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As someone who’s been a beauty journalist for over 20 years, I often think I’ve seen it all. And then, VERY, occasionally, a product comes along with a claim so astonishing I wonder if I even heard it correctly in the first place.
That’s exactly what happened when I was handed the prototype of an SPF promising to revolutionise suncare. Its name was SunSeal, and it claimed to protect skin from UV rays for THREE DAYS at a time. Swim, shower, shampoo and sweat all you like, they said, but this “second skin” won’t budge.
The formula is a medical-grade waterproof film that bonds to skin while still letting air through. It’s been used by dermatologists for years in a camouflage product called Microskin which covers birthmarks, burns, scars and vitiligo for days at a time. SunSeal is the same base but with SPF instead of flesh-toned pigments.
I've been keeping an eye on this innovation since summer 2019 when I was granted an exclusive sneak preview, and now the world’s first "72 hour sunscreen" has finally gone on sale here in the UK. But is it too good to be true? Here’s what happened when I took my bottle to Majorca pre-Covid to trial on my pale, sizzle-prone skin…
My husband wants it on record: this is a disaster waiting to happen. "If our holiday is ruined and you end up in hospital, don’t say I didn’t tell you so," he says, eyeing my SunSeal SPF50 sample with suspicion.
The formula is alcohol based, and it gives off fumes that make my eyes water for a few seconds when I rub it on my face. It goes on clear, which is a bit worrying, but it does leave a tacky feel and sheen which makes me feel more confident I’ve not missed any bits. Later, as my plane soars into the sky, I’m secretly tickled at the thought of jetting off with my sun protection already in place.
Holiday day 1
It’s 8am, the sun’s blazing and loungers are already festooned with towels. It feels strange not slathering suncream on myself. However it’s very much SPF business as usual with my children, who scream and run as I aim a regular suncream in their direction. If I only had to endure this every three days instead of every three hours, I’d be delighted.
I spend most of the day under a pool-side umbrella because a big part of my brain is shrieking "you didn’t put suncream on, idiot". I’m wearing a UV monitor which shows, despite my wary shade bathing, I’ve had three times my "safe" exposure. I’ve not gone pink though.
Holiday day 2
Zero chance of hiding in the shade this morning as the kids are fighting over their new lilos and I’m in the pool refereeing. When I get out of the water, I remember the advice to pat my skin dry and not rub harshly, which risks sloughing the SunSeal film off.
I spend the afternoon sweltering on the beach, weirded out by the fact I’ve not applied suncream on my body for two days. The UV monitor shows I’ve bust my safe sun allowance by 542%, yet there’s no hint of burning.
Holiday day 3
It’s even warmer today, and I’m fearing for my exposed shoulders as I get talked into the midday aqua aerobics. Still no pinkness by lunch, but I’m not a pretty sight. My fake tan’s mottled from the pool water, but I can’t scrub and reapply in case it weakens my sun protection.
Also, my legs are stubbly but I’m not sure I can shave without scraping off my SPF. (Shaving is fine, I learn later, but you need to be careful about applying products over SunSeal. Soaps, shampoos and anything water-based is fine, but oils and creams may break down the "second skin" film faster.)
I then spend hours in the sea, trying to stop the kids drifting off to Africa in their wretched lilos. By dinner my nerves are frazzled but – incredibly – my skin isn’t, despite clocking up over 450% of my max sun exposure.
I’m not claiming this is a clinical trial, but in my experience SunSeal felt less like an SPF than a superpower. I didn’t turn even slightly pink in 72 hours despite the 33-degree heat.
There are caveats though. It feels weirdly sticky initially and you have to be incredibly careful about both application and after-care.
Also, it isn’t a 72-hour shield for the face. The makers recommend topping up the face sooner because it has more natural oils which can break down the SPF film faster. I reapplied it daily on my face in Majorca, because so many other facial products I use, from cleanser to night cream, contain oils.
However, I will definitely use SunSeal as a 72-hour body sunscreen in future, and it will be the first thing in my bag once we’re allowed to jet off on holiday again. It gets a five-star thumbs up from me.
I loved the way it felt like I wasn’t wearing sunscreen – once I’d got over how disconcerting that was. It’s not cheap at £27 for a 200ml bottle, but considering that would easily last me a week, it might actually save me money as well as tons of hassle.
Our burning questions
We asked SunSeal’s UK MD David Robinson to break down the science behind SunSeal…
How can SunSeal make the three day claim?
We’re not a sunscreen company, we’re a medical company using our patented Microskin technology – the gold standard in simulated skin technology used by dermatologists worldwide – to make a sunscreen.
We have conducted years of lab testing, and have proved SunSeal gives the SPF protection stated on the bottle for the full 72 hours. The UVA and UVB blockers don’t wear off in the way that regular water-based sunscreens do. You also don’t need to apply it thickly to get the full SPF.
Isn't it likely to encourage irresponsible sunbathing?
No. It only comes as SPF50+ (and, next year, SPF30) and because the film remains on the skin for 72 hours, the UVA/B filters will prevent a deep tan, so it’s not likely to appeal to that consumer.
Who can use it?
SunSeal is safe for the whole family, including children over three, and sensitive skin types. It is not absorbed into the skin so it will not irritate.
Because sun safety comes first, we asked some independent professionals whether this is REALLY a good idea
“I think this is a very interesting innovation, and the technology sounds plausible to me,” says consultant dermatologist and skin cancer specialist Dr Anton Alexandroff.
“Most people are not strict or reliable enough in applying sunscreen. Protection from a normal sun cream typically reduces within a couple of hours, and you put yourself at risk of burning and skin cancer by not topping up regularly. This is where Sunseal helps. It is extremely helpful to be able to apply only every three days on the body!”
Speciality doctor and medical journalist Dr Patricia Macnair agrees: “There does seem to be good evidence that this product stays on the skin for 72 hours. I think it’s a positive development in suncare because it appears to offer protection for much longer than traditional SPFs and with a lot less effort.
“It could be particularly useful after swimming, when SPFs can wash off and people often get burned. I’m pleased to see that this product only comes in very high SPFs, so it’s focused on protecting your skin, not about tanning it.”
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“However, I think it is very important to ensure you have applied it properly and to be vigilant at checking your skin, especially at first, in case you have accidentally missed areas. I would say that the sun is important for vitamin D synthesis, so if you were constantly wearing this product all over, I would advise taking a supplement.”
Dr Alexandroff sounds another note of caution: “Applying Sunseal is also not a licence to 'fry' in the sun. Even the highest factor can’t block out UV rays completely, so you do need to stick to sensible sunbathing limits.”
SunSeal SPF50+ is available now here, £12 for 5ml, £18 for 100ml and £27 for 200ml
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