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SPF – Everything You Need to Know About Sun Care

SPF – Everything You Need to Know About Sun Care

“How do I choose the right sunscreen? What is an SPF? Which sunscreen safe for my children? Should I use a waterproof sunscreen?” It’s not surprising that many people, including estheticians have questions about sun care products. There is a vast array of sunscreens on the market, and plenty of conflicting information regarding their effectivity, toxicity, and proper mode of application. Since not all sunscreens were created equal, this article will break down the topic of sunscreens easily and completely!

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime. It is estimated that more than 8,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. It is estimated that 144,860 new cases of melanoma, 68,480 noninvasive and 76,380 invasive, will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016. Exposure to natural and artificial UV light is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer. Avoiding this risk factor alone could prevent more than 3 million cases of skin cancer every year.

Not everyone realizes it, but sunscreen is necessary whenever you’re outdoors. Dermatologists strongly recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or greater year-round for all skin types. Even on a cloudy day 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds. Those who ski or spend time in the mountains during the winter should also be cautious – ultraviolet radiation increases 4% for every 1,000-foot increase in altitude. A great way to limit the risk of sunburn is to get outdoors in the early morning or the late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. Another way to add additional protection is to wear opaque clothing – shirts, hats, shorts and pants, reduce the risk of burning by 27% by shielding your skin from the sun’s UV rays.

First, let’s take a look at the meaning of SPF

Early synthetic sunscreens were first used in 1928, and the first major commercial product was brought to market in 1936 by the founder of L’Oreal, French chemist Eugène Schueller. During the same period, Hamilton Sunscreen came to the Australian market in 1932, developed by chemist H. A. Milton Blake.

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) displayed on the sunscreen label ranges from 2 to as high as 50, and refers to the product’s ability to screen or block out the sun’s harmful rays. For example, if you use a sunscreen with an SPF 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer that you can without sunscreen before burning. This may sound like an easy concept, but consumers need to be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number. According to the American Melanoma Foundation, while an SPF of 2 will absorb 50% of ultraviolet radiation, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93% and an SPF of 34 absorbs 97%.

High SPF products are made with higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low SPF sunscreens. Some of these ingredients may pose health risks such as tissue damage and hormone disruption when they are absorbed into the skin, yet they haven’t been proven to significantly reduce skin damage and skin cancer risk better than their low SPF counterparts.

According to the EWG’s Guide for Sunscreens “The FDA has long contended that SPF higher than 50 is “inherently misleading” (FDA 2007). Australian authorities cap SPF values at 30; European and Japanese regulators at 50 (Osterwalder 2009b), and Canada allows a maximum of “50+”. In 2011, the FDA proposed a regulation to prohibit labels higher than SPF 50+, but the agency has not completed work on this rule and put it into force.

The SPF number on sunscreens only reflects the product’s ability to screen UVB rays. At present there is no FDA-approved rating system that measures UVA protection levels.

Sunscreens are made up of a combination of two types of ingredients: those that reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays and those that absorb UV rays. Choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA radiation. In the past, PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) was one of the original UVB protecting ingredients in sunscreens. and PABA esters only protect against UVB radiation, the sun’s burning rays that are the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer. The other types of radiation, UVA radiation, penetrates deeper into the skin and causes premature aging and the formation of wrinkles. UVA screening ingredients include oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), sulisobenzone (benzophenone-4) and avobenzone (Parsol 1789).

Physical vs. Chemical

Physical sunscreens contain minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting damaging UV rays away from the skin.

Zinc oxide is no only incredible at sun protection, but it’s excellent for our skin. Dr. James E. Fulton Jr,M.D. in his book “Acne Rx” writes that zinc helps cut down the inflammatory response of acne. He even recommends 100mg or more daily in as a supplement for Grade III and Grade IV acne sufferers. Zinc also helps reduce the inflammation during rosacea flare-ups.

Titanium dioxide is another physical sunscreen ingredient recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, and the preferred ingredient recommended by EWG. It is not a chemical sunscreen, and therefore nonreactive for people allergic to chemical sunscreens. This is the preferred ingredient to look for when shopping for children’s’ sunscreen products. Like zinc, it also sits on top of the skin and deflects the sun’s rays. Keep in mind, that although this mineral ingredient offers exceptional protection, it may appear too white and chalky on your ethnic clients with darker skin. Generally, sunscreens with a micronized Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide will not leave the skin too chalky.

Today, since most people are sensitive to PABA, alternative UVB absorbers such as padimate A, padimate O, salicylates and cinnamates are often used in place of PABA.

Oxybenzone is classified as a “chemical” sunscreen agent. It helps preserve the integrity of other cosmetic ingredients, preventing their deterioration under the sun, so for this reason, oxybenzone is most often used in products in conjunction with other ingredients. Sulisobenzone (benzophenone-4) is approved by the FDA in concentration of 5% and in Canada is approved by Health Canada at concentration of 6%. It works to filter out both UVA and UVB rays.

In addition to sunscreens, currently, many manufacturers have been adding SPF to foundations and day crèmes. This may be misleading to the consumer, since sunscreens lose their effectivity with time, and even if she had applied the SPF-fortified foundation in the morning, she will need to re-apply sunscreen throughout the day on top of it. Waterproof sunscreens are oil-based, and are highly comedogenic. This means that the pores will be clogged, forming blackheads, comedones, and milia. Often, clients struggle with acne because their sunscreen won’t let heir skin breathe. Since we sweat throughout the day, waterproof sunscreen blocks all pore secretions, causing breakouts.

Making sure to wear sunblock is crucial, but it also very important to protect the lips. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the lips are highly susceptible to two of the most common skin cancers – basal and squamous cell carcinoma. The lower lip is more prone to cancerous events, and males are 3 to 13 times more likely to develop cancer due to the nature of their occupation, alcohol, and tobacco usage.

In spite of their darker color, lips have almost no melanin, giving them no protection from the sun. This means they rely on products to keep them safe. There are several easy ways to prevent your lips from taking dangerous sun damage. First of all, avoid using lip gloss and high-shine lipsticks. Glosses and lip product with shine have the same effect that the shiny surface of rivers, lakes, and oceans do on a sunny day. Instead of protecting you, these shiny glosses actually increase your chances of sun damage and lip cancer by directing the rays towards your lips instead of away. choose a more matte product like beeswax or paraffin with an SPF of 30. These products have the added benefit of locking moisture into your lips longer and more effectively than thinner products.

Not All Skin Is the Same

Did you know that the darker the skin pigmentation, the higher the skin’s protection is from UV rays? In fact, skin cancer rarely develops in people with highly pigmented skin. Melanocytes (melanin-producing cells located in the stratum basale of the skin’s epidermis) are the cells that synthesize melanin through a 4 stage maturation process called melanogenesis. Melanogenesis leads to a long-lasting pigmentation, which is in contrast to the pigmentation that originates from oxidation of already-existing melanin.

All races have the same number of melanocytes (typically, between 1000 and 2000 melanocytes per square millimeter of skin). The difference in skin color between lightly and darkly pigmented individuals is due not to the number (quantity) of melanocytes in their skin, but to the melanocytes’ level of activity, and in the size and distribution of melanosomes. Melanosomes of darker, deeply pigmented skin are large, singly dispersed, and packed with melanin. Dark skin, especially that of people of African descent, has the most mature melanosomes. This type of skin has melanosomes in every layer of the epidermis.

Light-skinned people of African descent have a combination of large singly disbusbursed melanosomes and clusters of small melanosomes. Fair skin has small melanosomes, clustered together, mainly in the stratum corneum – in response to the sun’s light.

Darker Skin Types

In deeply pigmented skin, UV is filtered through the Malphigian layer. Darker skin types have a natural SPF of 8 to 13. Approximately 17% of UVA and 7% of UVB rays reach the dermis.

Fair Skin

UV rays are filtered through the stratum corneum. Caucasian skin has a natural SPF of 3.4, and the dermis of this group receives 5 times as much UV light.

To maximize solar protection, it’s recommended to wear special solar protection clothing from a list of approved fabrics. Fabrics can be made from many types of fibers, including cotton, wool, and nylon. Most fibers naturally absorb some UV radiation. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, lycra, nylon, and acrylic are more protective than bleached cottons, and shiny or lustrous semi-synthetic fabrics like rayon reflect more UV than do matte ones, such as linen, which tend to absorb rather than reflect UV. UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), a concept originally standardized in Australia in 1996, stands for ultraviolet protection factor, which quantifies how effectively a piece of clothing shields against the sun. It is actually possible to choose clothing with UPF on the tag. Whenever there is a UPF label attached, it means the fabric has been tested in a laboratory and consumers can be confident about the listed level of protection. It is based on the content, weight, color, and construction of the fabric, and indicates how much UV can penetrate the fabric. Unlike SPF measurements that traditionally use human sunburn testing, UPF is measured using a laboratory instrument (spectrophotometer or spectroradiometer) and an artificial light source, and then applying a sunburn weighting curve (erythemal action spectrum) across the relevant UV wavelengths.

For instance, a shirt with a UPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin. This would provide excellent sun protection, in contrast to a thin white cotton T-shirt, which has a UPF of about 5, which allows 1/5th of the sun’s UV through — even more when wet. In studies done in Australia, lycra/elastane fabrics were the most likely to have UPFs of 50 or higher, followed by nylon and polyester.

Nutrition and Supplements

As many of us know, UVB rays trigger the synthesis of Vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin. According to recent Harvard University data, an estimated 1 billion people in the US are low in Vitamin D. One study found that Vitamin D deficiency was a contributing factor in recurrent major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns – a form of depression that only occurs during certain times of year. Another study found that vitamin D deficiency was linked with faster growth of breast cancer cells in mice.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause:

  • Impaired immune system functioning, which puts you at a higher risk for infection.
  • Rickets, a condition that most commonly occurs in children that causes bone softening.
  • Insulin resistance, which affects your ability to use insulin to process blood sugar.
  • Thin or brittle bones, which increases your risk for osteoporosis.

Research shows that vitamin D plays a very important role in preventing disease and maintaining optimal health. We have about 30,000 genes in our bodies, and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them. Your skin creates same D in response to sunlight as the D you get from an oral supplement, and it’s much safer than tanning!

The Institute of Medicine has set the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin D at 600 IU for everyone under the age of 70, and 800 IU for adults over 70. Many experts believe that’s too low, and your physician will most-likely advise 2,000 IU daily, especially if you have low blood levels.

Consider taking 5,000 IU of Vitamin D daily and adding vitamin D-rich foods to your diet. Vitamin D is present in foods such as fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, trout), fish roe, beef, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, fish liver oils, and mushrooms. Of course, all systems work well for different people, so finding a perfect combination of sunscreen, clothing, supplements and diet changes is key to a healthier lifestyle.

I hope this article has been informative, and will serve well to guide you and navigate you through a plethora of products. There is always updated data, and new rules and regulations presented by FDA. Keeping up with current events in this amazing industry is the mark of an educated and seasoned professional!



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