The promise:Foundations, primers, and powders now pack the high SPFs (think 15-plus) for filtering out burning UVB rays, plus protection from skin-damaging UVA. Some even include a UVA rating developed in Japan: You'll see a PA+, PA++, or PA+++ (to indicate the highest level of UVA protection).
The reality: Because the FDA regulates sun-protection claims, dermatologists are more enthusiastic about the efficacy of SPF cosmetics than of anti-aging makeup. So the number on the label truly reflects the level of UVB filters you'll get. To bolster UVA protection (the rays that are mostly responsible for skin cancers and skin aging), cosmetics often include the minerals zinc and titanium. They form a shield on the skin's surface, diffusing UV light before it can penetrate and damage your cells, Brandith Irwin, M.D., a Seattle dermatologist and author of The Surgery-Free Makeover, says. You'll get even better coverage if your makeup contains both. Try Revlon Age Defying Spa Foundation SPF 18 ($14, drugstores) and Prescriptives All Skins Mineral Makeup SPF 15 ($32.50, department stores). Or choose makeup with SPF 30 or up, plus zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Try Jane Be Pure Mineral Skin Perfecting Foundation SPF 30 ($5.49, drugstores) and Shiseido Sun Protection Liquid Foundation SPF 42 PA+++ ($33.50, department stores).
Even the more potent formulas can't replace an SPF day cream. "Relying on makeup alone is like taking a boat intended for lagoon fishing out in the ocean," says Fredric Brandt, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and Miami. One reason: Most people don't apply enough. You need about half a teaspoon for your face and neck to get the required thickness. Mineral-powder foundation, such as Colorescience Suncanny SPF 20 Foundation Brush ($60, colorescience.com), stays put longer, but priming skin with an SPF-infused facial lotion is still recommended. So why bother with SPF makeup? Sunscreen lotions and sprays alone let some UV light sneak through, and people skimp on application, just as they do with makeup. The best way to stay protected: Double up by layering makeup over a moisturizer containing an SPF of 15 or higher and UVA filters (Mexoryl, Helioplex, or avobenzone). Try Garnier Nutritioniste Ultra-Lift Pro Deep Wrinkle Cream SPF 20 ($17, drugstores) or SkinCeuticals Active UV Defense Sunscreen Cream SPF 15 ($29, skinceuticals.com).
Bottom line: Ultra-protective makeup is a boon for skin. But think of it as the Robin to your sunscreen's Batman a dynamic duo stronger together than either is alone.