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...this sun screen would be it.
Specifically this review is off Boots Soltan SPF 50 with Insect Repellent
I moved to Africa to save the world and get a tan. When I first arrived there were a few weeks when due to various administrative 'issues' I was yet to start work, which meant I made little progress on the first. The flip-side was, the second one came on in leaps and bounds due to most of my days being spent reading in the sunshine.
Before I came out, I spent over £30 in Boots which is an insane amount, but necessitated by my love of the sun, and mosquitoes' love of me. In addition to dry shampoo and Savlon, I bought sun tan lotion, insect repellent and, a personal favourite, this sun tan lotion + insect repellent. It was on offer (I think BOGOF) but even if it hadn't been I would still have opted for Soltan as I think it strikes the perfect balance between being effective and easy to apply, and not breaking the bank. I do think sun tan lotion is expensive, but chances are if you're buying it in the UK it's for a relatively expensive trip overseas, so the theory is you can afford it. There's also an element of consumer demand to it: compare this to Australia where it is much cheaper but you go through much more, or Mexico where few people wear it and it is exorbitant.
Boots Soltan with Insect Repellent comes in a number of forms, including as a lotion and as a spray. I've had the lotion before, and find the large 400 ml bottles excellent value (especially when on BOGOF as they often are) but I wanted smaller, more portable stuff for this trip, and ended up getting the 200ml spray version instead. I bought it in Factor 50 but it is available in other SPFs from 8 to 50. Unlike with some other brands, the price does not increase with the number, it just varies with size / application type. At time of writing (October 2011) the Soltan range was half price, so for example the 400ml factor 50 was £8.24 rather than the usual £16.49.
The most critical factor in any sunscreen is its ability to prevent burning, so let's start with that. I have had years of experience of applying sunscreen, and believe that as long as you're using an appropriate factor for your skin type, any burning is down to human error in application rather than a fault of the product. I have olive skin and, for most of the year, a level of base tan. I know SPF 50 is quite a lot (and if I didn't, I could read it on the bottle as it shouts HIGH in nice blue letters) but I really, REALLY don't want to burn. It's mainly to do with pride. If I spend all day in the sun and come back burnt, people will say it serves me right. I tell people I never burn, so to keep this true I need to take precautions. Since using this spray I haven't had the slightest hint of redness. I thought I did once, but it was just where I had been carrying my bag on my shoulder...
There is a common belief that sunscreen stops you from getting a tan, so you should use a low factor, or go without. I am evidence to the contrary. I wore sunscreen every day for weeks, and was as brown as a berry. In actual fact, it lengthens the amount of time you can spend in the sun without burning, and I can tan as well wearing factor 15 as I can factor 50.
How much sun screen should you use? The standard answer is 2 mg/cm² of exposed skin though this is not that usable a figure. This bottle claims to contain 6 full applications for an average body size which, by their reapplication directions, might not last more than 2 days even if you cover up and get out of the sun over lunch. I clearly use less than is mandated since I was still using the same bottle after more than 3 weeks. I might be a little smaller than the average adult, but even so that was pushing it. This is one of the reasons I favour higher factors, as I know I use less than I should and have to reduce the expected SPF coverage appropriately. Even if I only get half the protection I should, that's still SPF 25 which is not terribly bad for my skin type.
Good sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays, though it's the latter which ascertain the SPF rating since it is UVB radiation that causes skin to burn. UVA rays don't make you visibly fry up like a lobster, but do increase your likelihood of skin cancer. That's why British products tell you both the number of the SPF and the stars of the UVA protection. In addition to being factor 50, my Soltan had a 5 star UVA rating, the highest currently on the market. Fun fact: the star rating in the UK was first developed by Boots, but is now used by most brands, though has not been adopted worldwide and lots of places prefer a more vague 'broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection'.
I spray this directly onto my body, but when I want to do my face I spray it into my hands first and then smooth it on. It's tricky because you want to avoid eyes and lips, and yet these are the areas more likely to wrinkle with overexposure to the sun, so you do want to make sure they're covered. However hard I try to keep my eyes shut, this stuff makes them water everso slightly. Not enough for me to stop using it, but it happens like clockwork every time I apply it to my face. Lots of sun creams can irritate my face, causing breakouts, but this one never has, and doesn't seem to clog pores in the way others can. Obviously this will vary from person to person, and depend on your skin type, but it suits me down to the ground.
Once I've got my colour, I want to keep it. Tans fade because of skin cell turnover, and moisturised skin keeps its colour for longer. I always apply moisturiser after a shower when I'm living a sunny life, but I have found this spray to be extremely moisturising too, and my skin has never felt so silky. If it didn't have such a price tag attached, I would happily use it even on cloudy days.
The spray is white but rubs in clear, so it can be hard to see where you've applied it. You can figure it out by touching your skin, though, as straight after application it's a bit sticky though this fades within minutes as your skin absorbs it. You are advised to apply sun cream about 20 minutes before going in to the sun, and then reapply on a regular basis (Boots say every 1-2 hours) and after swimming. I find this is a bit excessive: I apply it in the morning and, if I'm spending the full day in the sun, may slap some more on after lunch. In Mexico I used this while swimming a lot, and found that it held up well for dips of up to 30 minutes, but any longer and you would have to follow the instructions to reapply to be on the safe side. Over here I often sit with my feet in a bucket (such is the glam life I lead) and never reapply after - even so, my feet have never burnt, and I just have a dainty tan line from my flip-flops looping below my toes.
This Soltan has a really mild scent. I suppose if I had to describe it I would say it was floral, but it is very, very light and I can usually smell my shampoo much more than this spray. Another thing I like about this product is the spray application. It makes applying it to remote body parts very easy without much in the way of contortionist moves needed. I once burnt my back in the Bahamas when I had no one on hand to rub lotion into it (sob) but since switching to using a spray I have never had this problem, and while I still tend to wear a t-shirt if I'm lying out, when my back or shoulders are on display they are easy enough to spray and protect. The amount you get out in one spray varies depending on how much you suppress the nozzle, and you can vary a lot or a little to suit your needs. Not all that much comes out even with the full spray and it can take 6 to 8 of these to release enough of the product to cover one arm, but I prefer this to having it come glooping out in excess. I am also really impressed by the design of the nozzle, as it has never once clogged up. There's often a bit of after-squirt on it, but even if you don't wipe it away, it won't solidify by the next time you need to use it, so no time is wasted trying to de-gunk it when you just want to get out in the sun.
As I mentioned, mosquitoes like me an annoying amount, and I never return from abroad without at least a smattering of bites. Over there this was more of a worry since they were quite likely to be Malarial baddies, so I made sure I had some repellent on at all times. I may sound like a broken record but again, I am supremely impressed by the insect repellent in this cream. A few years ago when I bought it for the first time I was somewhat wary as I thought it might be a bit of an after-thought, and the words "gentle and odourless" did little to reassure me. Odourless is fine, but I want super strength mossie repeller, not a weak, gentle version. I needn't have worried. Even though it is not a Deet-based product, it works exceptionally well. Much like sunburn, the odd time I have been bitten I am sure is because I did not apply this well enough, and simply missed a spot. In 5 weeks of wearing it I was not been once during the day (and at night I wouldl have showered this all off anyway). A huge added bonus is that is saves you having to figure out which to apply first in the insect repellent / sun screen double whammy, as you're only slopping on one product.
The only real difference I find between brands (aside from the price) is the ease and speed of absorption. I tried Tesco Value sun stuff once, which was a big mistake as it never really sunk down into my skin, and eventually I had to wash it off. I do find sprays easier to rub in, but even so they can sometimes be a bit thick and greasy. This Soltan is prefect: it sinks in quickly but you still feel it's working well, and the white liquid turns clear without too much rubbing in. It also doesn't stain clothes. While I apply early morning with next to nothing on, if I'm reapplying at lunch it will probably be around the shorts or sundress or whatever that I'm wearing. The odd drop of this has fallen onto my clothes but again it sinks in quickly leaving only the faintest dark patch (like when you dribble olive oil down yourself). Unlike olive oil, it washes out easily without leaving a mark, which is particularly great for those of us who are stuck hand washing our clobber.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is my very favourite brand of sun cream, and the inclusion of an effective insect repellent is just the icing on the cake. To summarise:
Choice of lotion or spray
Doesn't clog pores
Useful insect repellent
Great UVA and UVB protection
I'll say it again: If I could offer you only one tip for the future, Boots Soltan with Insect Repellent would be it.
Available exclusively from Boots and Boots.com
Tan sorted, now let's get cracking on saving the world...