Daily sunscreen use is essential for our overall skin health. Not only is too much sun exposure associated with a higher increase in skin cancer, but it contributes to 80-90% of facial skin aging. The majority of people understand how SPF works – the higher the SPF, the more protective the sunscreen is. However, SPF is only a measure of how effective a sunscreen is at blocking UVB rays. So what about UVA rays?
While UVA rays are less associated with skin cancer than UVB rays, they are the biggest contributor to sun-induced premature aging. So how do we know how much UVA protection a sunscreen offers? Which sunscreens have the highest UVA protection? Fear not! For here are the best sunscreens with high UVA protection…
This article is Part 3 of a three-part sunscreen guide. If you’re interested in the science, or if you would like to be directed to sources for this information, please see Parts 1&2.
Part I – The Importance of Sunscreen
Part II – How Is Sunscreen Tested? SPF vs UVAPF
Part III (this article) – The Best Sunscreens With High UVA Protection.
If you’re not particularly interested in the detailed science behind sun damage, how sunscreen works, or how sunscreen protection is measured – here is a (not-so) brief overview…
You can skip the overview by using the table of contents below.
What is UV radiation?
There are three types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation – UVA, UVB, & UVC.
- UVA rays account for the majority (95%) of UV radiation. They have a longer wavelength than UVB and UVC rays which means they have less energy (shorter wavelengths have more energy than longer wavelengths). Due to their longer wavelength, they can penetrate into the dermis which is predominantly made up of collagen (70%). When UVA rays are absorbed by the skin they create free radicals which can damage cells and DNA and break down collagen. This is why UVA rays are highly associated with premature aging. The damage caused by UVA rays is invisible to the naked eye (until years later) and is accumulative.
- UVB rays account for less than 5% of UV radiation and, due to their shorter wavelength, can only penetrate the epidermis. Here, they are directly absorbed by DNA and melanin and can cause genetic mutations that, if not corrected by the cells natural defenses, can lead to the rapid multiplication of mutated cells and eventually result in skin cancer. The damage done by UVB rays can be seen almost immediately in the form of sunburn (an inflammatory response to the skin damage).
- UVC rays are by far the most damaging of the three types of UV rays. However, they are entirely absorbed by the atmosphere due to their short wavelength and, thus, are unable to reach our skin.
For a long time, research focussed purely on UVB rays and the damage that they caused directly to DNA. This led to the production of sunscreens that were able to block UVB rays and reduce sunburn and skin cancer, but the damage from UVA radiation was largely overlooked. More recently, research has begun to highlight how UVA rays indirectly damage DNA through the generation of free radicals.
Does Melanin Protect The Skin From UV Radiation?
Melanin absorbs both UVA and UVB rays (as well as visible light), the more melanin present in the skin, the more UV radiation is absorbed before it can reach the cells nucleus and damage DNA. This is why you get a ‘sun-tan’ when you have spent too much time in the sun. There are three stages to skin tanning:
- Immediate Pigment Darkening (IPD) – an initial and temporary darkening of skin pigment that occurs over a period of minutes-to-days and results from the oxidization of melanin and melanosome redistribution.
- Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) – follows on from IPD but lasts longer (3-5 days) and is more strongly activated by UVA than UVB.
- Delayed Pigment Darkening (DPD) – the last phase of tanning (and what the majority of people know to be a ‘sun-tan’) that is first noticed a couple of days after sun exposure and lasts for at least 3-4 weeks. DPD caused by UVB is a natural protective response (although DPD caused by UVA seems to have no protective mechanism).
Darker-skinned individuals have a higher natural protection from UV-induced DNA damage as more melanin is available to absorb the UV light before it can damage DNA. However, natural melanin alone is not sufficient protection and only offers a maximum of SPF4.
What Is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor and it is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects the skin from UVB radiation. An artificial UV source is used to irradiate skin until there is erythema (minimal erythema dose – MED) with and without sunscreen. SPF is then calculated by dividing the MED of the protected skin by the MED of the unprotected skin (i.e. how long it takes the skin to ‘burn’ with and without sunscreen).
In theory, this means that a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 means that you can be exposed to UV radiation for 50x longer before burning. However, due to the fact that the strength of UVB radiation varies throughout the day (highest around the middle of the day) and the fact that sunscreens lose their effectiveness over time (need to be reapplied every 2 hours), this is not the case.
Most people are pretty familiar with SPF – the higher the SPF, the higher the protection, the longer it would take for skin to burn (if UVB strength was constant).
However, the measurement of UVA protection is a little more confusing. This is because there is currently no international standardized way to measure it (unlike UVB and SPF).
What is UVA-PF?
UVA-PF is similar to SPF in that it is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects the skin from UVA radiation. It is performed in a similar manner – by irradiating the skin (or a plastic slide/sheet) with UVA. This can be done in vivo with human skin (similarly to SPF), or in vitro, where it is performed by applying the sunscreen to an acrylic or plastic (PMMA) slide and measuring how much UVA passes through the slide with or without the sunscreen.
- PPD – as mentioned earlier, PPD stands for persistent pigment darkening which is the second phase of ‘tanning’ and is strongly activated by UVA radiation. The PPD method measures the amount of UVA radiation required to produce the first unambiguous pigmented reaction on protected and unprotected skin. The PPD method appears to correlate well with the in vitroUVA-PF testing.
- PA – The PA UVA rating system is based on the PPD method. Sunscreens are categorised based on their PPD value in the following way:
- PA+ = PPD of 2-4
- PA++ = PPD of 4-8
- PA+++ = PPD of 8-16
- PA++++ = PPD of 16 or more.
- Broad-Spectrum – Broad spectrum is based on the breadth of protection offered by a sunscreen in the UVA and UVB spectrums. In order for a sunscreen to be considered broad-spectrum, it must have achieved a critical wavelength of at least 370nm – meaning that 10% of the protection that the sunscreen offers has to be for wavelengths above 370nm.
- UVA Seal – The UVA seal requires that the UVA-PF of a sunscreen (measured in vivo or in vitro) has to be at least a third of the stated SPF. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 50+ (a.k.a. SPF60) has to offer a UVA-PF or PPD of at least The sunscreen also has to have a critical wavelength of at least 370nm.
- SPF 15 = UVA-PF 5
- SPF 30 = UVA-PF 10
- SPF 50 = UVA-PF 16
- SPF 50+ (a.k.a. SPF60) = UVA-PF 20
- The Boots Star Rating System – categorizes sunscreens into groups based on their in vitroUVA-PF measurement compared to their SPF measurement. If UVA protection is 60-80% of its SPF it gets three stars, 80-90% gets four stars, and 90% or more is five stars.
- SPF 30:
- 3 stars = UVA-PF between 18 and 24
- 4 stars = UVA-PF between 24 and 27
- 5 stars = UVA-PF more than 27
- SPF 50:
- 3 stars = UVA-PF between 30 and 40
- 4 stars = UVA-PF between 40 and 45
- 5 stars = UVA-PF more than 45
- SPF 50+ (SPF 60):
- 3 stars = UVA-PF between 36 and 48
- 4 stars = UVA-PF between 48 and 54
- 5 stars = UVA-PF more than 54
- SPF 30:
*Note – please see the comments section as it has been brought to my attention that these calculations may be incorrect and that a sunscreen with SPF50 and 5 Boots Stars may have a UVA-PF of 33 NOT 45 (which would also mean that the other estimates are incorrect)*
Often, you will find that an SPF50 sunscreen has 4 stars, while the same sunscreen in SPF30 has 5 stars. This can, understandably, lead people to believe that the SPF30 sunscreen has more UVA protection than the SPF50. However, you now know that this is not the case.
So, what are some of the best sunscreens with high UVA protection?
The Best Sunscreens With High UVA Protection
From the (not-so) brief overview, you should hopefully feel like you are now able to determine which sunscreens have the best UVA protection (especially if you also read parts I & II of this guide. However, here is a list of some of the best sunscreens with high UVA protection to make your life a little easier (in order from highest to lowest UVA-PF).
Some of these sunscreens also contain antioxidants and/or iron oxides which can further enhance total photoprotection.
Mesoestetic Mesoprotech Melan 130+ Pigment Control
UVA-PF: 67 (as stated by brand)
Active Ingredients: Octocrylene, Homosalate, Tinosorb S, Avobenzone, Titanium Dioxide, Bisoctrizole.
Antioxidants: Yes (RonaCare Ap).
Iron Oxides: Yes
Uriage Bariesun XPCrème SPF50+
UVA-PF: PPD 65 (as stated by brand)
Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (UVA2, UVB), Zinc Oxide (UVA & UVB), Uvinul A Plus (UVA), Octyltriazone (UVB), Bisoctrizole (UVA & UVB)
Antioxidants: Yes (Vitamins C & E)
Iron Oxides: Yes
*Please note that Amazon can sometimes redirect you to a similar sunscreen should the above be unavailable. However, it is only the XP Creme that Uriage state has a PPD of 65*
More Information at Uriage.com
Riemann P20 Suncare For Kids SPF 50+
UVA-PF: Above 50 (As Stated By Brand)
Active Ingredients: Unival A Plus (UVA), Octisalate (UVB), Uvinul T150 (UVB), Tinosorb S (UVA & UVB), Tinosorb M (UVA & UVB), Tinosorb A2B (UVA2, UVB).
Iron Oxides: No
Bioderma Photoderm Sensitive Extreme Milk SPF 50+
Active Ingredients: Tinosorb M (UVA & UVB), Octocrylene (UVA2, UVB), Avobenzone (UVA1), Tinosorb S (UVA & UVB).
Antioxidants: Yes (Vitamin B3/Niacinamide, Vitamin E).
Iron Oxides: No
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50+ Shaka Fluide
UVA-PF: PPD 46
Active Ingredients: Octisalate (UVB), Octyltriazone (UVB), Tinosorb S (UVA & UVB), Avobenzone (UVA1).
Antioxidants: Yes (Vitamin E)
Iron Oxides: No (only in the tinted version)
Bioderma Photoderm Max Crème SPF 50+
Active Ingredients: Octocrylene (UVA2, UVB), Tinosorb M (UVA & UVB), Avobenzone (UVA1), Tinosorb S (UVA & UVB).
Iron Oxides: No
That’s just an example of some of the best sunscreens with high UVA protection. However, sunscreen is not the only way to protect your skin. In addition, to using a sunscreen with high UVA protection, it is important to practice sun-safe behaviors, such as:
- Spending time in the shade, particularly between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm.
- Covering up with appropriate clothing, hats, and sunglasses.
- Applying the correct amount of sunscreen (2mg cm-2– about an ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass, to cover the whole body)
- Reapplying sunscreen regularly (every 2 hours) and after swimming or excessive sweating.
Thanks for the comprehensive post. Things make a lot more sense now as I’ve been obsessing about the level of UVA protection my sun oil provides.
Now my confusion is why does this la Roche Posay SPF 50+ product have a PPD of 25 instead of 36-48 according to your post.
“Anthelios Dermo-Pediatrics SPF 50+ Multi-position Spray, Very high face and body protection. Ultra UVA (PPD 25).”
Sorry I removed the link so as not to trigger your spam filters.
Hi Francis! Thank you for commenting.
PPD and UVA-PF levels vary within brands. For that particular sunscreen I would imagine it’s due to the fact that it’s a spray rather than a cream. The Dermo-paediatrics SPF50+ cream has a PPD Of 38 according to their website.
I actually own both the cream and the spray version and their consistencies are very different which would affect the level of protection that they offer. A PPD of 25 is still a lot higher than most sunscreens though.
It took a lot of reading but it was definitely worth it.
Please make a US version! All the links do not ship to US. Thanks!
I think the PPD65 for the Uriage was for the Bariesun XP, the Bariesun Creme Sans Parfum does not contain zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide.
Your boots star to UVAPF conversion is invalid.
The boots star is the ratio between the mean UVA and UVB absorbance, the area under the absorbance curve in the UVA region (320–400 nm) divided by the area under the absorbance curve in the UVB region (290–320 nm). So not the ratio of protection factors. https://bit.ly/3dtlnnn
Wouldn’t it be strange that every SPF50+ in the UK that does carry a boots star rating has 4 or 5 stars so UVAPF of at least >48 or >54. While if you look at the brands that do disclose the UVAPF value, like Bioderma or LRP, almost none will have 4 or 5 boots stars. Altruist SPF30, has a ppd of 23, which means 3 stars, but it does get 5 boots stars. “The one- and two-star ratings were abolished, as products in these categories would not meet the EU one-third criterion “, while the 2 stars did have a ratio of 0.41-0.6, well above 1/3.
Also if you play around with the BASF sunscreen simulator, the UVAPF/SPF ratio never coincides with the Boots Star ratio. Look at this for example: https://imgur.com/a/XrZB9d7 , or this one: https://imgur.com/a/FyJFgRb Or look at these examples with UVAPF/SPF (EU) and UVA/UVB (Boots) ratios, they don’t coincide. https://imgur.com/a/fm2Lnh2
So we can’t use the boots star ratio and multiply it with the SPF number and get the UVAPF number. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqM39LKIlsY&t=22m19s
Laura H. MSc. RN.
Thank you for your detailed and informative comment. I agree that it is odd that sunscreens with the Boots star rating system have much higher UVA-PF than LRP and Bioderma, although, if you have ever used one you will find that they aren’t particularly cosmetically elegant so there is a certain trade-off there.
I also wouldn’t rely on the BASF to determine a sunscreens UVA protection as it is only an estimate and as LabMuffin says “it doesn’t give accurate estimates since sunscreening power depends on so much more than just the percentages of active ingredients”.
The Boots star rating system also doesn’t overrule the EU regulations which means that the estimate given in the linked video is incorrect. If an SPF50 with a 5-star rating were to only block 88.2% of UVA rays it would have a UVA-PF of around 8.5 and wound not meet the EU’s regulations and therefore could not be sold in the UK (still a member of the EU at present).
I agree that the discrepancy with the Altruist sunscreen is slightly concerning though and highlights that there may be some inaccuracies in the Boots star rating system.
Although I do not fully agree with some of the points you have made, I would hate to contribute to the misinformation that is so rife on the internet and will add a note within the post to address this.
Thank you again for taking the time to comment.
The BASF sunscreen simulator is indeed not a good way to determine the final SPF or UVAPF value of a sunscreen, however the ratio’s are just calculated based on these fictive SPF and UVAPF values, and if UVAPF/SPF would equal to the Boots Star ratio, they would be identical in this simulator too, but they are not.
Looking at the literature and the formulas that are used to calculate the SPF and UVAPF, it shows the ratios simply are not interchangeable: “The basic in vitro measure of UV protection is the transmission spectrum, which is used to compute absolute indices of protection, such as SPF and UVA protection factor (UVAPF). The logarithmic transformation of the transmission spectrum yields the absorbance spectra that are currently used for determination of ratios, such as UVA/UVB, the critical wavelength and the spectral uniformity index. See Boots UK Limited, Measurement of UVA:UVB ratio according to the Boots Star rating system (2011)” https://imgur.com/a/MOLZo35
“The UVAPF and SPF take into account a correction coefficient C based on the difference between in vivo and in vitro measurements”, which automatically means calculating an absorbancy ratio to a protection factor ratio is nearly impossible.
Except for the youtube video, what previous points I made do you exactly not agree with?
What seems more likely to me is that the UVAPF is related to the boots star ratio in this way:
* Boots = Auva / Auvb (http://www.teknoscienze.com/Contents/Riviste/PDF/SunCare_HPC_2011_rivista_27-32.pdf)
with A = -log(T)
with T= transmission from 0-1
* Absorbance % = 100 – 100/SPF (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3460660/)
Transmittance = 100 – abs = 100/SPF
Transmittance (fraction) = 1/SPF
* Boots = -log(Tuva) / -log(Tuvb)
Boots * log(Tuvb) = log(Tuva)
Tuvb^Boots = Tuva
(1/SPF)^boots = 1/UVAPF
UVAPF = 1 /(1/SPF)^boots = SPF^boots
So an SPF50 with a 5 boots star rating would have at least:
UVAPF =50^0.9 = 33 (not UVAPF8.5 like you said)
Laura H. MSc. RN.
You have addressed the points that I did not agree with and when we discussed this on Instagram you helped me to understand your points more clearly. The 8.5 UVA-PF was based on the video you linked to that stated that an SPF50 sunscreen with 5 stars would only block 88% of UVA radiation which is equivalent to a UVAPF of 8.5 based on the “absorbance (%) = 100 – 100/SPF” calculation. If you remember, I actually agreed with you on Instagram that a UVA-PF of 33 is indeed feasible, but I updated this post before we had that discussion. However, I would like to thank you for your insight and for reminding me about the 33 UVAPF estimate (otherwise I would have forgotten to update this post with the new information that you provided).
does the Bioderma Photoderm Sensitive Extreme Milk Spf50 Plus leave a white cast? Do any of them on dark skin?
Do you have a very hypoallergenic sunscreen with only coated zinc oxide, or only the most allergy-Friendly filters – Tinosorb M and S to recommend?
Have been looking and looking, but unfortunately can not tolerate that many preservatives either – would so much appreciate advice and recommendation on this!
Thank you so much for this informative article! I was wondering if you had any feedback on the Uriage Barisun spf 50 crème that is not the version labeled XP? It’s very hard to find the XP version (I’m in the US). I bought the non XP version on Ebay and really love it. But wanted to confirm the PPD rating. I emailed Uriage, but they said they do not communicate this info for their products. They could only share the ratios of their products are below 3? I would assume this sunscreen is still superior to US sunscreens, but was curious to see how close it is to the XP version you highlight here. Thanks so much for your help!
Laura H. MSc. RN.
Hi Jennifer, unfortunately, Uriage only seem to list the exact PPD for the XP version on their website but not their other sunscreens. Judging by the active ingredients it’s likely that the non XP version will have a good level of UVA protection but I think they would definitely make a point of highlighting the exact PPD if it were as high as the XP version. Sorry I can’t be of anymore help. It would be so much easier if all sunscreens just listed their exact PPD/UVA-PF in a similar way to SPF 💕
It sure is frustrating! I have an area of skin on my neck and chest where I had a laser procedure done a few years back to remove sun damage. It’s super important that I use the highest quality sunscreen I can on that area to prevent further UV damage. I enjoyed the Uriage Barisun- it’s super soothing on that area which tends to be a bit sensitive. But the sunscreen is pricier than what I usually buy If it isn’t much better than the other sunscreens I use (mostly PA ++++ Asian sunscreens), I won’t bothering ordering more. For most of the sunscreens in your review, I can’t seem to order them through Amazon UK to be delivered in the US. I’m bummed. Sometimes I have success on Ebay. Do you have other suggestions? Thanks!
Laura H. MSc. RN.
Have you tried any of the LaRoche Posay sunscreens? I’m not sure if they use different formulations for the ones they sell in the US but if you can get the European ones somehow they generally have higher UVA ratings than a lot of brands. They also list some of their exact PPD ratings on their website. I’ve been trying out a few and so far the dermopaediatrics is my favourite (it leaves a bit of a white cast and shiny finish which may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I quite like that as it gives me a bit of a glow), I think it has a PPD in the 40s although I would have to double check that to be sure 💕
Hi, I was just reading your article, it is super helpful. In the images you show Ultruist Spf50. However you do not talk about it in the article as one of the high coverage options. what is the PPD rating of Ultruist since it features with your other spfs on the front image?
Do you know the PPD of Bioderma Max Photoderm ultrafluid spf 50? I am hoping that it is as high as the creme, but can’t get an answer out of Bioderma.
Hi! I don’t know if they changed the formulation lately, but the Altruist SPF30 has a PPD of 39 (https://altruistsun.com/sunscreen/sunscreen-spf30-200ml/). Their SPF50 has a PPD of 54, so they all merit the 5-star Boots rating in whichever calculation you use I guess ^_^
I just read all three of your sunscreen articles, they were very informative. I do have a question regarding UVA-PF protection. How does the stated protection for example La Roche-Posay 46 relate to sun exposure? Is it the same as spf, you can stay out 46 times longer before damage occurs or is it blocking 46% of the uva rays, or is it something else? I am very proud interested in your reply.