What You Need to Know About Your Sunscreen Written By Jerry Hickey R.Ph
Photo by Chuttersnap on Unsplash
Don’t just grab a sunscreen off the shelf, take a moment, read the label and make sure you are getting the most out of it. You want to enjoy the sun but should protect you and your family. Jerry Hickey R.Ph clearly explains the importance of sunscreens and also includes a FDA-Approved Sunscreens chart to guide you along the right path of sun protection.
We moved from Ireland to New York City when I was a very young child. The sun is much more intense here and I suffered a number of sunburns; this is particularly dangerous in young, developing skin. As a result it is always on my mind to caution people about sun protection.
The sun is the number one cause of all three skin cancers as well as aging and wrinkling of the skin. So it is important to have an understanding of how sunscreens work and what they can and cannot do to help protect us from the sun. The sun is also a leading cause of cataract formation in the eyes so proper sunglasses should also be considered.
Sunscreens according to their SPF (Sun Protection Factor) measure how much protection they give us from UVB rays. There is no current SPF measuring the level of protection from UVA rays although sunscreen manufacturers commonly add at least a little protection for UVA rays. UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Although they are less intense than UVB, UVA rays are 30 to 50 times more prevalent. They are present with relatively equal intensity during all daylight hours throughout the year, and can penetrate clouds and glass.
UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB and have a powerful effect on wrinkling the skin. Studies over the past two decades also show that UVA damages keratinocyte skin cells in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. UVA contributes to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers. UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and we now know that tanning, whether outdoors or in a salon, causes skin damage to accumulate over time. A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA; the skin darkens in an imperfect attempt to prevent further DNA damage. These imperfections, or mutations, can lead to skin cancer.
UVB rays are the major cause of sunburn. UVB tends to damage the skin’s more superficial layers. UVB rays are the major cause of sunburn. UVB tends to damage the skin’s more superficial layers. It does play a key role in the development of skin cancer and a contributory role in tanning and skin aging.
A sunscreen’s efficacy has been measured by its sun protection factor, or SPF. SPF indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden your skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden without the product. For instance, someone using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will take 15 times longer to redden than without the sunscreen. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50, 98 percent. The Skin Cancer Foundation maintains that SPFs of 15 or higher are necessary for adequate protection.
Since both UVA and UVB are harmful, you need protection from both kinds of rays. To make sure you’re getting effective UVA as well as UVB coverage, look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, plus some combination of the following UVA-screening ingredients: stabilized avobenzone and oxybenzone; these are broken down by the sun and last about 4 hours. Mexoryl helps, it’s a new ingredient that doesn’t’ break down in the sun and helps block UVA for about 6 hours. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide also help block UVA.
You should see the phrases multi spectrum, broad spectrum or UVA/UVB protection on sunscreen labels, and these all indicate that some UVA protection is provided. However, because there is no consensus on how much protection these terms indicate, such phrases may not be entirely meaningful.
There are currently 17 active ingredients approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens. These filters fall into two broad categories: chemical and physical. Most UV filters are chemical: They form a thin, protective film on the surface of the skin and absorb the UV radiation before it penetrates the skin. The physical sunscreens are insoluble particles that reflect UV away from the skin. Most sunscreens contain a mixture of chemical and physical active ingredients.
|Active Ingredient/UV Filter Name||Range Covered|
|UVA1: 340-400 nm|
|UVA2: 320-340 nm|
|UVB: 290-320 nm|
|Aminobenzoic acid (PABA)||UVB|
|Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX)||UVA2|
|Ensulizole (Phenylbenzimiazole Sulfonic Acid)||UVB|
|Meradimate (Menthyl Anthranilate)||UVA2|
|Octinoxate (Octyl Methoxycinnamate)||UVB|
|Octisalate ( Octyl Salicylate)||UVB|
|Titanium Dioxide||UVB, UVA2|
|Zinc Oxide||UVB,UVA2, UVA1|