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Face sunscreens and SPF moisturisers review

Which sunscreens moisturise your skin and protect against sun damage without being sticky, heavy or oily?

woman_applying_spf_moisturiser_to_face
Last updated: 21 November 2017
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In 2017, we put a range of SPF 30 and 50+ face sunscreens and moisturisers to the test.  

We trialled 14 widely available products, bookended price-wise by a cheapie from Coles ($6 for 100mL) and a Shiseido face sunscreen ($62 for 50mL).

We gave each triallist six different products in plain packaging so they didn't know the brand or the price. They were asked to rate texture and consistency, smell, feel, ease of application, how moisturising it felt, their overall impression, and how likely they'd be to buy it. 

sunscreen group shot

Our 2017 test compared 14 widely available face sunscreens and SPF moisturisers.

What we found

The five products we liked best came out on top based on their overall impression, their moisturising ability and people's interest in buying them.

Price is no indicator of preference

The cheapest product, Coles Face Sunscreen, was rated equal best. Suitable for sensitive skin, this product would suit all the family as an everyday face sunscreen.

The Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting UV cream was the second most expensive on test, with a recommended retail price of $48.99. However, as with most products we tested, you'll likely find it a lot cheaper from discount pharmacies and on special in supermarkets – we paid less than $30.

The most expensive product (Shiseido) also rated quite well, and while some people loved it, it didn't do as well overall as our top-rated products.

SPF 30 products tended to rate better than 50+

Though the Cancer Council Face Day Wear Matte Sunscreen with SPF 50+ is one of our best-liked products – and equal best moisturiser – while Banana Boat EveryDay Faces is worth considering. The 50+ products that didn't rate as well were considered more sunscreen-like in smell, texture and feel.

While we expected moisturisers with added sunscreen – being more 'cosmeticky' – would rate better than the sunscreens, there actually wasn't much difference, and the products we liked best include two positioned as sunscreens.

Overall

With a mix of cheap, expensive, sensitive-skin and high-SPF products in our list, there's something for everyone. But the best-rated products didn't suit all triallists, and even the lowest-rated products were loved by some, so you may need to try more than one to find a product that suits you.

coles sunscreen

The ones we liked best

Coles Face Sunscreen (SPF 30)

  • Price: $6.00 for 100mL 
  • Total score (out of 15): 12
  • Number who would buy: 9/14 
  • Good to know: Equal best score and highest buy score
  • Triallist comment: "It felt luxurious."
olay regenerist sunscreen

Olay Regenerist Micro-sculpting UV cream (SPF 30)

  • Price: $48.99 for 50mL 
  • Total score (out of 15): 12
  • Number who would buy: 7/15
  • Good to know: Equal best total score, highest overall score and equal best moisturising score. 
  • Triallist comment: "Smelt great, was easy to apply, and left my skin moisturised all day."
qv sunscreen

QV Face Moisturising Day Sunscreen (SPF 30)

  • Price: $16.60 for 75g 
  • Total score (out of 15): 12
  • Number who would buy: 9/15
  • Good to know: Equal best total score
  • Triallist comment: "Nice texture and relatively fragrance-free, did a reasonable job of moisturising."
cancer council sunscreen

Cancer Council Face Day Wear Matte Sunscreen (SPF 50+)

  • Price: $14.95 for 50mL
  • Total score (out of 15): 11
  • Number who would buy: 7/15
  • Good to know: Equal best moisturising score, best 50+ product
  • Triallist comment: "Felt good on my skin, was easy to apply and worked all day."
olay complete defense sunscreen

Olay Complete Defence Sensitive (SPF 30)

  • Price: $9.99 per 50mL
  • Total score (out of 15): 11
  • Number who would buy: 6/14
  • Triallist comment: "Nice on skin, makeup works well with it."

Worth considering

These products also rated well, and some triallists loved them.

How the rest performed

Face sunscreen vs SPF moisturiser

There are many products designed specifically to provide sun protection for the face that aim to avoid the heavy, sticky feeling of body sunscreens. They include face sunscreens, many of which also claim to moisturise your skin, as well as moisturisers with added sunscreens. 

What's the difference? It can be hard to tell, but where you find them on the pharmacy or supermarket shelves is one indication, while the prominence given to each on the label is another.

applying sunscreen to face

It's recommended we wear sun protection during the day when the UV index is 3 or above.

The importance of wearing sunscreen

Associate Professor Chris Baker from the Australasian College of Dermatologists says dermatologists regularly treat skin cancers that could have been easily prevented through proper sun protection.

"Dermatologists see a lot of skin cancers on the face, ears, head and neck," says Baker.

"These skin cancers are particularly concerning because they can arise quickly and are more difficult to treat. Surgery is the most common treatment, with visible scarring often unavoidable. 

"Other treatments include topical therapy for some early skin cancers through to radiotherapy and chemotherapy for more advanced cancers. Sadly we don't always get them in time."

How and when to use sunscreen

To gain full protection from sunscreen, you need to use the recommended amount and reapply every two hours in the sun. For face products like those we tested, this means using half a teaspoon for your face only, or a full teaspoon for your face, neck and ears.

The Cancer Council recommends we wear sun protection during the day when the UV index is 3 or above, which for much of Australia means all year round. 

And don't forget a hat, clothing, sunglasses and shade

While sunscreen is a great start for protecting your face from UV damage, it's only one of several measures you should take. 

Cancer Council research shows less than half of Australians use hats to protect themselves from the sun and, as a result, are getting sunburnt on their face, head, nose or ears.

"There can be a tendency from many Australians to slop on some sunscreen and think they are protected all day long," says Paige Preston, National Skin Cancer Committee Cancer Council Australia.

"But sunscreen isn't a suit of armour. It should be your last line of defence – a hat, clothing, sunglasses and shade are also key to protecting your skin."

How we test

How we chose our products

Since most people don't apply enough sunscreen to achieve the stated SPF, we looked only at products with SPF 30 or higher to maximise the chance of getting adequate protection. 

All are broad spectrum – meaning they protect against UVA and UVB radiation – and all have been tested to the Australian standard for sunscreen.

Table notes

Total score (out of 15): Made up of overall impression score, moisturiser score and buy score.

Overall impression (out of 5): Triallists were asked to give each product an overall rating.

Moisturiser score (out of 5): Triallists were asked to rate each product's moisturising ability.

Buy score (out of 5): Triallists were asked how willing they'd be to buy the product (without knowing the price).

Number who would buy: Number who said they'd probably or definitely buy the product / Total number of triallists.

Non-comedogenic: Claims not to cause blocked pores.

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