How to get the best value sun cream

Save money without sacrificing the protection you give your skin.

Is a branded suncreen any better than a supermarket’s own version? And what should you be thinking about other than the SPF number?

I’ve taken a look at how to make sure you’re not overspending but still getting the right protection.

What makes a decent sun cream?

SPF and UVB rays

When you’re going to buy suncream there’s probably only one number you really pay attention to. The big one on the front – the SPF number. Sun Protection Factor.

This ranges from around four or five all the way through to fifty plus. The number which medical groups recommend is at least thirty.

What the SPF number specifically shows is the protection you get against Ultraviolet B rays – or UVB. These are the rays that generally will burn your skin.

Basically the higher the number is, the greater the protection, the longer the protection you’re going to get from these rays.

“Star ratings” and UVA rays

There’s actually more than one type of UV ray coming from the sun. What you should also be looking for when you’re buying your suncream is protection against UVA – Ultraviolet A – rays.

This is the stuff that’s meant to premature age you, the stuff that causes you to get those lines caused by the sun. It will hopefully say both UVA and UVB on the packet.

But how do you know how good that protection is? Because SPF isn’t anything to do with the UVA. Instead, you look for some stars. Bigger packs hopefully have it on the front, though it might be on the back of smaller ones.

You should be looking for at least four stars. That’s going to give you the protection that you need.

Is more expensive suncream better?

Now if you’ve got at least factor 30 on the UVB and then you’ve got at least four stars on the UVA then all the sun creams are pretty much the same. At least they’re doing the same thing anyway in terms of protecting you from the sun’s rays.

So whether you’re going into Aldi or Asda and you’re spending a couple of quid or whether you’re spending nearly ten quid by getting some posh brands, they’re not really doing anything different.

I had a look at Which? magazine. They’ve reviewed and tested about 15 to 20 different sun creams. Worryingly, some of the brands didn’t offer the protection promised – and were marked “don’t buy”.

The best buys were from Boots, Nivea and Asda, all relatively affordable, and Superdrug and Morrisons did well too. The only real difference they found between them is that some of the cheaper ones can feel a bit greasy when you apply them to your skin. Or they smell not fantastic when you apply them, so you might want to try some different ones and pay a bit more money.

So just because it’s a brand it’s not necessarily any better than an own brand from one of the chemists or supermarkets.

How much should you buy?

One extra thing to think about when you’re buying your sun cream is the size of the bottle. In terms of getting value for money the bigger bottles will often work out cheaper per unit, usually per ml, So you’d think the bigger the bottle the better the deal.

But that’s not necessarily the case. On the back of most of your sun creams, you’ll see a little drawing of a pot. You see it on lots of cosmetics as well. This little round pot with an open lid and in there it will give a little number. If it says “12m” it stands for twelve months. Most sun creams are meant to last between 12 and 18 months. 

Time actually reduces how strong the cream is. The bottle might say thirty on the front but if it’s two or three years old it won’t be delivering that kind of protection.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that if you leave your suncream out in the sun then that’s going to make it last a shorter amount of time as well.

So will you actually use the cream up in that time? Or will you, like I have in the past, have half-used bottles sitting at the back of the cupboard until the next year?

Big families, or people spending a lot of time in the sun, are probably better off buying big bottles at the start of each summer, and then buying smaller ones as the summer ends. And people who aren’t out in the sun much might be better off just buying smaller packs. Of course, it’s important to apply the right amount – so don’t scrimp.

You can also watch my video from a couple of years ago on this:


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