product is something special. A loose, finely milled mineral powder with a built-in brush, it swirls onto the skin to leave a beautifully flawless coverage that would impress as a base alone; add to that the SPF 30 due to the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide filters and you've got a winner. (N.B. To be safe, I would still use a cream SPF as my moisturiser underneath for peace of mind.)
I tried the Matte version in Medium, and it was a perfect match for my fair skin - and though I tend to go for more of a dewy finish with my makeup, I wasn't disappointed. It left my skin radiant but protected (it's very water-resistant, check out this impressive video). Best of all, it makes the reapplication of sun protection for the face a doddle - because who honestly reapplies any once their makeup is on? Simply top up with this every couple of hours and you're good to go. It's pricey, but refills are cheaper and for anyone who wants an everyday SPF that won't clog or feel heavy, this is it.
£39.99, Buy online
Perfect for delicate, reactive skin, this tinted sun cream for the face contains only physical sunscreens to protect the skin from the sun's rays. No fragrances or artifical colours have sneaked into the formula and instead vitamin E, grape seed and green tea extracts soothe the skin for an overall calming effect. All bases covered, and with sheer coverage to boot.
£36.50 for 50ml, Buy online from Dermalogica
My main issue with sensitive-friendly sun screens is that you have to really shop around for them - until recently there’s been no chance of waiting until you’re at the airport and picking something suitable up in Boots. Garner Ambre Solaire used to be one of the SPFs I’d react to (fragrance the most likely culprit) but in 2016 they launched their Sensitive Advanced formulas. Still containing chemical sunscreens, albeit a relatively skin-safe one called Mexoryl SX (read more about it here) and octocrylene, it’s perfume-free, paraben-free, broad spectrum and a great budget option if you can tolerate some of the less irritating chemical sun screens. It’s the one I’d reach for if I found myself in the airport without one of my favourite mineral SPFs.
£7 for 200ml, Buy online
Just when I thought I'd found my favourite tinted face SPF, I find another. This product is a standout formula; its texture is reminiscent of the new, super-light fluid foundations that everyone's raving about - so why not buy one with SPF50 instead? With a universal tint (honestly - it's so sheer it'd work for anyone), this light-as-a-feather daily SPF is fragrance-free and works well under makeup. With mineral UVA and UVB protection (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide), it also contains a potent green tea extract for its antioxidant properties as well as vitamin E. Wear it every day and your skin is guaranteed to thank you.
£36.55 for 50ml, Buy online
If you don't want a tinted cream for your face but you do want high protection, this perfume- and paraben-free cream is ideal, so long as you can tolerate chemical filters as this one isn't mineral. It dries to a super-matte finish so you don't need to worry about looking or feeling greasy under the sun's rays, perfect for oilier skin types.
£16.50 for 50ml, Buy online
Paula Begoun is a bit of a hero in the beauty world. The author of over 20 bestselling books on skin, hair and makeup and a champion of safe, effective product formulations, testing one of the products from her self-titled range was a no-brainer and I wasn’t left disappointed. This broad spectrum moisturiser is designed for red or rosacea-prone skin; it’s fragrance-free, colourant-free and has a hydrating, light texture. With both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide it does leave a slightly white sheen behind, but I’d generally wear this under makeup so it’s not a problem. A great everyday moisturiser that will protect you, not irritate you.
£29 for 60ml, Buy online
Eucerin’s forward-thinking range is always on my radar for sensitive skin, and this SPF is well worth trying if you want a no-fuss body sun cream that does the job well. Better still, it’s formulated with those who suffer from PLE and sun allergies in mind, with liquorice extract and antioxidants, as well as being free from perfume, emulsifiers and preservatives. The filters are chemical, but thanks to the lack of common irritants my sensitive skin was nothing but calm under its protective shield.
£19 for 150ml, Buy online
You know you’re in good hands when your products are created by a chemist, and so this physical sun cream for the face is just what you need if you’re super sensitive and looking for first-class sun protection. Great for acne sufferers and safe post-treatment, it harnesses zinc oxide to protect while also soothing fragile skin without leaving any white marks or residue; it glides on like a high end moisturiser and gives skin a healthy glow.
£46 for 57g, Buy online
In my experience it's rare to find a good mineral sun screen in a spray format, but if you're jealous of your friends with their spray-and-go bottles then this is for you. A beautifully whipped light spray, this gives broad spectrum protection as well as keeping you safe from infrared rays, all with an incredibly lightweight finish. Best of all though is the natural scent courtesy of the natural plant extracts - coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and watermelon extract among others give this the sweetest scent I've ever had the chance to try. One for the green beauty crowd that would definitely wow anyone who's put off by my usual fragrance-free options.
£38 for 177ml, find your nearest stockist on 0345 504 0461
This is a prime example of how far mineral sunscreens have come; the texture is that of a luxurious face cream, the finish that of a beautifully sheer, luminous primer. With a high SPF of 40 as well as anti-ageing, moisture-boosting ingredients including glycerin, resveratrol, vitamin E and grapeseed extract, it feels like a moisturiser designed to deeply hydrate and comfort the skin rather than a protector that simply sits on top. Sophisticated in every way.
£45 for 120ml, Find your nearest stockist on their website
I have already shared my love for the Family formula, but Ultrasun’s latest launch deserves its own recognition. The new Face Fluid may just be the product that convinces SPF avoiders into wearing one daily (yes, all year round). It’s super lightweight and thin in texture, almost like a light milk, and yet it’s higher than a factor 50 (hence the plus) and dries to an invisible matte finish - a rare find indeed. Just one application protects you from UVA and UVB all day, and as with the rest of the range it’s free from perfumes and oils, but it also contains ‘Pollustop®’, an ingredient which essentially creates a shield against pollution and environmental damage; the ultimate form of daily skin protection.
£25.50 for 40ml, Buy online
This brand is making waves since launching here in the UK and it's not hard to see why, with impressive formulas such as this daily sun screen that packs in plenty of beauty benefits. It does have a combination of mineral and chemical filters, be warned, but my hypersensitive skin loved it - not only for the sun protection but for the 10% glycolic acid, green tea extract, vitamin B5, plankton and hyaluronic acid. Quite the power formula. It’s much more expensive than my other picks, so I’d go for this as an anti-ageing boost as well as its SPF benefits, but the texture is stunning. The brand also has a Super Sheer Sunscreen SPF50, $50, available in the U.S, which I’m hoping will be available here soon because it’s equally brilliant (not to mention more affordable).
£117 for 30ml, Buy online
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