How the Sun Affects the Skin Part III

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How the Sun Affects the Skin Part III

In this final series, I will describe the ingredients used in sunscreens and the differences in each.  I will also try to explain what the SPF numbers actually mean.

Understanding Sunscreens

Sunscreens are available in both physical and chemical forms.  Below describes the differences between these two types of sunscreens

  • Physical SunscreensReflect UVB and UVA rays off the skin.  It is like applying 1,000 tiny mirrors to your skin.  It also keeps the skin cooler.
  • Chemical Sunscreens - Change the rays so you don't get the red response.  You can, however, still get damage.  Some chemicals can also cause irritation and inflammation on the skin.  Some examples of these are Avobenzone (parsol), Octyl Dimethyl (paba) and Octicrylone.

Common ingredients found in sunscreens

It is important to know that when looking for sunscreens, you should always look for ones that protect you against UVB, UVA I and UVA II.  These broad spectrum sunscreens are the most effective at protecting you against burning, aging and cancer.

  • Oxbenzone (benzophenone-3) - only protects against UVA I
  • Octyl Salicylate (OCS) - only protects against UVB
  • Octyl Methoxycinnamate (OMC) - only protects against UVB
  • Octyl Dimethyl Paba (padimate-O) - only protects against UVB
  • Octocrylene - only protects against UVB and UVA I
  • Avobenzone (parsol) - only protects against UVA I and UVA II
  • Titanium Dioxide - broad spectrum sunscreen - protects against UVB, UVA I, and UVA II
  • Zinc Oxide - broad spectrum sunscreen - protects against UVB, UVA I, and UVA II

When choosing a sunscreen, always look for ones with high concentrations of Zinc Oxide and / or Titanium Dioxide which are the only ingredients that give you broad spectrum protection.

Understanding the numbers - ex. SPF 30

Everyone seems to think that the higher the number the more protection you get.  That is not exactly true.  The number only indicates how much protection time you have with that particular sunscreen.  To determine this, you must first know what your reaction time is.  If you are olive skin with dark eyes and you are standing outside at 12PM in the middle of uncovered area in the middle of July, how long would it take for you to begin to feel your skin react?  To react does not mean to burn, it simply means to begin to tingle or feel flushed.  Let's say that time is 5 minutes.  Then your reaction time is 5 minutes.  To determine how effective your sunscreen is, multiple 5 X 30 (SPF) and you will get 150.  That means you have 150 minutes of protected time before you must reapply.  If however, you have more of a fair complexion with blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes, your reaction time will probably be more like 2 or 3 minutes.  The same formula aplies by multiplying your reaction time number by the SPF number.  The same formula should be used with all SPF numbers, 23, 30, etc.  Its important to know that anything less than a SPF 20 gives you only casual sun protection and does not give you enough direct sun protection (swimming, beach, ball games, skiing, etc.)  All sunscreens must be applied after swimming, sweating, etc.

New FDA Ruling

  • The word "sunblock" will no longer be permitted
  • Chemical free or Natural must be removed
  • Physical or organic will apply
  • The words "All Day Protection" must be removed
  • Anything over 30 SPF will say SPF 30+
  • The word "waterproof" will not be permitted

Consider the Risks

  • The affects of sun induced photoaging can be seen as early as age 20
  • More than 90% of ALL skin cancers are caused by sun exposure
  • Melanoma accounts for 75% of all deaths from skin cancer - 7,900 yearly
  • Melanoma has more than doubled in the past decade
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer in young women 25 - 29 and only second to breast cancer in ages 30 - 34
  • Eye Melanoma increased 295% between 1973 and 1999
  • More than a million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year
  • One person dies every hour from skin cancer
  • Suntanning Booths carry the same risks, OR MORE, than direct sun exposure

We all love the sun and love being outdoors.  I'm not telling you to stay out of the sun completely.  I am just encouraging you to be smart.  These sun facts should give you a better understanding of the dangers associated with the sun and what you can now do to protect yourself against unnecessary burning, aging or the more serious, skin cancer.  You should now be able to make an educated choice when choosing your sunscreens and not one based on the way it smells or because it has the highest SPF number.


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