Meet the new heroes in sun care: these agents of shield go beyond protection against UV rays and combat enemies like water better than ever. We report on their improved superpowers.


1. They fight pollution.
City air is full of free radicals, fine particles and pollutants, and these are just as bad for skin as UV rays. They settle on skin, irritate it and increase the production of toxins in cells. Essentially, this means weakened skin, which looks dull and grey. To combat this, Dior One Essential City Defense SPF50/PA++++ ($95) acts like an anti-pollution topcoat for your face. The pinkish fluid’s key ingredient is moringa seed extract, known for its purifying properties and meant to as act as a shield, preventing airborne impurities from coming into contact with skin. The lightweight sunscreen also has Japanese lily of the valley extract to strengthen the epidermis (skin’s top layer), and antioxidants to fight free radical damage. It provides up to eight hours of protection from UV rays and even has a slight skin-brightening effect.


2. PA++++ is the new norm.
The PA level of a sunscreen indicates the amount of UVA protection it provides. The higher this is, the better – UVA rays can penetrate the skin’s top layer and damage the dermis (skin’s second layer), making them a major cause of premature ageing (symptoms include wrinkles, dryness and pigmentation). Where PA levels are concerned, the more plus signs you see tagged to it, the higher the UVA protection. Before 2013, the highest UVA protection factor one could get was PA+++. But the Japanese Cosmetic Industry Association (JCIA), which came up with the three-tiered PA grading (PA+, ++ and +++), has added a fourth tier, PA++++. This has a PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) protection factor of 16 and above (compared to the PA+, which has a factor of two to four).

Brands like Yves Saint Laurent Beaute, Kose and Clarins first brought us sunscreens with this new, higher PA protection in 2013, but beauty giants Shiseido, Kiehl’s and Dior have since embraced it too. Sisley joins the movement with its Super Soin Solaire Youth Protector Face SPF50+/PA++++ ($210), a silky cream with edelweiss extract and vitamin E to protect skin from free radical damage, camellia oil to strengthen skin’s barrier, and mango extract to hydrate. Meanwhile, Kose, one of the PA++++ pioneers, has reformulated its Kose Sekkisei Sun Protect Essence Gel N SPF50+/PA++++ ($50) to include akebia plant extract for more hydration, and peony root bark extract for brightening.


3. They battle long-range UV rays. 
UVA rays don’t just penetrate deeper into skin than UVB rays do (the latter causes sunburn and skin reddening, damaging the most superficial layers of the skin). According to the US Skin Cancer Foundation, they’re also 30 to 50 times more common than UVB rays. They come in two wavelengths: long and short. While both can pass through clouds and glass to cause premature ageing, long-range UVA rays reach further into skin and damage the deeper layer of the dermis.

Dr Adam Geyer, consulting dermatologist for Kiehl’s, explains how this affects skin: “By reaching the dermis, these rays are attacking collagen and elastin that are critical to providing skin with youthful support. Long UVA rays also disrupt the skin’s immune function and damage skin’s deeper vital structures, leading to skin that lacks firmness and elasticity, and may appear red and wrinkled.”Kiehl’s Dermatologist Solutions Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Sunscreen SPF50/PA++++ ($52) has been reformulated to include sun filters that protect skin from such long-range UVA rays. The non-greasy lotion also has vitamin E to prevent free radical damage, and leaves a matte finish.

Another sunscreen with similar powers: Lancome UV Expert XL Shield Fresh UV Aqua Gel SPF50/PA++++ ($75). A multitasker, it also promises to calm inflamed skin, counter sensitivity and redness with rose-petal extract, prevent dryness, and help control sebum production for a semi-matte finish.

4. They’re gentle enough for sensitive skin.
Most sunscreens in the market today contain chemical filters, which protect skin by absorbing UV rays. The downside: They occasionally irritate sensitive or acne-prone skin. Physical filters, on the other hand, don’t – they stay on top of skin and act as a barrier against UV rays. That said, physical sunscreens usually leave a white, chalky finish – not exactly a desirable look, unless you’re an extra in a B-list horror flick. Kiehl’s Dermatologist Solutions Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Mineral Sunscreen SPF50/PA+++ ($75) eliminates this problem with unique mineral pigments (derived from titanium dioxide, a commonly used sun filter) that are able to reflect and diffuse UV rays without leaving a white residue. Extremely lightweight, the lotion also has the antioxidant vitamin E to protect skin.

Taking a different route is Lancaster Sun Control Sensitive Skin Oil-free Soothing Emulsion SPF50/PA+++ ($55). Created specifically for delicate Asian skin, it has bisabolol oil and vitamins to calm reactive and sensitive complexions. The lightweight cream also has an antioxidant complex that is said to be able to neutralise up to 95 per cent of free-radical damage, which causes premature ageing.


5. Water is no longer an enemy.
Previously, sunscreens became less effective when they came into contact with water. However, today’s tough guys have water-resistant formulas that keep working even when they get wet. Aesop Protective Body Lotion SPF50/PA+++ ($53) provides up to four hours of water resistance, even with its lightweight texture. It also has essential oils of spearmint and lemon to hydrate and soften skin, leaving it looking silky and matte. Its minty citrus scent is another plus.

Equally lightweight and immune to water: Sisley Super Soin Solaire Youth Protector Milky Body Mist SPF30/PA+++ ($165), which has camellia oil and shea extract to protect skin, and keep it soft and hydrated. Meanwhile, Kose Sekkisei Sun Protect Essence Milk N SPF50+/PA++++ ($46) is also sweat-resistant, and conveniently doubles as a makeup base. Even though it’s waterproof, it washes off easily with regular cleansers and soap.

Shiseido Perfect UV Protector SPF50+/PA++++ ($59) takes things a step further. It’s the first sunscreen I’ve ever encountered that becomes stronger when wet. According to studies done by the brand, a non-waterproof sunscreen’s SPF value – which measures protection from UVB rays that cause burning and tanning – can drop by about 30 per cent upon contact with water. Conversely, the SPF value of its Perfect UV Protector increases by about 20 per cent, thanks to the brand’s new Wetforce technology, which enables the sunscreen to absorb water and perspiration, making it denser and more water resistant. Providing up to eight hours of protection, yet easily removed with a regular cleanser, the sunscreen is gentle enough for sensitive skin and can even be used on the eye area.

An adapted version first appeared in Female‘s June issue, out on newsstands now. 

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