Screen test: Is your SPF ready for summer?

It’s time to go back to sunscreen school

Digital Beauty Editor / April 14 2021

We’re not here to tell you that you should be applying sunscreen in summer – that’s about as non-breaking as news gets.

But just in the same way we deemed SPF15 ‘probably enough’ mere years ago (spoiler alert: it wasn’t and still isn’t), the why/when/how factors of sunscreen application have all had some light shed on them lately, too.

So, we caught up with the protection pros to find out what actually matters in 2021’s sunscreen space…

What you’re doing it for

You should be doing it for safety, but if you’re still slacking, the vanity angle ought to scare some sun care sense into you.

“Sun protection is the best anti-ageing product on the market. A recent study suggested that Australian women are ageing up to 20 years faster than women in the U.S. and Europe and that this difference is due to sun damage,” explains Janis McNicholas, Head of Training at Avène. Cue gulp. Cue reapplication.

What you need to find

“I would recommend using a dermatologically tested SPF50+ product (the highest level of protection currently available in Australia) that is labelled as broad spectrum [and] will provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” explains McNicholas.

Once you’ve checked off the ‘non-negotiables’ criteria, focus on the feel: “You also want a formula that will sit well on skin; something that will feel comfortable and not leave it feeling greasy, heavy or white,” she says.

What you need to know

No excuses for not applying enough, either – your measuring device is literally built into your body. “Apply the product (20 minutes prior to sun exposure) using the finger method; one finger of product for face and neck, and two fingers for each area of the body,” says McNicholas.

What counts as an ‘area of the body’, you ask? We like to split it up into ‘front of leg’, ‘back of leg’, ‘front of arm’, ‘back of arm’, etc.

After you’ve mastered the art of application, get ready to repeat. “Reapply every two hours, or directly after exercising, swimming and towel drying,” McNicholas urges. “One application of sun protection will [not] last all day. Sun care is not a suit of armour!”




What you need to do

The other tough call you’ll have to make? Chemical vs. physical. For those who think one’s better than the other, consider that myth busted.

“Picking between a chemical or physical sunscreen generally comes down to personal preference and what feels nice on your skin,” shares John Dempsey, Nivea’s Research & Development Scientist.

In general, you’re likely to feel a physical sunscreen more (read: thicker and heavier) but both types are still effective at protecting the skin, albeit differently.

“Chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing the sun’s energy, [while] physical sunscreens generally contain active mineral ingredients, which sit on top of the skin and work to reflect the damaging UV rays rather than absorb them,” Dempsey confirms.

What your face wants

You know those people who hate wearing sunscreen? They’ve clearly been shopping in the one-SPF-fits-all bargain bin, rather than trying something more tailored. Anything that’s caring for your skin still falls into ‘skin care’ in our book, so select your formula accordingly.

“Choose a sun care [for your face] based on skin type,” confirms McNicholas. “If your skin is normal to combination or oily/acne-prone, I would suggest considering a lightweight, non-greasy, non-sticky emulsion, that is mattifying. Drier skin types may benefit from a more moisturising invisible lotion or a spray.”

1. Dry: Aspect Sun Hydrating Face SPF50+, $59 at
2. Oily: Skinceuticals Physical Matte UV Defense SPF50, $55 at
3. Sensitive: Avène Sunscreen Spray SPF50+, $34.95 at

What your body wants

The skin on your body is usually a little less temperamental, so the hydration-meets-protection route should do the trick in that department. “For the body, look for a sunscreen that includes ingredients that help to lock in moisture, [such as] vitamin E, panthenol or glycerin,” suggests Dempsey. Basically, you’ll come for the sun defence, and you’ll stay for the glossy finish.

1. Aesop Protective Body Lotion SPF50, $45 at
2. Nivea Sun SPF50+ Protect & Moisture Moisturising Lotion, $20.99 at
3. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Wet Skin SPF50+ Body Sunscreen, $36.99 at

What we rate

Suki: Mecca Cosmetica To Save Face SPF50+ Superscreen
“This sunscreen genuinely ticks all of my boxes. White cast? Don't know her. Layers smoothly over serums and under makeup? Like a dream. The added hint of vitamin E for hydration? Heaven.”

Mecca Cosmetica To Save Face SPF50+ Superscreen, $40 at

Diandra: Ultra Violette Supreme Screen SPF50+
“I have dry and sensitive skin so a creamy, quick-to-absorb sunscreen that hydrates and doesn't irritate my skin is seriously life-changing! Better yet, it's jam-packed with vitamin C, leaves no white cast and doubles as a primer for my makeup; a huge plus.”

Ultra Violette Supreme Screen SPF50+, $45 at

Angie: Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30
“This is a physical sunscreen but has no white cast after you rub it in. It sits nicely under makeup and isn't too thick or greasy for my oily skin. It also smells like a spa, which is a plus if you don't like the smell of traditional sunscreen.”

Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30, $74 at

Pema: Everyday Humans Resting Beach Face SPF30 Sunscreen Serum
“The silkiest SPF formula I've ever encountered. I have extremely sensitive skin, so an SPF that doesn’t break me out is a wonder in itself, but one that also works magic for your complexion is a holy grail.”

Everyday Humans Resting Beach Face SPF30 Sunscreen Serum, $41 at

Delaney: Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF50
“I generally have to ploy my lazy self into applying sunscreen under the guise of ‘skin care’ – bad beauty editor, I know. This light-as-air SPF50 serum works the literal trick, though, and its broad spectrum protection brings sensitivity-soothing beta-glucan along for the ride.”

Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF50, $235.70 at

Nikki: Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF50+
“I opt for a matte-finish option as I tend to get oily in the heat. It's a physical sunscreen that is 100 per cent fragrance-free, is great under makeup, has no white cast and also smoothes my skin when I'm not wearing makeup, which is great for the beach.”

Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF50+, $45 at


Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, hats and sunglasses. Reapply frequently to maintain protection.

Main image credit: @laisribeiro

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