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What Do You Need to Know about Sunscreens?

When buying products with SPF, pay attention to the type of UV rays they offer protection against. For the past 30 years, the market has been dominated by sunscreens that filter UVB rays and do not (or only slightly) protect against UVA rays. But UVB rays are not the only type of radiation, which accounts for sunburns and DNA mutations increasing the risk of developing cancer. UVA rays can also cause serious damage: they can penetrate deeply into the skin even THROUGH WINDOW GLASS and induce free radical formation. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules, which upon reaction with proteins, lipids, and genetic materials of cells cause damage to DNA, speed up the skin aging process and lead to cancer development.

Environmental Working Group publishes an annual guide to sunscreens that contains information about the safest creams available in the market and information about their chemical formulas. Back in 2007, FDA stated there is no evidence that sunscreens are effective in skin cancer prevention.

The international agency for Research on Cancer does not recommend using sunscreens as MAIN protection against solar radiation and as a product for skin cancer PREVENTION. It is preferable to use clothing, and headwear, and seek shade.  

A sunscreen cream absorbs, reflects, and scatters sunlight. But the chemicals contained in it may as well cause unfortunate side effects.

There are two types of active ingredients contained in sunscreen creams.

  • Mineral. These products use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
  • Chemical. Such a product has two to six active ingredients, which are usually as follows: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. 

When buying products with chemical SPF filters, pay attention to the availability of the following components.

  • Sunscreens that contain oxybenzone. This chemical absorbs through the skin and builds up in the system, causing hormone disruption and allergy. EWG found oxybenzone in two-thirds of the 650 sunscreens it reviewed. 
  • Another ingredient, 4-methylbenzidyl camphor, used in European products, also causes the hormone system disorder.

And here’s one more important point:

  • Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats aging skin. However, studies revealed it can possibly have a cancer-causing effect when exposed to sunlight.

EWG does not recommend wearing sunscreen, lipstick, and body milk containing vitamin A or retinyl palmitate as well as other retinoids at the times when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Nonetheless, in 2018, vitamin A was added to 12% of beach and sports sunscreens, 15% of moisturizers with SPF, and 5% of lip care products with SPF. 

A high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) does not guarantee you better protection against ultraviolet radiation.

A cream with SPF 50 blocks 98% of rays, and the one with SPF 100 blocks 99%. When people choose to buy sunscreen with high SPF, they think they are more protected and can afford to stay longer in the sun. Besides, sunscreen products with high SPF have higher concentrations of chemicals blocking the UV rays compared to creams with a low sun protection level.

FDA proposed to ban the sale of sunscreen products with SPF numbers higher than 50, but the proposal has so far remained ink on paper.

Another peculiarity of today’s market of sunscreens is the high demand for spray-on forms. Although the efficacy of spray-on sunscreens is in question due to the inability to apply them evenly, they continue to grow in popularity. FDA and EWG warn about the danger of inhaling their small particles. So if you’re a fan of spray-on sunscreens, be careful using them.

Who Actually Needs to Use Sunscreens and When? 

If you have undergone peeling, diamond peel treatment, laser skin or rejuvenation, have pigment spots or a new scar (healing for less than 6 months), wear sunscreens with SPF 30 to 50 to prevent hyperpigmentation and take into account the UV index of your location.

The UV index (ultraviolet index) is the strength of ultraviolet radiation that generates sunburn, measured in a certain place and at a certain time.

The index values and recommended safety measures.

1-2 3-5 6-7 8-10 11 or higher
No safety measures are required with such a low level of radiation. The risk of affecting skin and eyes is low, almost equal to zero, provided that you are not hypersensitive to UV radiation. It is a moderate value. No special safety measures are required. You can wear sunglasses, sunhat, and sunscreen cream with SPF 15. This value is considered high. It is recommended to protect oneself by putting on sunglasses, a hat, and long-sleeved clothing, and applying a sunscreen cream with SPF 30 on sun-exposed skin areas. A very high UV level. It is necessary to seek shade to hide (stay indoors, use an umbrella). When in the sun, it is obligatory to wear a sunhat, sunglasses, clothes made of light fabric and covering arms and legs, a sunscreen cream with SPF 30 to 50. An extreme UV level. It is better to stay away from the sun. If it’s impossible to avoid sun exposure, make sure to wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, light-fabric clothes covering arms and legs, and a sunscreen cream with SPF 50.

Pay attention that if you stay close to the water, up in the mountains, or in a desert, the ultraviolet rays will be reflected manifold off the snow cover, water surface, and sand. This will intensify the aggressive effects of the sun on your skin. 

To sum it up:

There must be protection against both UVB and UVA rays.

  • UVA protection = LPF, IPD, PPD labels, UVA abbreviation.
  • UVB protection = the level of skin protection against ultraviolet, SPF (Sun Protection Factor) determines HOW LONG ONE CAN STAY IN THE SUN WITHOUT BURNING. For example, using SPF 15 will prevent skin reddening 15 times longer compared to the time it takes unprotected skin to start turning red (if it takes 10 minutes for bare skin to turn red, SPF 15 will allow increasing sun exposure to 2.5 hours).
  • Formula: 10 (mins) х 15 (SPF) = 150 (mins)
  • Even sunscreens with SPF 50 do not guarantee 100% sun protection; about 3% of UV rays penetrate the skin and you’ll get a light suntan anyway.
  • The higher the SPF, the better the protection against the sun (minimum SPF should be 15, the optimal one is 50, and anything above 50 is an advertising trick; in fact, the level of protection will increase only by 0.5-1%).

The most efficient sun-blocking filters are Zinc oxide (>20%), and titanium dioxide (in combination with zinc oxide for blocking UVA).

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