50+ Beauty Blog

The 50+ Beauty Blog: The Best Facial Sunscreens

Georgia Gadsby - Beauty for the Over 50s

Every two or three years, I resume my quest for the perfect facial SPF. Reader, I’m pretty sure I’ve finally found it. But bear with me.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably 50+, which means you’re more likely than most to know all about UVA and UVB radiation and how it affects your skin. But, be honest – do you really?

A few days ago, a new scientific study (in the US) found that only 43 per cent of adults were aware of what each type of radiation could do to their skin. Worse, only seven per cent knew what to look for on a sunscreen label if they wanted something that specifically protects against ageing of the skin.

So, apologies if you already know this, but first a little demystification…

When you see SPF on a label – whether it’s SPF 15 or 90 – it generally refers only to chemicals that help protect the skin against UVB rays. These are the main cause of sunburn. They also contribute to ageing the skin and causing skin cancers.

So what about UVA radiation? Unfortunately, many sunscreens on the market do nothing to block it. Yet anyone who relies on an SPF cream without UVA protection is likely to regret it a few years down the line.

UVA rays may not give you sunburn, but they increase your likelihood of getting melanoma (the most dangerous skin cancer). They also vastly increase your chances of one day having skin with the texture of an old alligator handbag.

In fact, it’s been estimated that 90 per cent of skin changes associated with ageing are actually caused by a lifetime’s exposure to UVA rays.

So do your skin a favour – next time you shop for an SPF, go for one that:

* promises to protect against UVA rays as well as UVB

* and/or mentions ‘broad spectrum’ protection on the label

* and/or contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

I never thought I’d say this, but my new wonder-sunscreen is one of the latter. Personally, I associate mineral sunscreens with chalky-faced kids in hand-knitted swimsuits – the ones that drooped alarmingly after a dip in the sea. But, boy, have things moved on since then (and not just the swimming costumes).

Omorovicza Mineral Sunscreen SPF30

{Mineral UV Shield SPF 30}, by Omorovicza doesn’t change your skin colour at all. In fact, it leaves no detectable trace on your face. No greasiness, no tackiness, no shine, no dullness. Nothing. It’s like wearing a very fine skin primer.

The other great thing about zinc/titanium is that it’s less likely than other sunscreens (which rely on chemicals) to irritate sensitive skin or provoke an allergic reaction. It’s often recommended for the skin condition, rosacea, for instance.

I have to say that I’m addicted to the smell: a faint, slightly soapy scent that, for some reason, reminds me of summer. Not that I’m keeping it only for sunny days – it’s now a non-negotiable part of my skincare routine, whatever the weather.

If that sounds excessive, consider this. Even on overcast days, UVA and UVB ray are still filtering through the clouds and ageing your skin. Who’d willingly opt for a coarser skin texture, blotchy freckles, deeper wrinkles and age spots? Not me.

I’ve been wearing proper SPF on my face since my thirties, and it shows. Although my skin’s never been great, it’s now looking detectably younger than its age.

OK – but haven’t I been missing out on Vitamin D, which is largely created by sunshine on the skin? The honest answer is that I don’t know, so I take a daily vitamin pill just in case.

But there are plenty of dermatologists who don’t believe that sunscreen can itself cause a D deficiency. In any case, during the summer months, it’s advisable to expose your arms and legs, unprotected, for a short period every day.

Which SPF is best for the face? As I’m pale-skinned, I never go below an SPF 30, which blocks 97 per cent of UVB rays. This is actually only 4 per cent more than an SPF 15 would do. But my own unscientific experiments have proved that I get freckles with SPF 15, whereas I don’t with SPF 30.

On a foreign beach or mountain-top, you may well want to up the SPF factor – but, in my view, 30 can cope with most of what British weather has to throw at us.

The majority of good facial UVA/UVB protectors come with instructions to reapply generously every two hours. I’m sure this is a good idea – but I’m afraid I don’t.

What, take it all off and then have to reapply foundation and concealer? Well, yes, if you’re a purist. Or sweat a lot. Or go swimming.

Unscientific experiment number 2: provided I’m not sweating or in full sunshine all day, a good SPF 30 applied in the morning stops me developing freckles. All day. And I’m a redhead who bursts into freckles at the least provocation.

Anyway, the most important thing is to find the right product for your skin. It won’t necessarily be cheap. The Omorovicza is a wince-inducing £75 – but it’s a hefty tube, containing 100ml.

The Best Facial Sunscreens

Also excellent is the {Daily Defence Broad Spectrum SPF 30} suncream by Zelens (£55 for 50ml). Among chemical sunscreens, it’s probably the least likely to exacerbate skin sensitivities or allergies. That’s because its organic UV filters are contained within silica-based capsules, which are invisible to the naked eye. Ingenious.

The Zelens sunscreen also includes powerful anti-oxidants which nourish the skin and help fortify its natural barrier. In texture, it seems almost greasy at first; you need to wait a few minutes for it to dry before applying foundation. Unlike the Omorovicza, it leaves a very slight and expensive-looking sheen. If you have normal to dry skin, you may well prefer this to a mineral sunscreen.

Final recommendation: {Photo Reverse by Institut Esthederm} (£55 for 50 ml). This is for anyone who’s already had a bit too much sun and ended up with age-spots, which are notoriously difficult to shift. It promises to block out all UVA and UVB rays, even in the tropics, while at the same time gradually lightening the brown patches.

Does it work? I can’t vouch for its protective properties on the equator, but I tried it once a day for nearly two months on my only age spot (on a finger). Already, the brown tone has faded to beige.

Heavy-duty stuff. But it doesn’t feel oppressive on the skin: like the Zelens, it goes on a little greasy and then dries to a pleasant sheen.


Verity Douglas

Verity Douglas

Content Editor

Verity is our Content Editor and a Cult Beauty veteran. Currently on maternity leave, raising Cult Beauty’s honorary ‘word nerd’, Tabitha, she speaks fluent ‘beauty’ and loves nothing more than the marriage of language and lip balm (and cleanser and candles… ad infinitum). Nothing can stop her from quoting Nancy Mitford, treating herself to yet another Bella Freud candle for her desk or buying that pilgrim-esque collared or heavily fringed outfit she’s been eyeing. You can trust her to debunk widespread beauty myths and dispense invaluable advice with ease…