Sun Care 101
I started Derma Bright Clinic in 2012 for a number of reasons, one was to offer non-invasive collagen-inducing skin care services and the other was to educate clients on the ingredients in skincare to pay attention to. For me, sunscreen was one of the biggest concerns I had around ingredients in skin care that may be harmful to us.
As we get ready to start our summers, here is an overview on what you need to know about everything sunscreen.
Why is sun protection important?
We are exposed to the sun on a daily basis, and it is more intense in the summer months. Short-term exposure can result in a sunburn while unprotected exposure can cause a gradual degradation of the skin resulting in photoaging. This accounts for 90% of the signs of aging.
The two primary types of damaging rays aer UVA and UVB. How? By damaging skin cells and their DNA. This results is fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, visible vessels, thinned skin, loss of elasticity and potentially, skin cancer, including melanoma.
UV Rays Explained
Ultraviolet rays (UV rays) are the sun’s (potentially) harmful rays. There are many types of UV rays but we are most concerned with UVA and UVB as they are linked to skin cancers.
Most sunscreens protect against UVB rays because they are the main cause of sunburns and skin cancers. However, UVA rays can also contribute to skin cancer and premature aging. That’s why it is important to choose products that are “broad spectrum,” which means they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
UVB rays penetrate at the 290-320 nm levels and are the main cause of tans and sunburns. How? They damage the skin’s more superficial layers of epidermis. They plan a big part in the development of skin cancer and contribute a large part to in photoaging and tanning. UVB rays account for 5% of the sun’s rays and do vary according to weather conditions and the seasons. They are more intense in the summer and at higher altitudes.
UVA rays penetrate the skin at the 320-400 nm levels and can pass through clouds and glass. They are present every day of the year at equal intensity during the daylight hours. They account for 95% of the UV rays which hit the earth. They are longer in wavelength than UVB rays and are able to penetrate into the dermis, the deeper layers of the skin, after the epidermis. This affects collagen, elastin and blood vessels. It also plays a major role in photoaging. And it can also damage the skin cells which reside in the basal layer of the epidermis where most skin cancers start ie think basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma.
What Does SPF Mean?
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures how long the sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays (but not UVA rays). All sunscreens must be tested by an SPF test protocol. The test measures the amount of US ray exposure it takes to cause sunburn when a person uses a sunscreen in comparison to how much UV exposure it takes to cause a sunburn when they don’t use one. As an example, SPF 30 blocks 96^ of UV rays meaning only 3.3 % gets through compared with a SPF of 15 which blocks 93.4% of UV rays and lets 6.7% through, twice as much.
According to the American Cancer Society, you should choose an SPF of 30 or higher. In fact, the FDA has issued a requirement that anything containing SPF 15 or lower needs to have a warning label similar to non-broad spectrum sunscreen. The higher the SPF number, the more protection it offers. However, keep in mind that as the SPF number increases, its efficacy is only marginally better as mentioned above. Currently, there is no sunscreen that offers 100% protection.
UVB-focused sunscreens may be one of the reasons we have seen an increase in skin cancer rates in North America.
Melanoma rates have tripled in the last 35 years. And only recently have the effects of UVA been uncovered including its links to photoaging, immune suppression and skin cancer. As it comprises 95% of UV and is responsible for the majority of photoaging and skin cancer, it really should be the focus.
Most consumers assume they are protected from the entire UV spectrum (290-400 nm). They get distracted by high SPF numbers and mistakenly believe that their sunscreen is reducing all sun damage. Sunscreens that mainly absorb UVB may reduce the risk of sunburn but are detrimental as you may stay in the sun longer; you won’t burn but you will increase your risk of UVA damage.
How Does Sunscreen Work?
Let’s clarify something else: sunscreen and sunblock are not the same. As the name implies, sunblock actually blocks UV rays from reaching the skin whereas sunscreen does not. Instead, sunscreen absorbs the UV rays when they reach the skin. The differences in sunscreen and sunblock lie in the ingredients. Sunblock is typically made from mineral ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Sunscreen, on the other hand, is made from chemical ingredients like benzophenones (oxybenzone), cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), sulisobenzone, and salicylates. We are obviously big fans of sunblocks as they are healthier and provide greater protection.
Sun Science Explained
Here are some terms to keep in mind:
- Broad Spectrum Protection: is the most important item on the label to look for as it means there is coverage for both UVA and UVB rays.
- Sunscreen Filter Types: As mentioned above, Sunscreens contain chemicals and or physical UV filters.
- Chemical Filters: include things like oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate which absorb and deactivate UV rays changing the light energy to heat. They are made up of small particles that are absorbed into the skin to some extent.
- Physical UV Filters: There are two: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. They sit on the skin’s surface and light is largely reflected and scattered away from the skin. Both are considered safe, gentle and natural minerals. Zinc oxide blocks UVB, UVA2 and UVA1 rays. Titanium dioxide blocks UVB and UVA2 rays. They are comfortable and non-irritating even for those with very sensitive skin.
My concern has always been with the chemical filters. Dozens of studies in the last 10 years have shown the potential health hazards of sunscreen chemicals. They have been associated with hormone disruption, allergens and carcinogens.
Sunscreen has a big role to play in the protection from free radicals. Sunscreens only protect up to 55%, not 100%, from free radical exposure. Because of this, it is vital to look at sunscreen products which incorporate topical antioxidants into their formulations as they can protect the skin from free radicals.
Choosing The Best Sunscreen For You
The right sunscreen for you is the sunscreen you will use. Also apply the right amount for you and remember to re-apply every 2-3 hours especially if you are active or swimming.
For your body, apply a full shot glass-worth of sunscreen. Most of us do not do this though! Most people only apply 25 to 50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. It is important to apply to the tops of your lips, feet, neck, ears, and top of head (if you have thinner hair).
Also, be mindful of environmental factors that can contribute to how quickly you burn like the altitude (the closer to the sun, the stronger the rays).
Also remember that water resistant sunscreen is not the same as waterproof. A truly waterproof and sweatproof sunscreen has yet to be developed. Water resistant products cannot last a whole day and need to be reapplied at least every two hours. While water resistant sunscreen can last up to 80 minutes while sweating or swimming, it can easily come off from the water or even be rubbed off when drying yourself with a towel.
What About People With Fair Skin?
People with fair skin have a higher risk of developing cancerous and precancerous lesions and should seek more shade than most. It’s crucial for someone with fair skin to apply broad spectrum SPF more often and avoid the sun when it’s strongest (from 12-3 PM).
What About People With Dark Skin Types?
Those with dark skin often think they do not need SPF, or at least not as much, which is not true. People with dark skin are just as vulnerable to developing cancerous and precancerous lesions.
What Is The Proper Way To Apply Sunscreen When Wearing Makeup?
In the summer apply sunscreen at home before leaving the house. Apply on clean, dry skin and before putting on any makeup. Let the sunscreen absorb a little on the skin, while it forms a protective layer. Then, layer on the makeup on top of it.
Why Is Sunscreen So Important?
About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV rays from sunlight. And while UVA and UVB rays are directly linked to cancer, a lot of cases are preventable. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, daily use of an SPF can cut the risk of developing melanoma in half. In addition to cancer, UVA and UVB rays are also directly correlated with skin aging. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that an estimated 90% of skin aging is caused by the sun.
Sunscreen plays an important role in post-surgery healing. Because sunlight can cause darkening and discoloration around a scar, it is more critical than ever to wear sunscreen to help scars heal as properly as possible.
Wearing sunscreen every day, not just at the beach or beside the pool, is essential to our overall health. The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round and even on cloudy days. In fact, snow, sand, and water can actually reflect the sun’s rays, making the need for sunscreen even stronger. And remember that sunscreens are designed to have a shelf-life of three years. If you have a bottle of sunscreen that is past its expiration date, it is no longer effective and should be thrown out.
Always remember that sun exposure and UVA/UVB rays are directly linked to skin cancer, premature aging, and discoloration of scars, so the most important thing for skin care and your overall health is consistent and complete broad spectrum sun protection.
Remember that there is no such thing as a safe tan!
Derma Bright Clinic is committed to educating clients about the importance of reading labels to see what ingredients lurk in your sunscreens. We recommend using sunscreens and our bo to brand is the AlumierMD range of five: Sheer Hydration SPF 40(untinted and versatile tine), Clear Shield SPF 40 (great for acneic skin), Moisture Matte SPF 40 (in 3 shades: Ivory, Sand and Amber).
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