Best SPF mists, waters and creams: the innovative formulas that'll change the way you apply sunscreen

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Whether sunscreen makes you break out, messes with your make-up, or leaves you with a white cast; these clever SPFs are the answer.

Greasy, sticky, pore-clogging; sun protection has long had a bad reputation, but innovative formulas mean all that’s finally changing. 

New formulations and textures in sunscreen are now being developed with specific issues in mind, leaving us no excuse to not be protected. 

Here, we round up our favourites that are effective and easy to apply. Think UV water, setting sprays and SPF eye creams

For SPF Haters

It seems that many of us are reluctant to wear sunscreen: according to Garnier Ambre Solaire, 61% of women find it too greasy or sticky. However, some brands are turning away from creams and creating SPF waters instead.

“The water formula was developed in partnership with scientists in Japan,” says Louisa Gayford, Garnier’s scientific advisor. “They pioneer light textures. People in Asia are exposed to heat and humidity all year long and so they look for comfortable and efficient products.”

The waters use the same bi-phase technology found in eye make-up removers. Jessica Tierney, scientific specialist for Vichy Laboratories, explains: “The oil phase contains the UV filters, emollients and vitamin E, and the water phase has the hydrating and antioxidant properties that moisturise skin.”

So they have all the benefits of a cream in a lightweight water formula. You’ll reapply them regularly because you actively want to, not because you have to.

For Make-Up Wearers

One of the biggest bugbears for dermatologists is that people don’t apply enough SPF over the course of a day, especially if it’s under make-up. “To get adequate protection, the right amount of sunscreen – a teaspoon is enough for face and neck – needs to be applied first thing, and then reapplied every few hours,” says Kluk. Taking off make-up mid work day to top up your SPF, though? Not ideal. 

But dry SPF mists and setting sprays can solve that. “A dedicated sunscreen should still be applied each morning, then throughout the day spray enough to make sure skin is really well coated and coverage is even, and they will work as an alternative to topping up with creams,” advises Kluk.

If that’s not your bag, try an SPF setting powder. These formulas physically block rather than absorb the sun’s rays – sweep on a few coats to make sure you’re getting adequate protection. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not possible to go overboard.

For Specific Skin Issues

Many people are put off from wearing traditional SPF because they’re concerned about getting spots or worsening existing skin conditions. Loading on thick, heavy creams can contribute to breakouts, but “a lot of newer formulas are lighter weight and less greasy,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk. If you have blackheads, acne-prone or oily skin, choose a non-comedogenic formula to avoid additional pore blocking. 

A product that protects against visible light as well as UV rays can help if you have pigmentation, and physical formulations (that sit on skin to deflect rays rather than being absorbed) are less likely to cause irritation for those with sensitive or reactive skin, or conditions such as rosacea. The only thing that’s universally important regardless of skin type? “Have UVA and UVB protection and, ideally, an SPF of at least 30,” says Kluk. Consider us told. 

For SPF Obsessives 

If you’re anything like the Stylist beauty team, there’s no such thing as too much SPF. That’s why we’re big fans of body-part-specific sun protection. So much so that we always recommend using a separate SPF on the eye area. 

“The skin around the eyelids is thinner and can be more sensitive in certain people,” says Kluk. “So using something dedicated to that may be beneficial to people prone to irritation.” The same goes for lips: they can burn just like anywhere else, so keep a balm handy. Kluk recommends applying before going in the sun and topping it up every few hours. 

Or choose a product that has hydrating properties and replace the old one you’ve had stashed in your handbag for years. The same goes for hand cream: swap the one on your desk for an SPF formula. 

  • SkinCeuticals Mineral Eye UV Defense SPF 30

    Skinceuticals-Mineral-Eye-UV-Defense-SPF30

    A non-migrating formula that won’t run into your eyes, it’s also safe to use on lids and has a sheer tint that’s perfect for applying make-up over. 

    SkinCeuticals Mineral Eye UV Defense SPF 30, £28

  • Alpha-H Protection Plus Handcream SPF 50+

    alpha-H-Protection-Plus-Hand-Cream-SPF50

    With vitamins C and E to fight oxidative stress, this hydrates and protects hands without leaving greasy residue. 

    Alpha-H Protection Plus Handcream SPF 50+, £33

  • Ultra Sun SPF 40 Ultra Lip Balm

    Ultrasun-SPF40-Ultralip-Balm

    Blackcurrant seed oil helps moisturise lips, while this protects against pollution as well as the sun. It sits well under lipstick, too. 

    Ultra Sun SPF 40 Ultra Lip Balm, £8

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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.