I know how it works when it comes you sun creams – you tend to grab whatever’s on offer in Superdrug or in the supermarket or get some along with all those other last minute essentials in the airport Boots. Well that’s what I do anyway.
I decided to trial a few new sun creams which have been designed specifically for sensitive skin which rarely sees the sun and doesn't tan easily. This is me. During my childhood in Africa I was always tanned from running around in the tropical sun and assumed that was what my skin was ‘meant’ to look like. I was mistaken – my real complexion is really quite pale and it takes an annoyingly long time to tan.
Two decades of living in England with one week off for good behaviour somewhere properly hot and sunny has lured me into that trap of arriving on holiday with a ghostly pallor, being sensible with my sun cream application for about a day, deciding I’m not tanning quickly enough, caning it for a bit, getting burnt, then spending the rest of the week with sore pink patches. Utter stupidity. I am ashamed.
I feel like in Europe they are a bit more realistic about tanning – they understand that people want to sit out in the sun (maybe not in the midday sun like mad dogs and Englishwomen, but anyway) and so develop sun protection that will still keep the UV rays at bay while also allowing you to develop a nice tan. Consider this edit a Grand Tour of the best sun protection Europe has to offer...
Bioderma is one of those famous French pharmaceutical brands which fashion types (including me because I am a slavish Francophile) are always going on about. Look, see, Olivia tells you to buy their cleansing water in her Paris guide right here.
All the products in their Photoderm suncare range combine UVA/UVB surface protection with what they describe as ‘in-depth cellular biological’ protection using their patented Cellular BIOprotection® complex – the first biologically active sunscreen ingredient that's been found to counter the long-term damage of UV exposure.
That’s reassuring, but what’s equally interesting to me is that there are specific products which are designed for different kinds of skin: acne-prone, sensitive, rosacea-prone and skin that has hyper pigmentation. This makes so much sense - you don't use a rich moisturiser if you have oily skin, so why can’t sun protection give us the same choices?
I tried Photoderm Max SPF50+ cream for sensitive skin, which is free from fragrance and parabens and water-resistant. The light, milky fluid sank into my skin immediately and didn’t make it feel sticky or leave a white residue – perfect for using on the face instead of a moisturiser when on holiday. £13.90, zestessentials.com
Eau Thermale Avène is a brand that specialises in wimpy, melodramatic skin like mine (and it’s also French! Très bien!) Their suncare is paraben-free, hypoallergenic and contains Avène Thermal Spring Water which has soothing and anti-irritating properties, plus the antioxidant Pre-tocopheryl - a form of Vitamin E - to protect against free-radicals (the nasty things that make skin age at a cellular level.)
I’m using the SPF50+ Very High Protection Cream which is meant for very fair, dry and sensitive skin that’s prone to sunburn and as it offers protection against UVB and UVA rays it’s ideal for skin that’s going into very strong sunlight (hello Capri!)
The rich cream is intensely moisturising but absorbs surprisingly quickly. It also smells a little bit like Calpol, but I actually quite like that and skin is left with a slight sheen but definitely no chalky, white residue. £11.50, zestessentials.com
Italian brand Kiko has a suncare range that contains their impressive-sounding K² Advanced Protection Complex which is designed to offer anti-ageing and moisturising properties as well as sun protection. But the key quality for me is that it stimulates the production of melanin for a faster and longer-lasting tan while preventing wrinkles and brown spots.
Kiko’s Sunscream Cream SPF50 did take the longest of all the products I trialled to rub into the skin – it’s a thick white emulsion which you need to patiently massage in, but it does all eventually disperse and you really feel like you have proper protective coverage that’s not going to budge, while even with the SPF50 I had a light tan after an afternoon sunbathingdoing research in the garden.)
It also feels like it’s doing some heavy-duty moisturising and as I’m normally too lazy to do this, it serves a dual purpose. £8.40, kikocosmetics.co.uk
No round-up of European sun protection would be complete without my beloved P20. This German brand has been making their famous, no-nonsense Once A Day lotion for yonks and I’m convinced it’s why German tourists always have such spectacular tans. P20 is ideal if you can’t be bothered to reapply your sun cream throughout the day – and let’s face it, even the water-resistant ones do require a top up.
I honestly have no idea how it works, it smells a bit sinister and you do feel like you’re varnishing your body with it, but if you put this stuff on in the morning, wait the recommended 15 minutes for it to dry (I never do and have horrible yellow-stained beach clothes as a result) it will do you proud. £9, tesco.com