Choosing your sunscreen simply based on Sun Protection Factor (SPF) doesn’t cut it anymore. We now know that SPF products do not protect against cancer-causing UVA rays. Look for ”Broad Spectrum” sunscreen products—for maximum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
The Big SPF Myth
So you’re faithfully using a daily SPF 15+ sunscreen, under (or in) your foundation. Or, even by itself. Great, right? Well yes, that’s good. However, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), it’s not good enough. “A person wearing SPF 50 could spend considerable time in the sun without getting burned. ‘They think they’re getting protected but they’re getting the silent damage from UVA,’ says Steven Q. Wang, director of dermatological surgery and dermatology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.”
The truth is that SPF alone will not protect us from the deeper penetrating UVA rays thought to be the main cause of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. UVA rays also cause the skin to show premature signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles and loss elasticity.
According to a recent study from the Mayo Clinic, the incidence of melanoma has “increased eightfold in women ages 18 to 30 from 1970 to 2009.” The Skin Cancer Foundation points to the use of tanning beds as a possible cause for the increase. Tanning beds use UVA rays, previously considered to be safe. We now know better.
Think of UVA and UVB Rays as Personality Types
• B RAYS = TYPE B (The “Norm”)
The “B” rays are the typical ultra violet rays known to be responsible for sunburns and most forms of skin cancers—the rays we guard against with SPF-labeled products.
• A RAYS = TYPE A (Think “A” for “Aggressive”)
“A” Rays are the more deeply penetrating, damaging rays—the rays that can cause melanoma and premature aging of the skin. Products labeled with an SPF number alone will NOT protect you from most UVA rays.
“Broad Spectrum”—The Next Generation of Sunscreen Products
The FDA is changing the face of product packaging and labeling on products claiming sun protection. The new labels will give consumers a more accurate understanding of the level of protection they are buying. Clearer labeling will be required on all sun protection products, including cosmetics containing sunscreen.
Sunscreens will be labeled “Broad Spectrum” ONLY if they pass the FDA’s test for protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF of less than 15 will be required to have a warning stating that the product has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer or early skin aging. These new rules take effect Jun 18, 2012.
What Ingredients Should You Look For?
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing a Broad Spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) with these UVA ray-blocking ingredients: avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789, Eusolex 9020, Escalon 517) and ecamsule (also known as Mexoryl), titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Avobenzone is classified as a “chemical” sunscreen. It works by absorbing UV rays over a wide wavelength. Ecamsule is a photostable organic UVA absorber, meaning it doesn’t degrade significantly when exposed to light. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are “physical” sunscreens that actually block both UVA and UVB rays.
Should You Toss Your Cosmetics & Skin Care Products?
As mentioned in the WSJ article, cosmetic companies and makers of sun protection products are working to meet the new FDA guidelines by reformulating their products and complying with new labeling standards.
In the meantime, you do not need to throw away your favorite SPF makeup or skin care system. Simply augment it. Layer a new broad spectrum product under your foundation. When outside for prolonged periods of time follow the recommendations below.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BROAD SPECTRUM SUNSCREEN
• WHO? Everyone, regardless of skin color, should use broad spectrum sunscreen.
• HOW MUCH? 1 oz. (a shot glass full) of broad spectrum sunscreen 15-30 SPF (or higher) per day to cover all exposed skin. Don’t forget a lip balm with SPF 30+.
• WHEN? Every single day, 15 minutes before going outside. 80% of the sun’s UV rays pass through clouds. The reflection caused by snow and sand increases the need for sunscreen. Re-apply every 2 hours after swimming or excessive sweating. When outside for long periods of time, add a physical block containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide (as your top layer) to vulnerable areas such as your nose, ears and shoulders.
• OUR FAVORITE PRODUCTS? These are also our most popular sun protection products, available at your nearest Skin Center location:
- Revision® Skincare’s Intellishade® SPF 45
- Elta MD UV Shield 45
- Silc Sheer SPF 45 Photo Finish
While prevention is your best approach, your skin may already be showing signs of damage from previous sun exposure. See our tips to remedy sun damage if you are experiencing hyperpigmentation, textural skin changes, or fine lines and wrinkles.