Facial Moisturizers with Sunscreen Protection


What a smart business move it was for cosmetic and skin-care companies to formulate facial moisturizers that also contain broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning that they provide UV-A and UV-B protection) to save our vulnerable faces from the sun’s damaging UV rays — the ones that not only cause premature aging of the skin, leaving you with brown spots, lines and wrinkles, but also melanoma, the deadly skin cancer.

Trusting that these products actually will protect you turns out not to be such a smart move, however! A new study tested 29 facial moisturizers that promised to offer broad-spectrum UV protection, ranging in sun protection factor (SPF) from 15 to 50, and found that only a few of these products really did the trick.

Shame on the marketers! I talked to Steven Q. Wang, MD, a dermatologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and one of the study’s authors, about how this could be so, and he explained the problem: Most of the moisturizers protect you from UV-B waves — in fact, the SPF number on the label refers only to UV-B — but they don’t protect you from UV-A waves.


 This distinction is important because UV-A rays are the ones that penetrate deep into your skin and can damage cells that grow well below the surface. Additionally, those rays are ever present — whether it’s winter or summer, raining or cloudy, because UV-A rays can pass through clouds and even get into your home. “In day-to-day living, exposure to UV-B is relatively small,” Dr. Wang told me. “But UV-A rays get through glass — so if you’re sitting in your car or your office or near a window at home, you need more UV-A protection.”

The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the claims of such products, and there is no other regulation of UV-A claims in particular, nor any official definition of “broad-spectrum” — so there is no government watchdog looking at what a consumer gets, which is what led Dr. Wang and his colleagues to undertake this study, published in the January 20, 2011, issue of The Archives of Dermatology.

Dr. Wang won’t reveal the brands he studied or those that passed the test, pointing out that manufacturers often change ingredients. Instead, he suggests that as consumers, we all need to look out for ourselves by examining the ingredients of any facial moisturizer with sunscreen we are considering using. And paying more doesn’t necessarily buy more protection, Dr. Wang said — for example, the most expensive product he looked at, at $64 per ounce, offered absolutely no protection from UV-A rays.


 So what should you look for? Examine the list of “active ingredients” on the package, and buy products that have the following:

  • A combination of avobenzone and octocrylene. Dr. Wang explained that theoctocrylene makes the avobenzone more stable.
  • If avobenzone is not present, ecamsule is shown to be protective against UV-A rays. In this case, it is stable on its own.
  • Zinc oxide also offers good protection against UV-A rays.

If ever there were a case of caveat emptor, this is it. If you plan to buy a facial moisturizer with sunscreen, make sure you allot yourself a bit of extra time so you can read those labels carefully!

Source:  Steven Q. Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Basking Ridge, NJ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s