Yes, your sensitive skin needs sunscreen every day – and these are the ones we rate

·8-min read
best sunscreen for sensitive skin
The sunscreens made to look after sensitive skinHearst

We know by now that sunscreen isn't just for holidays, but rather one of the most important steps in a daily skincare routine. Often, hyperpigmentation and fine lines arise because of the way our skin is treated early on, so we cannot hammer it home hard enough; protecting your skin now will make all the difference in the future.

With so many formulas to choose from, selecting the right sunscreen can feel rather eenie meenie miney moe: and those with sensitive skin are likely to find it especially challenging. With something as crucial as SPF, it’s a real downer to know that the wrong bottle can lead to stingy skin and watery eyes.

However, this doesn’t mean you should skip sun protection altogether: you just need to find a gentle, non-irritating formula. To point you in the right direction, we hit up Dr Ana Mansouri, aesthetic doctor and SkinCeuticals brand expert, to share everything there is to know about SPF for sensitive skin.

Is sensitive skin more at risk to sun damage?

No matter your skin type, using SPF daily is non-negotiable; however, Dr Mansouri emphasises the importance of protecting your skin when it’s prone to sensitivity.

‘Sensitive skin can present itself in a variety of manners; however, commonly it’s red, uncomfortable, dry or dehydrated,’ says Dr Mansouri. ‘The protective infrastructure isn’t as robust compared to other skin types, and often its barrier is impaired, which makes it more susceptible to damage,’ she adds. ‘On the whole, sensitive skin is more at risk to environmental aggressors, including UV rays.’

What should you look for in a sunscreen for sensitive skin?

When you’re doing your SPF research, you’ll likely see the words ‘physical’ and ‘chemical’ pop up. This might look like marketing jargon to the untrained eye, but it's actually important to understand the difference - especially when you're dealing with sensitive skin.

Physical (or mineral) products contain filters like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which create a barrier to deflect UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, prevent damage by absorbing UV rays that hit your skin. They contain active ingredients which turn the rays into heat which are then emitted through your skin.

Both can be equally effective, and the one you choose will generally come down to personal preference. However, Dr Mansouri notes that mineral options are often gentler on sensitive skin.

Another general rule of thumb is that you should look for a bottle that’s labelled broad-spectrum as it will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Most of the time our skin is exposed to UVA rays as they are present all day long – even through clouds and rainy skies. You can’t feel them, but behind the scenes they’re diminishing substances (like collagen) that keep your skin firm. UVB rays are more powerful and are associated to sunburn. Unlike UVA, you can feel UVB rays hitting your skin – often causing a burning sensation – when directly exposed to the sun.

Where should you apply sunscreen in your skincare routine?

Even on a cloudy day, powerful UV rays are beaming directly down to your skin, which is why dermatologists are so vocal about using sunscreen every day.

Getting your application right is vital, as this will ensure that you’re properly protected from the sun. You should use a similar amount to the size of two fingers and thoroughly massage the cream into your skin – not forgetting those often-neglected areas like behind your ears, eyelids and lips.

SPF is best used in the morning after cleansing and moisturising. Dr Mansouri suggests using a vitamin C serum under your SPF as this will help maximise your protection from free radicals. ‘On a bright day we recommend topping up every four hours, whether that’s reapplying the cream or using a spray over your makeup,’ she says.

Today’s formulas also sit beautifully underneath your makeup, and many are packed with nourishing ingredients to keep your skin feeling hydrated throughout the day. Dr Mansouri suggests choosing a formula that contains moisturising ingredients, like niacinamide or glycerin, as these will cater to easily irritated complexions.

And contrary to popular belief, many high-factor formulas (we’re talking 30 to 50 SPF) aren’t the claggy, rich creams they used to be. Most formulas will have a breathable consistency and an invisible finish that makes slathering them on an absolute joy.

The best sunscreens for sensitive skin...

With the sunscreen market busier than Wholefoods at lunchtime, and with price tags ranging from budget to investment, narrowing down the best bottle for sensitive skin can be a big quest – but luckily for you, we’ve taken on the task.

Here, find recommendations from Dr Mansouri as well as our expert beauty team.

1. SkinCeuticals, Mineral Radiance UV SPF

It’s no surprise that this is one of Dr Mansouri’s favourites as it’s loved by dermatologists everywhere. With a mineral zinc oxide base (as opposed to a chemical filter) the formula delivers major UV protection by deflecting rays.

Once massaged in, it leaves a gentle tint that easily blends without creating a white cast. It’ll see you through days when you’d like a hint of coverage but still want to safeguard your skin against the sun.

2. CeraVe, AM Facial Moisturising Lotion SPF 50

An SPF and moisturiser in one? We’re sold. Perfectly formulated for anyone with a temperamental complexion, CeraVe’s ever-so-popular Moisturising Lotion is enriched with ceramides to keep dry skin safe and hydrated. See it as your morning moisturiser and you’ll never skip out on sunscreen again.

3. La Roche-Posay, Anthelios Ultra Light Invisible Fluid

This is another expert choice from Dr Mansouri: in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a dermatologist who wouldn’t recommend La Roche-Posay for sensitive skin. The liquid formula quickly absorbs and feels undetectable to wear. Formulated with hydrating ingredients like vitamin E, it also keeps your skin moisturised while it protects.

4. Ultra Violette, Clean Screen

Any sunscreen savant will be very familiar with Ultra Violette – we'd say it’s one of the brands that made applying SPF cool (because it is). Playful packaging aside, this gentle formula is specifically tweaked for those with sensitive skin.

Beautifully creamy, it glides on like a moisturiser to quell dry zones, but it also provides broad-spectrum UV protection. Fragrance-free and formulated with titanium dioxide (a mineral filter), it’s one of the best around for sensitivity.

5. Caudalie, Vinosun High Protection Spray SPF50

Spray-on sunscreens are a dream to bring on beach days when you’re contending with sweat and sand. One of our new favourites is Caudalie’s Vinosun protection spray. It applies like a refreshing mist to keep your skin feeling juicy and shields your skin from UVA and UVB rays, too. Simply spritz and go.

6. Avène, Very High Protection Fluid for Sensitive Skin

If you prefer the feeling of thicker sunscreens, Avene’s fluid sun cream is a wise choice. Don’t be fooled by the name; it sounds like it should have a liquid texture but it’s actually a comforting cream. Even so, it quickly absorbs and doesn't leave behind a white cast. However, it does take a moment to blend so be patient with it.

7. Garnier, Ambre Solaire SPF 50+

This new launch raises the bar for high-street sunscreens, and luckily for you, it’s strictly formulated for sensitive souls. The milky serum instantly sinks into your skin without leaving a trace – in fact, you can barely feel it after a few seconds.

Enriched with ceramides and factor 50 protection, it helps to reinforce your barrier function (which is often compromised if you have a sensitivity), while fighting pollution too.

8. Hello Sunday, The Mineral One

Oily or acne-prone skin? This sunscreen was created with you in mind. It’s formulated with zinc oxide to deflect UVA and UVB rays, but it also helps to minimise the appearance of pores with a subtle hint of coverage. As well as being fragrance-free it’s also 100% mineral based, so is a risk-free option for reactive skin.

9. Supergoop, Mineral Sheerscreen

As the name suggests, Supergoop’s Mineral Sheerscreen leaves an undetectable veil – ideal if you don't like rich creams. Even with a featherlight consistency, it provides moderate, broad-spectrum protection and thanks to hydrating ingredients, like squalane and aloe vera, it leaves your skin feeling hydrated too. While it doesn’t provide coverage, it does create a smooth finish to your complexion, meaning it sits beautifully under makeup.

10. Summer Fridays, Mineral Milk Sunscreen

This milky formula is one lightest you’ll try; the serum-like fluid instantly sinks into your skin to protect and hydrate without leaving a greasy finish. It contains squalane to leave your skin looking and feeling dewy, while vitamin E – a natural inflammatory and antioxidant – keeps your skin soothed and protected from free radicals like UV rays. We don’t know about you, but we’ve already added it to our holiday beach bag.

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