Can you downshift your sun cream? £5 Nivea vs £3 Aldi, £18 La Roche Posay vs £8 Ambre Solaire & more

We asked skin experts about safety too – some cheap brands actually give BETTER protection

Downshifting is practically in our DNA at MSE, so naturally we want to avoid damaging said DNA by blocking harmful UV rays with sun cream... but it can be expensive. So I set out to find whether downshifting sun cream is possible, and asked skin experts about safety.

For years, we've banged on about the Downshift Challenge – try one brand-level lower of everything you buy, and see if you can tell any difference. If you can't, stick with the cheaper version. I've previously looked at make-up and beauty products, as well as shampoos, conditioners and shower gels, so now it's the turn of sun cream.

Is it safe to switch to cheaper sun cream?

Buying cheaper yet still highly-rated SPF and UVA-starred products is MoneySaving. Skimping on application or not wearing it at all is not. Aside from the health implications, some people even go so far as to say if you don't wear sun cream you're throwing all the money you spend on skincare away.

Branded sun lotions can set you back up to a whopping £25 for a 200ml bottle on the high street. However it’s possible to downshift to an own-branded or sometimes even branded alternative without losing protection. Plus, skin care experts say they check out on skin safety.

The British Skin Foundation told us:

When choosing a sunscreen, rather than price or retailer, the two most important factors to look out for are its SPF and UVA rating.

Firstly SPF, or sun protection factor, is the level of protection sunscreen gives against UVB radiation, the type that causes sunburn. This is usually on the front of the product. We recommend choosing one at SPF 30 or higher.

Secondly, check the UVA rating, which tends to be on the back. It may be a circle with UVA inside it, or star rating from zero to five. Ideally, aim for four or five stars.

  • What does SPF mean?

    The SPF or Sun Protection Factor (for example, SPF 30 or SPF 50) is the information telling you how much UVB you are protected from. It doesn't mean '30 minutes'. Simply put, it means that you can stay outside 30-times longer (for SPF 30) before burning than you would if you weren't wearing any sun cream at all. This is why using the same SPF on all the family probably isn't a good idea (unless it's SPF 50), as you will all take a different amount of time before you burn.

  • What does the UVA star/circle mean?

    The UVA star system was invented by Boots* in 1992 and was the first system of UVA classification in Europe, however the European marking now is the letters UVA in a circle (see images). The Star rating runs from 0-5 and indicates the percentage of UVA absorbed by the cream compared to UVB (the SPF rating). A star rating of at least four is recommended.

    The UVA in a circle symbol means the UVA protection is at least 1/3 of the SPF rating (UVB) and meets European recommendations. See the NHS page on sun safety for more information.

You might be a bit sceptical about cheaper sun cream, we always are too, but we’re trusting that these big companies have done their own independent checks to ensure these sun creams are fully tested and are legit.

Important: As with any product, if you have sensitive skin it’s important to do a patch test before using any new skin care or hair care product and sun cream is no exception.

Downshifting to Aldi sun cream, including £6 Aldi vs £24 P20, 75% saving

Many people's first port-of-call for cheaper beauty products is Aldi, and it turns out it sells several types of sun cream too. Some are only available in-store, and those that are also sold online may get snapped up quickly. 

Aldi's own-brand range is all 5-star UVA certified, which is one of the two things skincare experts tell us to look out for. In previous years, it performed well in Which? sun cream testing, checking the SPF and UVA ratings are accurate, while some big brands did not.

I put my chemistry PhD hat on and checked the full ingredients for Aldi's products to compare UV-filters, as well as similar branded products, where available, so you can choose for yourself whether you'll give Aldi's versions a try. I've also noted the UVA star rating of each product in the table below.

Aldi Lacura 200ml product 5-star UVA? Similar branded 200ml product 5-star UVA? Similarity between UV filter ingredients
SPF15* or SPF30* moisturising sun lotion - £2.79 each ✅ Yes Nivea Sun SPF15 or SPF30 protect & moisture sun cream - £6 each at Boots ❌ No, 4-star UVA 3 of 4 (5 in Nivea) UV filters the same
Solait moisturising sun lotion SPF 15 or 30 - £5.99 at Superdrug ✅ Yes 4 of 6 (5 in Aldi) UV filters the same
SPF15 or SPF30* clear sun spray - £3.49 each (normally £3.79) ✅ Yes Nivea Sun SPF20 or SPF30 protect & dry touch invisible spray - £6.50 at Amazon (normally about £8) ❌ No, 4-star UVA 4 of 5 UV filters the same
Garnier Ambre Solaire Clear Protect - £6.50 at Boots ❌ No, 3-star UVA 3 of 6 (4 in Aldi) UV filters the same
SPF15* or SPF30* moisturising sun spray - £3.49 each (normally £3.79) ✅ Yes Nivea Sun SPF15 or SPF30 Protect & Moisture sun cream spray - £6 at Boots ❌ No, 4-star UVA 3 of 4 (5 in Aldi) UV filters the same
SPF30* or SPF50+ mist spray - £3.79 each ✅ Yes Nivea Sun Protect & Dry Touch refreshing sunscreen mist SPF50 - £7.40 at Sainsbury's ❌ No, 4-star UVA 3 of 5 UV filters the same
Soltan clear & cool suncare mist - £7 at Boots (£6.30 with Advantage card) ✅ Yes 4 of 6 (5 in Aldi) UV filters the same
SPF15* or SPF30* hydrating sun spray - £4.49 each ✅ Yes Piz Buin Moisturising Lotion SPF30 - £7.99 at Superdrug ❌ No, 4-star UVA 3 of 4 (5 in Aldi) UV filters the same
SPF30 Once a day sun spray - £5.99 each ✅ Yes P20 Original SPF30 spray - £23.99 at Boots ✅ Yes 3 of 6 UV filters the same

MoneySavers also rate Aldi sun creams, saying:

Better than Nivea! I've always used Nivea sun cream and this is exactly the same, even the scent, but a fraction of the cost.

Top quality. Very effective sunscreen that smells gorgeous, exactly like Piz Buin. Fantastic value.

Brilliant! This sun cream smells and has the same texture and results as Piz Buin.

Love this! Better than well-known brands such as Piz Buin.

Sun cream downshifting at Boots, including £8 Ambre Solaire vs £16 La Roche-Posay, 50% saving

As well as the Aldi examples above, there are other ranges that people rave about as being a great alternative to big brands.

There's a big buzz online for two Garnier Ambre Solaire products being similar to posh La Roche-Posay Anthelios sun creams for the face. If you do a little digging, you'll find both brands are owned by L'Oreal, so is the similarity intentional?

When checking the ingredients, I found that 22 out of 28 (26 in La Roche-Posay sun cream) and 28 out of 32 (31 in La Roche-Posay mist) ingredients were exactly the same in both products, with most of the ingredients that differed used as preservatives.

Garnier Ambre Solaire product 5-star UVA? La Roche-Posay Anthelios alternative 5-star UVA? Similarity between UV filter ingredients
SPF50+ super UV anti dark spots & anti pollution face fluid, 40ml* - £8 at Boots ❌ No,3-star UVA SPF50 ultra-light invisible fluid sun cream, 50ml - £15.92 at Boots
❌ No,4-star UVA 6 out of 7 (8 in La Roche-Posay) UV filters the same
SPF50 Sensitive Hydrating Face Sun Cream Mist, 3-star UVA, 75ml* - £8 at Boots
❌ No,3-star UVA SPF50 sun protection face mist, 75ml - £13.60 at Boots ❌ No,4-star UVA 6 out of 6 (8 in Garnier) UV filters the same

Intentional or not, with Ambre Solaire being half the price of La Roche-Posay, it could be worth trying. I will note that it was very difficult to get a UVA star rating of La Roche-Posay to compare and had to use the 4-star level as tested by a Taiwanese laboratory, as La Roche-Posay is a French brand and uses the European UVA circle certification for safety.

The Garnier products are only 3-star UVA rated (4-star or above is recommended) and 10ml less than the big brand, so it's up to you whether you choose to make the switch, especially with concerns in previous years following Which? testing of a different Garnier Ambre Solaire product which failed to live up to its UVA rating. I've listed them here as they're popular online, but ultimately it's up to you to decide if you'd downshift to the cheaper brand.

Downshift to an own-branded 5-star UVA sun cream from £2.79

If you just want the best UVA protection for the least amount of money, I found the following 5-star UVA rated sun creams at supermarkets for less than a fiver for a 200ml bottle. Some supermarkets will have different SPFs available, so the below is not an exhaustive list.

Retailer/product Price
Aldi* - Lacura sun lotion SPF 30, 200ml £2.79
Asda - Protect SPF 30, 200ml £3
Tesco* - Soleil sensitive SPF 30, 200ml £3.20
Morrisons* - Sun lotion SPF 30, 200ml (vegan) £4
Sainsbury's - Sun Protect kids coloured SPF 50+, 200ml £4.50
Wilko - Suncare SPF 30, 200ml £4
Boots* - Soltan SPF 30, 200ml


(£3.51 with Advantage card)

Superdrug - Solait SPF 30, 200ml £3.59
Prices checked on Tue 20 June

This blog is dedicated to Dr Steve Moorhouse, who sadly lost his life to skin cancer in November 2022 after growing up in a time where safe and effective sun creams and info about sun safety were not widely available to all. In memory of my father, I put together this piece to help ensure people know there are safe and effective sun creams available at an affordable price point. Nobody should have to go without sun cream. - MSE Rhiannon

Have you seen any similar sun cream alternatives to big brands? What's your favourite branded or non-branded sun cream? Let us know on Twitter.