Choosing the right sunscreen is a big factor in our enjoyment of the sun, but how do we find the best one for women over 60? While most sunscreens are promoted for fun in the sun, it’s also important to wear them everyday—and if you’re a woman that means any sunscreen must work with your makeup. And because we wear them every day the active ingredients are under greater scrutiny.
In addition to SPF and UVA/UVB protection you also have a choice between what are broadly called chemical and physical/mineral sunscreens. Each of these protects your skin differently and contains different active ingredients.
This article has been updated from the July, 2018 original.
Chemical sunscreens protect you by absorbing the sun’s rays
Chemical sunscreens may contain one or more of many possible active ingredients, including oxybenzone and octinoxate. Those two are currently approved by the U.S. FDA but may have some negative health or environmental effects—they are banned by Hawaii. Chemical sunscreens are popular because they tend to be easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue like many mineral sunscreens. Safer formulations are always in development to meet market demands for “clean” products.
Physical/mineral sunscreens protect you by deflecting the sun’s rays
Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, work by blocking the suns rays from you skin. They contain the active ingredients titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. The European Union has questioned the safety of titanium dioxide. However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, and most dermatologists recommend physical sunscreens.
Some sunscreens use both types of active ingredients
Hybrid sunscreens contain one or more active ingredients found in physical sunscreens as well as chemical sunscreens. While this may seem like a “pick your poison” quandary, wearing no sunscreen is far more dangerous.
We looked at a wide range of sunscreens to find those that would meet our criteria:
- Minimum SPF 30
- No (or limited) oxybenzone and/or octinoxate (for chemical sunscreens)
- Must have zinc oxide, but must not have titanium dioxide alone
- Positive EWG rating (lower numbers = higher score)
- Positive user reviews
- Easily available online or in retail stores
Banana Boat Dry Balance Broad Spectrum Sunscreen is one of the few chemical sunscreens available with no oxybenzone or Octinoxate. It is good for both face and body and is good under makeup.
Reviewers on a variety of sites report that it doesn’t cause breakouts. It isn’t greasy or sticky. It absorbs excess moisture, leaves a soft matte finish, and lets skin breathe – so your skin feels fresh, dry and comfortable. Easily available.
Coppertone Defend & Care Oil Free Sunscreen Face SPF 30 is a broad spectrum chemical sunscreen that protects against the sun’s most damaging UV rays. It and won’t clog your pores. It is good for use under makeup and it’s fragrance-free. Octinoxate free. The SPF 30 includes 4% oxybenzone, the SPF 50 includes 6% oxybenzone.
Blue Lizard Baby SPF 30+ mineral sunscreen has no skin-irritating fragrances or parabens. It is is pediatrician-recommended, but many adults use it, too.
Unlike many mineral sunscreens it is not greasy and is water resistant for 40 minutes. Blue Lizard is an Australian manufacturer, the land where they know sun. Good for the body, it leaves no white cast and is highly protective.
MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield is an unscented, mineral-based sunscreen with aloe and Vitamin E for face and body. The company maintains that the product uses translucent zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that don’t leave a white cast but rather a smooth, matte finish.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide a safe alternative to harsh chemical, heat-absorbing sunscreens. This is for daily use. The company suggests allowing the product to absorb completely before applying make-up.
Lancôme Bienfait UV SPF 50+ is a fast-absorbing, oil-free facial sunscreen that delivers SPF 50+ protection to shield the skin from harmful aging UVA and UVB rays.
The lightweight formula is perfect to wear daily over moisturizer, under makeup, or alone. Contains 6% oxybenzone but no octinoxate. Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, this super fluid sunscreen is ideal for all skin types, even sensitive skin. It is dermatologist-tested for safety, which is why we recommend it for women over 60.
This is a tinted mineral sunscreen for the face that is good under makeup or even as makeup since it’s tinted. It does not cause breakouts, according to reviewers, and does not leave a white cast on the skin.
Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50 Broad-spectrum Sunscreen is a weightless 100% physical sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection with a weightless, transparent finish.
The formula, which contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, makes this an effective anti-aging sunscreen. Reduces signs of premature aging. Oil free, PABA free and fragrance free. Perfect for skin sensitive to traditional sun blocks.
Kiehl’s Dermatologist Solutions™ Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Titanium Dioxide Sunscreen SPF 50+ is formulated with a 100% mineral based filter in a lightweight, gentle lotion that sensitive and acne-prone skin will find non-irritating and comfortable.
This sheer sunscreen, lightly tinted to enhance the natural skin tone, delivers UVA and UVB broad-spectrum protection. Some reviewers found the tint too light, others, too dark. Recommend trying a sample in store before purchase.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen is a 100% mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and antioxidant protection for the face.
Non-whitening, with a smooth, velvety finish that sinks into the skin quickly and evenly. Weightless texture, matte finish. Suitable for sensitive skin.
What about those “sunscreen” pills and supplements?
The FDA recently sent warning letters to four companies that were marketing nutritional supplements to prevent UV rays from damaging the skin. The FDA reports:
We’ve found products purporting to provide protection from the sun that aren’t delivering the advertised benefits. Instead they’re misleading consumers, and putting people at risk. … There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen.
The companies were instructed to remove such claims from their marketing materials.
As of the timing of this article, there is no known pill or capsule that can provide you with the sun protection you need alone, without a topical sunscreen.
New and cutting edge: what is Tinosorb?
Just becoming known in North America, Tinosorb is a family of broad spectrum sunscreen ingredients. It is considered cutting edge because it is both chemical and mineral but minimizes the drawbacks of both.
Tinosorb M acts as both a physical and chemical sunscreen, protects from UVA and UVB, barely absorbs into the skin, and doesn’t degrade in sunlight. Tinosorb S offers excellent UVA protection because it covers a large portion of the UVA spectrum. Tinosorb is used in sunscreens in Europe but has yet to be approved by the FDA. It is available in certain sunscreens in Canada.
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