The benefits of SPF are well documented for preventing hyperpigmentation, signs of aging, sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer.
It protects from damage caused by UV rays, of which there are two types: UVA and UVB, each differing in their harmful effects on our skin.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays and are more of a threat as they can cause damage even when it's cloudy and the sun isn't visible. Whereas UVB rays are more prevalent in sunny climates and are more responsible for sunburn. Sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays are called “broad spectrum”.
To ensure your skin is as protected as possible from sun damage, it is best to wear an SPF, which is always applied after your moisturiser (whether it has SPF in it or not) and as the last step in your skincare regimen.
However, one way of incorporating SPF into your skincare routine if you don’t already is through your moisturiser. While it won’t be as effective at protecting you from the sun as a separate SPF product, it is the first step into making it a daily habit. Find out more in our guide to sunscreen here.
According to Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of Mortar & Milk, a moisturiser with SPF can provide sufficient protection from UVA and UVB rays as long as it is a “broad” or “full spectrum” product. “If it is not broad spectrum, then it's not sufficient protection,” she explains.
“We must also always remember that SPF protection doesn’t last all day. It lasts for about two hours, so people need to be mindful of that. If you put protection on in the morning and are sitting in the sun in the afternoon, you are not protected. I realise that re-applying isn't always an option, so that is where hats come in hand, or sitting under an umbrella,” she advises.
We’ve put SPF moisturisers through their paces to find the best. We looked for creams, gels and lotions that are both hydrating across all skin types and offer enough protection, absorb well, and don't leave a greasy film or disrupt make-up. These are the 11 that came out on top.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
CeraVe facial moisturising lotion SPF25
Best for: Dry skin
This affordable tube of cream yields impressive results. We found it surprisingly lightweight for a product designed for dry skin, an area of the market that is usually dominated with thick, greasy creams. It worked well with a separate SPF applied over the top and didn’t affect our make-up when we applied a light layer of foundation and concealer over the top. It includes CeraVe’s signature ceramides (barrier restoring lipids) which provide a boost of hydration to the skin and maintain its strength too. The deceivingly small tube also holds a plentiful 52ml, so it will last you ages.
Buy now £13.00, Look Fantastic
La Roche-Posay effaclar duo + SPF30
Best for: Acne-prone skin
If an oily T-zone and spots are your biggest skin concern, this gel-based moisturiser is ideal. While it won’t clear up spots overnight (let’s face it nothing will do that), it will reduce blemishes. We saw noticeably clearer skin, particularly with the hormonal acne on our chin, within a week of use. It has a mattifying finish which will control a shiny forehead and nose. Best of all it contains a broad spectrum sunscreen so you’ll be adequately protected while keeping imperfections at bay.
Buy now £13.12, Boots
Exuviance sheer refining fluid SPF35
Best for: Oily skin
While this lightweight cream with broad spectrum sunscreen will keep a shiny T-zone to a minimum, it isn’t overly mattifying nor did it pill under make-up. We loved this for how it quickly evened out skin texture, particularly bumpy cheeks, and it’s non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores. While it promises to reduce dark spots, we didn’t see a huge difference but for pigmentation, find our IndyBest guide to the best serums to treat that here. We did find that this left our skin feeling softer, smoother and clearer within two weeks of use, so it’s a thumbs up from us.
Buy now £40.50, All Beauty
Paula’s Choice essential glow moisturiser SPF30
Best for: Dull skin
If you’re lacking radiance, this illuminating moisturiser will add a surface glow to your skin. Its formula is also made with a broad spectrum sunscreen for top protection. It has a grey tint to it when first applied, but this quickly disappears once rubbed in, and it's the closest to an SPF in texture but without a greasy finish. There is also kiwi and licorice extract to improve uneven skin tone and argan oil which left our reviewer’s skin soft to touch.
Buy now £30.00, Cult Beauty
Simple Skin protecting light moisturiser SPF15
Best for: Sensitive skin
For something cheap and cheerful that doesn’t compromise on efficacy, this lightweight cream does the trick. While it contains a low SPF of 15, it does shield skin from UVA and UVB rays. Our reviewer found it didn’t exacerbate redness nor clog pores on their nose and like every product from Simple Skin, this is made with sensitivity in mind, so it contains no fragrance or alcohol that are common irritants. It’s a no-brainer buy.
Buy now £3.45, Superdrug
Medik8 advanced day total protect SPF 30
Best for: All skin types
Think of cosmeceutical brand Medik8’s day cream as a 360 shield against pollutants, sun damage, the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dehydration. For a high SPF you would expect a greasier texture, but we found this to be surprisingly lightweight, taking just seconds to fully absorb. It didn’t affect our make-up either or leave an excessively shiny sheen on oilier areas. Although you wouldn’t notice it while applying it, it also provides an antioxidant protection from blue light that’s emitted from our screens. Just what we need while working from homee and socialising via Zoom.
Buy now £55.00, LOOKFANTASTIC
Bobbi Brown extra repair moisturizing balm SPF25
Best for: Dry skin
Housed in a glass jar, this rich cream feels luxurious to apply and is instantly comforting to skin that feels tight and uncomfortable as soon as you step out of a shower. It is a thick consistency, so steer clear if you’re on the oilier side. If you’re going to be applying make-up, we’d recommend waiting five minutes after using it to apply your foundation to avoid any stickiness.
Buy now £68.50, John Lewis & Partners
Clarins hydra-essentiel lotion SPF15
Best for: Dehydrated skin
Killing two birds with one stone, this milky lotion both boosts the skin’s hyaluronic production and provides an SPF15 coverage. If being indoors has seen your skin become dry or dehydrated, this will add moisture and ensure you retain it too. It has a slight, pleasant scent that’s inoffensive. Our only gripe is the pump can be a little temperamental, so be careful you don’t end up with more of it on your carpet than on your face.
Buy now £37.00, Clarins
Perricone MD photo-brightening moisturiser SPF30
Best for: Combination skin
Don’t be put off by the coral pink colour of this cream, it quickly absorbs when massaged into skin to leave you with a dewy glow that we found to be a great base underneath make-up. Alongside its instantly brightening effect, it’s oil-free with a broad spectrum sunscreen. This also contains vitamin C, which reduced discolouration on our eyelids and centre of the cheeks. It’s very lightweight and doesn’t leave a greasy residue or have any fragrance in it.
Buy now £47.20, LOOKFANTASTIC
BareMinerals complexion rescue SPF30
Best for: Glowy coverage
A tinted moisturiser is ideal for summer days when you want coverage but don’t want to sweat off a full face of foundation. This gel-cream provides a sheer finish to even out skin tone, but we loved that it can be built up in layers if you like more coverage and can be applied with your fingers, just as you would your regular moisturiser. Available in 10 shades (which could and should be expanded), we found it to be a great multi-tasker that works as a base make-up product, an oil-free hydrator and mineral sunscreen of SPF30. It also has a useful shade-finding tool on its website here so you can still find your match while beauty counters remain closed.
Buy now £30.00, Asos
Charlotte Tilbury magic cream SPF15
Best for: All skin types
According to Charlotte Tilbury, celebrity make-up artist and founder of the brand, this moisturiser was initially used backstage to prep models before layers of make-up were applied for fashion shows, so we had high hopes it’d work just as well on our skin. We weren't disappointed, the hyaluronic acid-rich formula kept dehydration at bay and there was a significant increase in dewiness and plumpness, which was a welcome sight nine weeks into lockdown. It’s SPF is broad spectrum too so you're mostly safe from UVA and UVB rays. The combination of frangipani, aloe vera and damask rose means it has a slightly sweet scent but isn’t overwhelming either.
Buy now £75.00, Cult Beauty
The verdict: SPF moisturisers
We loved the CeraVe facial moisturising lotion SPF25 for being affordable and fast-acting, and while it's designed for dry skin, we found it struck the right balance with combination skin too. It's a no-brainer buy.
However, if you're gripe is excess oil production, the Exuviance sheer refining fluid SPF35 impressed us for its lightweight texture, non-comedogenic formula and ability to even out skin tone.