Growing up under the Australian sun gives us a pretty unique understanding of the value of sunscreen, but it's important to know what you're buying, so you can make the best choice for you and your family. We've broken it down to what you need to know and where to buy our top picks for sunscreen.
The best sunscreen will depend on your individual needs. There is no one best product for everyone. Instead, consider what you want from a sunscreen and use that criteria to help you choose which product will suit you best. Below are our suggestions for the best sunscreens for different needs.
If you're not using sunscreen daily, you should be. Coming into summer, sunscreen should be the first thing on your skincare list and you need a formula with at least SPF30 that you can carry with you for regular use. Make sure you reapply your sunscreen every two or three hours or after any exercise for maximum protection.
Our top pick is the Cancer Council Everyday Tube SPF30+. Cancer Council is well known for promoting the importance of skin protection, and its sunscreen range is highly regarded. This formula is light and non-greasy, with two hours of water resistance. It's made in Australia, and all sales of Cancer Council products go towards cancer research, education and resources. This means you can do your part while still protecting yourself.
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Best sunscreen for your face
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Fluid Sunscreen SPF 50
Your face is one of the most sensitive areas on your body when it comes to sun damage, so it's crucial that you know how to protect it properly. The alternative? Literally being red-faced with regret.
The Ultra Sheer Fluid Sunscreen SPF 50 is formulated with Neutrogena's HELIOPLEX technology. This provides superior broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection.
Applying this sunscreen to the skin is effortless, and that's all thanks to the water-like consistency. It's great for everyday use. There's no sticky feeling, you won't look shiny and it's also non-comedogenic - so it won't clog your pores.
For more of our favourite face sunscreens, you can click here.
Best sunscreen for children and babies
Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF50
Children and babies have incredibly sensitive skin, and as they're in the process of developing, it's important that you use products that don't have harsh chemicals in them. They're also more at risk for burning, so combine a strong SPF sunscreen with a T-shirt and a hat – it's slip, slop, slap for a reason!
Our top pick for best sunscreen for children and babies is the Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF50. This sunscreen is mineral-based and hypoallergenic, so it's ideal for skin that's on the more sensitive side. Not only that, it's also fragrance-free, paraben-free, oil-free and non-comedogenic – leaving you with only the good stuff.
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Best sunscreen for your pets
Yes, you read that correctly – your pets need sun protection too! This is especially important if they have a thin coat, are hairless or have light-coloured noses. Just make sure to buy a pet-specific sunscreen instead of using your everyday human product as zinc oxide is toxic to dogs and salicylates can be fatal when ingested by cats.
Our top pick for best pet sunscreen is Dr. Zoo's Natural Zinc-Free Sun Cream. This brand is Australian-made and owned, and it is one of the few retailers that stocks suitable pet sunscreens. You can use this sun cream on dogs, cats and horses. It is also made of canine-friendly materials since, as the brand says, just assume that your dog will try and eat it!
Best vegan-friendly sunscreen
Natio SPF50+ Sunscreen
If you live a vegan lifestyle, you only use products that aren't tested on animals and don't have any sort of animal by-products in them, so your sunscreen has to be the same. Cruelty-free production is incredibly important, so aim for products that are locally made, chemical-free and made from naturally derived ingredients.
Our top pick is Natio SPF50+ Sunscreen, a broad spectrum formula with up to four hours' water resistance, is made in Australia and is strictly cruelty-free. The formula is non-greasy and vegan-friendly, so you can slather it on without feeling guilty. It's also enriched with vitamin E and aloe, so it'll even help soothe your skin. Win-win!
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Best sun protection for your hair
Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil
It's super painful to get a burnt scalp in the summertime, but it's not very hair-friendly to dollop on regular sunscreen. It's important to get a product for your hair and scalp that's SPF friendly without weighing down your locks, especially if your hair is naturally thick. We recommend a hair oil or spray that will hydrate as well as protect since the summer heat can be quite drying.
Our top pick is the Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil. Not only is this product cruelty-free, it's all natural and works as a water-resistant UV protective mist. It is super easy to use and smells like neroli and ylang ylang. Just spray it onto dry or damp hair before you head out into the sun and reapply throughout your day for an extra boost.
If you're extra sun-conscious and really want to get the absolute most out of your sunscreen, consider upping the ante and getting an SPF50+ sunscreen. The plus sign is important to note because a sunscreen has to test at least SPF60 in order to earn that sign in order to account for the margin of error in testing.
Our top pick for best SPF50+ sunscreen is actually a collection: the Cancer Council Ultra Sunscreen range. This range includes a lip balm, a roll-on, a tube, a finger spray, a bottle and a pump, so you're guaranteed to find the right product for your circumstances. The range is broad spectrum and water resistant for up to four hours, and the Australian-made formula is suitable for all skin types.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin damage in the world, so ultimately (with the exception of allergies) the risk of not using an approved sunscreen is far worse than any problems that may arise from the products themselves. Having said that, it's important to know what to look for on the bottle to make sure your sunscreen is appropriate for you.
As sunscreen is designed to cover our bodies quite extensively, we need to ensure that there's no risk of ingesting or absorbing harmful chemicals. The Australian government's Department of Health regards sunscreen as a therapeutic product, so it can only contain approved ingredients and must undergo significant testing to comply with regulations to ensure it's suitable for the public.
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Are the ingredients in sunscreen safe or toxic?
Most of the concerns about sunscreen stem from confusion over its chemical makeup and whether there are substances within the products that could actually be harmful to the skin over the long run.
The two main types of sunscreen have different active ingredients. One type contains organic chemical filters and the other contains inorganic metal filters. The latter is considered better for UV protection and overall coverage due to the presence of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles that scatter UV rays and prevent them from being absorbed into the skin. Chemical filters are less popular as they can occasionally cause allergies and some people believe them to be harmful to your hormones; however, they are still regarded as effective UV-radiation blockers.
Unless you suffer from skin sensitivity or allergies, you shouldn't experience any issues with sunscreen (remember, it's heavily regulated). If you're worried, then just be mindful of the ingredients before you purchase any and ensure you use your product correctly for maximum protection.
Sunscreen is one of the best methods of protecting your skin from the sun. Depending on the type and brand, sunscreens can either absorb or reflect UV rays from the sun, keeping your skin cells safe from harm. It is sold as a lotion, a gel, a stick, a cream or a spray and can even be mixed in with some makeup formulas so that you can look fantastic AND protect yourself.
There are two different types of sunscreen: regular and broad spectrum. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Both types of rays are responsible for severe skin damage, ageing and skin cancers, but the main differences between the rays lie in the frequency and aesthetic effect. UVA rays occur almost all the time and tend to cause tanning, while UVB rays are dependent on location and time and are responsible for burning or reddening.
How do you use sunscreen effectively? And how often do you need to reapply it?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming that you're protected just because you put a small amount of sunscreen on early in the morning. It takes more than that to ensure your skin is protected properly.
Apply sunscreen liberally and often throughout the day, especially if you've been working out or in the water. A good rule of thumb is to reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, but if you've been exercising or swimming, then you should reapply it as soon as you've finished. Make sure you're using the right type for your skin, and don't forget to use sunscreen even when it seems overcast – UV rays can pass through clouds.
Is sunscreen expensive?
Most sunscreens are quite reasonably priced, and the difference between higher and lower end products is generally a combination of the SPF rating, brand authority and packaging.
The price range for sunscreen can be as little as a few dollars to upwards of $50 per bottle, but it's also important to remember that as long as it's a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF30, it's suitable for day-to-day use without breaking the bank.
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Can sunscreen expire?
While generally long lasting, sunscreen does expire, and most brands will print the best before date on the bottle. If there isn't a date, then the general rule of thumb is to replace your old sunscreen every three years. However, if you're using it liberally each day, then it shouldn't last that long anyway.
Try and keep it in a cool, dry area to keep it fresh longer. The scent and texture will clue you in to when you need to replace your bottle. Trust me, you'll be able to tell when it's no good.
There are a lot of confusing terms on the back of most sunscreen bottles, but it doesn't all have to seem like a completely different language. Here are the most commonly used terms, and what they really mean:
If you're the kind of person who rocks a full face of makeup every day, it's important that you keep your blank canvas safe underneath. But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your routine in order to keep sun safe. A number of brands offer face products with SPF protection, including tinted moisturisers, BB creams and even setting sprays.
If you aren't keen on swapping out any of your regular products for those with SPF, just pop on your sunscreen before your primer and you're good to go. When it comes to reapplying, a setting spray or mist with SPF is your safest bet and won't cause any issues with your look.
One of the most frustrating deterrents that come with SPF is flashback. This occurs when the SPF within the product reflects the light from flash photography, giving off a chalky, ghostly look. The best way to avoid this is to have a separate foundation for day and night use. During the day, you won't have to worry about flash photography, but at night you can use an SPF moisturiser underneath a non-SPF foundation and powder.
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The main difference between sunscreen and zinc is that sunscreen is absorbed into the skin whereas zinc sits on top of the skin as a physical barrier. You may remember images of lifeguards with white, chalky zinc stripes all over their face, but nowadays it's possible to get nearly invisible zinc sunscreens that avoid the ghostly glow. Zinc settles on the skin to reflect UV rays and has a much longer shelf life than chemical sunscreens, but it does require frequent reapplication.
Zinc oxide is a popular ingredient for a lot of sunscreen brands now, so you might already be using a zinc product without even realising it. If you'd prefer not to use a lotion or cream and you're committed to zinc, you can still purchase zinc sticks in a variety of colours from brands like Le Tan and the Cancer Council.
Image source: Getty