The Best High-SPF Sunscreens

Sunscreens get serious: These new high-SPF formulas are the best protection yet for over-40 skin.

By Lois Joy Johnson

Not so long ago, SPF 50 was the most protection you could get from a nonprescription sunscreen, and we were told it was more than most of us would ever need. But go to any drugstore today and you’ll find products with SPFs in the 60s, 70s, even 80s. What’s changed? And do you really need this stuff?
First, a refresher course. The SPF number, remember, refers only to a sunscreen’s level of protection against UVB rays, the ones that burn your skin. Most sunscreens also offer some defense against UVA rays, which penetrate deeper and cause the more long-term damage that results in wrinkles, leatheriness, and brown spots. Both kinds of ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer, so you definitely need to protect yourself from both.
In the past few years, sunscreen makers have developed potent new combinations of ingredients that block UV rays more effectively. L’Oreal won FDA approval for products containing its UVA filter Mexoryl SX, which stays stable longer on the skin and has been available in Europe for about 15 years. Neutrogena has combined previously approved ingredients (the UVA screen avobenzone and the UVB screen oxybenzone) in its new Helioplex complex for better, longer-lasting protection. These advances have enabled companies to offer sunscreens with much higher SPFs.
One caveat: SPF numbers are not necessarily consistent from brand to brand. Each company does its own testing, and there’s no standardized measure of a product’s stability. MORE spoke with a top dermatologist, Deborah Sarnoff, MD, vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, who told us that SPF readings can turn out very differently in different labs. And there’s no rating system for UVA protection, although the FDA has proposed one that could take effect by next year. Still, the new, higher SPFs make sense for women over 40, especially those of us with major sun damage. "If you’ve had a basal- or squamous-cell carcinoma, have a family history of skin cancer, use Retin-A, or get peels or laser treatments, you’re in a high-risk category and need a high SPF, at least 50," Sarnoff says. "Besides, consumers are known to apply 50 percent less sunscreen than is used in lab tests. Most women just blend it on like moisturizer. Using a higher SPF compensates for that."
Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2008.

Share Your Thoughts!


Andy Watkins08.04.2012

I would recommend at least a SPF40+ product when going outside.

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