Sunscreen Confusion: The Facts

There has been a lot of news lately about the confusion surrounding how we choose our sunscreen. And, a recent article maintains that some manufacturers are harnessing the confusion to market their brand.

As a consumer, it’s not surprising you’re confused. Scientific mumbo jumbo, ever changing technology and an increasingly expanding array of products to choose from, may leave you throwing up your hands in frustration. Some individuals may even choose to abstain from using sunscreen after reading about health concerns due to chemicals used in sunscreen. Keep in mind, however, that unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays are known to be linked to the development of some types of skin cancer. And from a vanity perspective, if you care about the appearance of your skin, then you should know that UV rays are the number 1 cause of skin aging – leading to wrinkles, fine lines, loss of skin tone and brown spots.

Here then, are 8 facts that will help you navigate the sunscreen maze and choose the sunscreen that’s right for you:

  1. Ultraviolet (UV) Rays – The sun produces two types that we should be concerned about: UVA and UVB. UVB rays are shorter and responsible for Burning. UVA rays are longer and penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays. They are responsible for Aging, including wrinkles, age spots and saggy, leathery skin. A good sunscreen should protect against both.
  2. SPF – Stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a measurement of the amount of protection a product affords against UVB rays. In North America, we don’t yet have standards in place to measure the amount of UVA protection. You should understand which ingredients your sunscreen contains to ensure you are getting protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
  3. Broad Spectrum Protection. This means that a sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Historically, products have offered UVB protection, but it’s only recently that we’ve started to appreciate the dangers that come with exposure to UVA rays. Look for ingredients including zinc oxide, stabilized avobenzone, Mexoryl SX, Mexoryl XL, Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M to ensure you are getting protection from UVA rays as well as UVB rays.
  4. Chemical or Physical Sun Protection. Chemical sun filters are taken up by the skin’s top layer and work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into harmless energy. Physical sun filters (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) sit on top of the skin and deflect away UV rays. There are safety considerations with both types, but all experts agree that if used as directed that the benefits far outweigh the risks associated with unprotected UV exposure. One ingredient to watch out for is oxybenzone. Also known as Benzophenone-3, this older sun filtering agent has been linked to skin sensitivity, hormone disruption and cell damage due to the generation of free radicals when exposed to sunlight. The experts are still debating the safety of this chemical and more research is warranted. However, with safer options available, I don’t see the reason to risk its use.
  5. Nanoparticles. This technology produces ultra small particles of physical sun filters such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. While there have been health concerns due to inhalation or absorption, even groups such as the Environmental Working Group agree that any risk is very small, especially if you are using a cream or lotion based product. Caution should be exercised with powders or sprays where the risk for inhalation and/or absorption is greater.
  6. SPF 100? Higher SPF doesn’t mean better protection. Keep in mind that an SPF 30 product blocks around 97% of UVB rays, while an SPF 60 blocks about 99% of UVB rays. Going higher isn’t going to deliver much beyond that. A sunscreen’s effectiveness is related to a range of factors beyond its SPF rating: a. The ingredients it contains (does it contain both UVA and UVB blockers); b.How much we apply(studies have shown that most of us don’t apply enough, affording far less protection than we think); c. Photostability (will the ingredients maintain their activity when exposed to sunlight). Higher SPF ratings may deliver a false sense of protection, having us think we are protected for longer than we actually are. I’ve spoken to many customers who have received nasty sunburns while using an SPF 100 sunscreen.
  7. Waterproof? Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen. All sunscreens will wash off if exposed to water including swimming and/or perspiration. The Food and Drug Administration has requested that manufacturers refrain from using this misleading labeling, but you will still find many products labeled as such. If you are going to be exposed to water or will be engaging in sporting activities look for products labeled as being water resistant (in most cases delivering protection for 40 minutes). Highly water resistant products deliver protection for 80 minutes. And, as directed on all sunscreen products, reapply every 2 hours, especially if you have been exposed to water.
  8. Practice Safe Sun Habits. Sunscreen should be one component in your sun protection bag of goods. Wear sunglasses, cover up and seek shade during the sun’s peak hours between 10 am and 4 pm

We carry a wide range of effective sunscreens at PharmacyMix. Choose from our selection including Anthelios sunscreens with Mexoryl XL and Mexoryl SX, Keys Solar Rx and Ombrelle sunscreens.

Want to keep up to date on the latest in skin care and anti aging information? Visit this skincare blog updated 3 times a week. Sign up for our weekly newsletter with exclusive info and discounts on new products. Sign Up Here

Drupal Development said,

August 8, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

I found your posting to be insightful! Thank you.

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