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22 Jun 2021

Popular adults and kids sun creams fail Which? sun protection tests

Garnier Ambre Solaire Clear Protect Spray SPF30 and Nivea Kids Protect & Care SPF50+ Spray both failed to live up to their claims in our tests
Sunscreen being applied to a smiling child

Two big brand sun creams from Garnier Ambre Solaire and Nivea - including one for kids - have failed Which? sun protection tests.

We put 11 SPF30 adult sun screens and 4 SPF50+ kids sun creams to the test and were concerned to find two products that failed to live up to their SPF or UVA protection claims.

Garnier's Ambre Solaire Clear Protect Spray SPF30 (£7/200ml) failed our UVA test, while Nivea's Kids Protect & Care SPF50+ Spray (£6/200ml) was found wanting when it comes to SPF protection - particularly concerning considering children's skin is more at risk from the sun.

After an initial fail result, we tested an extra sample of each of the sun screens and both failed again. Because of this we've named these two products Don't Buys that we recommend you avoid.

Only sun creams that pass both our SPF and UVA sun protection tests and that are also easy to apply can be Best Buys - four products from this year's tests impressed enough to get our recommendation.

Best Buy sun creams - see our top picks for 2021

The sun creams you can't rely on

Get the lowdown on our Don't Buys in this video guide, and read on to see which products passed our tests.

Nivea Kids Protect & Care SPF50+ Spray (£6 for 200ml)

We tested this kids' sun cream from Nivea twice. The first sample didn't come close to providing SPF50+ protection. When we tested a second sample in exactly the same way, the measured SPF was even lower.

Based on our testing, we don't think this product provides the protection you would expect, so we've labelled it a Don't Buy.

What the manufacturers say

Beiersdorf, maker of Nivea, told us: 'The safety of our products is of utmost importance. Nivea Sun prides itself on its decades of experience in sun care, and when this product was independently tested in 2019 it achieved an SPF of 62. When we re-checked this batch, the result was a UVA protection factor of 25.8. Based on this data and our comprehensive quality requirements, we disagree with the Which? findings.'

Garnier Ambre Solaire Clear Protect Spray SPF30 (£7 for 200ml)

When we tested this spray, two separate samples failed our UVA tests.

While the results were close to the minimum required for it to pass, neither sample quite made the grade and so we're recommending that you don't buy it.

What the manufacturers say

L'Oreal, maker of Garnier Ambre Solaire, told us that it disputes our findings, it has run independent tests of the UVA properties of the product which show that it passes the tests, complies with all applicable standards and provides proper sun protection for consumers.

A spokesperson went on to say: 'Garnier Ambre Solaire has been the expert at suncare innovation for over 85 years and is the only suncare brand with research recognised by the British Skin Foundation. We take product efficacy very seriously. Our UVA claims are supported by robust photoprotection testing carried out independently under ISO standard ISO 24443:2012 and meet the requirements of the European Recommendation for sun protection products. Given this, we are very surprised by the Which? results.'

Sun creams that passed our SPF and UVA tests

10 adult sun creams and 3 kids' ones passed both our UVA and SPF tests, including some great value options. You can see the list of products that passed below.

We also ask a panel to rate how easy each sun lotion is to apply and how well it absorbs into the skin. The sun creams which passed both sun protection tests and are easiest to apply are our Best Buys.

This year, four sun lotions impressed enough to be given our top recommendation. These products will protect your skin as claimed and be pleasant and easy to use.

To see our top picks, head to our best sun creams page.

SPF30 sun screens which passed our UVA and SPF tests

SPF50+ kids sun screens which passed our UVA and SPF tests

  • Boots Soltan Kids Protect & Moisturise Suncare Lotion, £4/200ml - available from Boots
  • Childs Farm Sun Cream, £12/125ml - available from Boots, Superdrug, Sainsbury's and Asda
  • Garnier Ambre Solaire Kids Sensitive Sun Protection Lotion, £7/200ml - available from Boots, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's

Sun cream reviews - read up on all the sunscreens we've tested to find the best for you

How we test sun creams

We test SPF and UVA protection according to British Standards, to see if products meet the claims on the bottle.

We also ask a panel to rate how easy and pleasant the products are to apply, including how well they absorb and how greasy they feel on the skin.

SPF test

A UVB lamp is shone on sun cream applied to volunteers' backs. We record when skin reddens and compare the smallest amount of UVB required with and without the sun cream.

The difference between the two is used to calculate the SPF. We test on a minimum of 10 people.

UVA testing

We spread a thin film of sun cream on a roughened glass plate. We place it in the light-path of a UV spectrophotometer (a machine that measures light) to measure the UVA radiation absorbed by the sun cream.

This needs to be a minimum of one third of the SPF, which is the minimum recommendation set by the EU.

Sun cream application testing

We use a panel to test how easy sun cream is to apply - 10 people try each sun cream and rate them for how easy they are to apply, how well they absorb, visible residue, tackiness, greasiness and for smell.

All of the bottles used in the test are covered up to make them unidentifiable.

How we test sun creams - more on our independent lab tests

Three tips for staying safe in the sun

1. Apply sun cream frequently, liberally and prior to going in the sun

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using 35ml of sunscreen to cover the whole body; this is about seven teaspoons' worth.

It's best to apply to all exposed areas 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or other outdoor physical activity.

2. Know what sun protection symbols to look for and what they mean

UVA and UVB are both types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and have been linked to skin cancer.

UVB is the main cause of sunburn, while UVA can cause premature skin ageing. UVB rays are blocked by glass, but UVA can penetrate that and clouds.

The sun protection factor (SPF) shows how much protection sun cream provides against UVB radiation. It indicates how much longer skin covered with the sunscreen takes to redden compared with unprotected skin.

The UVA seal - a circle with 'UVA' inside it - shows that it meets official recommendations for UVA sun protection. Some products use the Boots UVA star ratings system to indicate the level of UVA protection. Find out more in our suncream buying guide.

3. Take extra care to protect children

Children's skin is more sensitive to the sun, so it's especially important to keep them protected.

Buying a decent and high SPF sunscreen is important, but don't rely on this alone.

Getting kids to wear a wide-brimmed hat - to protect their neck and ears - and covering up with a T-shirt or an SPF sun suit while outdoors helps.

Wearing sunglasses and avoiding the hottest part of the day are both advisable things to do (for adults too). Babies should always be kept out of the sun.

Learn more about sun cream for kids with our children's sun cream advice guide

Prices correct as of 17 June 2021