The summer months have arrived, but whether you’re enjoying the sun at home or abroad, it’s really important to protect your skin from its potentially harmful rays.
Wearing sun cream whenever possible should ideally be part of your daily skincare routine. However, the options for sun cream can seem endless, and costs can quickly rack up when you’re slathering on cream often costing £15 a bottle or more. Fortunately, there are some great quality, budget-friendly options.
Here’s our rundown of some of the best value sun creams for the summer, and some tips on how to find those that offer the most protection.
All prices were accurate at the time of writing (19/06/23), although prices change daily on Amazon.
- How to find a cheap but effective sun cream
- Best value sun creams for your face
- Best value once-a-day sun creams
- Best value sun creams that won’t stain your clothes
- Best value sun creams for topping up during the day
- Best value sun creams for kids and grandkids
- Best value sun creams for sensitive skin
- Best value environmentally friendly sun creams
How to find a cheap but effective sun cream
Finding a cost-effective sun cream that does the job well can seem difficult. There are, however, some things to watch out for that can help you work out if a sun cream is any good:
Understanding sun cream labels
Sun creams come with different ratings or descriptions to show how much protection they offer. Here are some of the terms you’ll need to understand to work out what level of protection a particular sun cream offers you:
SPF stands for sun protection factor and essentially signifies the amount of time you might be protected from UVB rays once you’ve applied the cream. UVB rays penetrate the top layer of your skin, damage skin cells and can cause the mutations that ultimately cause skin cancer.
The higher the SPF number, the longer you could possibly spend in the sun without burning, although this varies hugely as it depends on how easily you burn and how liberally and often you apply sun cream.
In the UK, sun creams can legally range between SPF2 and SPF50+. Although other countries have SPFs that go as high as 100, in reality, they often only offer marginally higher protection than factor 50.
The NHS and the British Association of Dermatologists recommend wearing sun cream with SPF30 or higher, no matter your skin tone. While some people might feel like this is too high, lots of us don’t apply our sun cream as frequently as we should, so the level of protection we actually have could be significantly lower than the SPF label suggests.
UVA rays are the ones that damage skin cells to eventually create a tan or pigmentation in the skin and they are responsible for many of the signs of ageing. UVA rays make up about 95% of the sun’s rays and in combination with UVB rays, they can cause severe skin damage.
A good sun cream will provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Many sun creams will clarify that they offer protection against UVA rays too either through a circle with UVA in it, or a UVA star rating on the back of the bottle. This rating runs between one and five stars, with five stars offering the highest levels of protection.
The star system was originally created by Boots and for a period of time, only brands that were sold in their stores could offer the rating, but it’s now become commonplace to show this on sun cream. Not every sun cream will have the rating, but if you look out for mentions of ‘broad spectrum protection’ or ‘UVA protection’, you should have some protection, even if it’s not clear how much.
Generally, when looking at UVA protection, it’s good to look for five stars alongside a high SPF (30 or more) to make sure you’re fully protected.
Many sun creams say they’re water resistant, but they don’t define how long they’ll last if you’re swimming, for example. However, legally, a sun cream can only be labelled as water-resistant if it maintains its resistance under water for 40 minutes, so use that as your general time frame, unless it says otherwise. Bear in mind, though, no matter what sun cream you buy, you’ll still need to reapply after being in water.
What’s your skin type?
Different skin types require different types of sun cream, particularly if you’re using it on your face:
- Oily – If your skin is oily you’ll want to steer clear of any formulas that are greasy and instead look for lightweight formulas. Sun creams that are ‘oil-free’, ‘non-greasy’, or state that they ’absorb easily’ might be suitable, for example. Some people with oily skin find that sun creams that contain Vitamin E can clog their pores and cause breakouts, so this might be something to check too.
- Dry – If you struggle with dry skin, you’ll want a moisturising sun cream. Check for ingredients known for their moisturising properties such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and shea butter.
- Sensitive – If your skin tends to be more on the sensitive side, steer clear of perfumed or coloured creams as these are well-known irritants. Some people with sensitive skin may also prefer a mineral sun cream that includes either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as these tend to cause fewer reactions.
Bear in mind that a number of sun creams leave something known in the beauty industry as a ‘white cast’, which is essentially white residue. While it might be hard to determine whether a cream leaves this in a shop, it’s worth noting that generally, sun creams that include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are more likely to leave a white cast.
Best value sun creams for your face
Many people want a sun cream specifically for their face, as it is usually exposed to the sun more than any other part of our bodies. Here are our top pics that will protect your face without breaking the bank.
Garnier Ambre Solaire Anti-Dryness, Protection Cream SPF50+ - 50ml - £6.49
The Garnier Ambre Solaire Anti-Dryness protection cream is a popular option that was recommended by beauty guru, Caroline Hirons, last year. It’s received over 1,800 five-star reviews on Amazon and while it says it works well for all skin types, it’s especially good if you have dry skin as it claims to keep your skin hydrated for up to 24 hours.
Altruist Dermatologist Sunscreen Face Fluid SPF30 - 50ml - £7.70
Altruist is a UK brand that was created by a consultant dermatologist and a skincare expert with the aim of helping to reduce skin cancer by increasing the use of quality sunscreen. The brand also donates 10p from every purchase to charity.
You can choose from SPF30 and SPF50 and the cream offers five-star UVA / UVB protection. It’s also enriched with Vitamin E to help prevent skin cell damage. Reviewers say it absorbs into the skin nicely and leaves your skin feeling hydrated and protected, although some say that it does leave a white cast on the skin. It’s available in Sainsbury’s and on Amazon.
Best value once-a-day sun creams
The belief that you can apply sun cream only once a day if you’re out in the sun is a bit of a myth, as no matter what sun cream you’re wearing, you should reapply this throughout the day to ensure you’re protected. However, the following sun creams definitely have staying power.
Lacura Sun SPF 30 Once A Day Sun Spray - 200ml - £6.00
Lacura is Aldi’s health and beauty range, and it’s got a bit of a cult following for a good reason. It offers great products at affordable prices, and the once-a-day sun spray is no different. The spray offers SPF30 and five-star UVA protection, as well as up to 10 hours of protection (although the directions say to re-apply every one to two hours), a light-weight formula and no white marks. The product is currently sold out online, but you might have more luck in your local store.
RIEMANN P20 original spray - 100ml - £18.10
The RIEMANN P20 original spray definitely isn’t the cheapest option, but with the promise of lasting for up to 10 hours, it has some serious staying power and can therefore save you money over the long term. It’s incredibly popular, with over 9,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. It comes in SPF15, 20, 30 or 50+, offers four-star UVA protection, and it’s water and sweat resistant with a lightweight formula.
Beware this spray may stain white or light clothing yellow, according to some reviewers.
Best value sun creams that won’t stain your clothes
Sun cream can leave yellow or orange stains on your clothes, which is an irritating side effect of trying to stay safe in the sun. The UV filter ingredients in sun creams are often yellow, and unfortunately the higher the SPF, the more filters there are, and therefore the more likely they are to stain your clothes. Also, most sun creams are water and oil emulsified which can make stains harder to get out. The active ingredient avobenzone can cause staining too.
However, there are some sun creams that claim to use special technology that means they won’t stain your clothes:
NIVEA SUN Protect & Moisture Lotion SPF50+ 200ml - From £7.64
All of the new Nivea Sun protect and moisture lotions and sprays come with technology that may reduce the stains that sun cream can often leave on our clothes. It’s also a great sun cream, offering high UVB and five-star UVA protection, water resistance and it’s also ‘ocean-friendly’.
Eucerin Sun Sensitive Protect Kids Spray SPF50+ 200ml - £19.99
While this is technically a kids’ sun cream, adults can use it and benefit from its “anti stain after wash” technology. This should mean that any stains the sun cream might leave on your clothes wash out easily. It’s a great formula that offers high protection at SPF50+, has UVA protection and is easy to apply.
Best value sun creams for topping up during the day
We all know that we should reapply our sun cream regularly, but it can be a hassle. Luckily, there are lots of products that are designed to make this easier for you and won’t break the bank.
Soltan Kids Protect & Moisturise Suncare Roll-On SPF50+ 50ml - £3.50
It might be labelled a kids sun cream, but this roll-on is great for anyone wanting to top up their sun protection while they’re out and about. Despite its size, the Soltan roll-on sun cream packs a big protection punch. This comes in SPF50+, has a five-star UVA rating and is extra water resistant. It comes in a handy size that’s easy to pop in a bag and whip out whenever you need to top up your sun cream. The roller ball applicator also makes it really easy to reapply sun cream in targeted spots.
Garnier Ambre Solaire SPF 50 Super UV Over Makeup Mist - 75ml - £7.60
If you’re out for the day or wearing makeup, reapplying sun cream to your face can be tricky, but this mist from Garnier makes it easy to stay protected. It’s another popular choice with over 3,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. It’s SPF50 and offers UVB, UVA and long UVA protection, as well as being gently moisturising, too. It’s incredibly easy to apply, as you simply spray it over your face and there’s no need to rub it in.
Best value sun creams for kids and grandkids
The type of sun cream you’ll want to use for kids or grandkids depends on their age. The British Association of Dermatologists says that you shouldn’t use sun cream on children aged under 6 months, as their skin is much thinner than older children or adults, so they’re more likely to absorb the UV-blocking chemicals which can trigger allergic reactions.
For kids, you’ll usually want to choose a sun cream that’s suitable for delicate skin, but robust enough to last through all their activities.
Lacura SPF 50+ Kids Sensitive Sun Spray - 200ml - £3.49
This sun cream from Alid’s budget Lacura range comes well-reviewed and is one of the cheapest but most effective kids sun creams we could find. It offers SPF50+ UVB protection, comes with a five-star UVA rating and is water resistant. For the price, it offers great protection.
Calypso Australian Standard Kids Sun Lotion SPF50 - 150ml - £5.49
The Calypso Australian Standard Kids Sun Lotion offers high protection for a relatively low price. It’s SPF50 and offers both UVA and UVB protection. It has a non-greasy formula and it’s gently moisturising for delicate skin. The cream is also water resistant, and many reviewers say that it doesn’t stain white clothes.
Best value sun creams for sensitive skin
Piz Buin Allergy Sun Sensitive Skin Lotion SPF 50+ - 200ml - £8.50
The Piz Buin Allergy Sun Sensitive sun cream was developed with dermatologists to help protect sensitive and itchy skin, and provides high UVA and UVB protection with SPF50+. You can also buy this cream in SPF15 and 30. Its specially developed formula is designed to be water resistant, absorb quickly and moisturise skin. It has Calmanelle in it which helps strengthen your skin’s resilience.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Hydrating Lotion SPF50+ - 250ml - £27.95
La Roche-Posay isn’t the cheapest brand, but it’s well known for their high-quality products and this sun cream is no different. It offers SPF50+ (also available in SPF30), UVA protection, and it’s water and sweat resistant and specially formulated for sensitive skin. A number of reviews from people with sensitive skin say it’s the perfect formula, so it may be worth spending your money on if this turns out to be the most suitable option for your skin.
Best value environmentally friendly sun creams
Some of the active ingredients in sun creams can be harmful to sea life, and some places, such as Hawaii, have banned some sun creams because of the damage they do to ocean life.
The two main ingredients in sun creams that can damage sea life are oxybenzone and octinoxate, although there are other ingredients that are also harmful to sea life. You can read more about them here.
More brands are becoming aware of this, but it’s important to know that ‘reef-safe’ labelling isn’t regulated, so brands don’t have to meet certain standards to be able to include this on their labels.
Sun creams without reef-damaging ingredients can be really expensive, but there are some well-known brands that are oxybenzone and octinoxate free:
Hawaiian Tropic’s sun creams don’t include oxybenzone or octinoxate, so you can buy their products safe in the knowledge that they are considered environmentally friendly. Their Mineral range also doesn’t list any of the main ingredients that are harmful to marine life, so could be a more ocean-friendly option.
Their products range in price from around £5 up to just under £20, so they are fairly affordable, and all offer good UVA and UVB protection.
All Nivea Sun range is ‘reef safe’, as the creams don’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. Their Protect & Moisture range is also free from octocrylene, micro-plastics and biodegradable, which means the cream breaks down naturally in the environment over a reasonably short period of time. These creams and sprays also don’t list any of the ingredients that are harmful to sea life, so they are kinder to the environment.
The creams and sprays in Nivea’s Sun range cost anything from just over £4 to around £20.