Protect Your Skin

Tip of the Month – June 2014

By Deborah Weiss

This past winter, I went into a local drugstore to buy sunscreen.  I was surprised to be told that the store doesn’t carry sunscreen until the spring.  Even if you aren’t going to get sunburned, unprotected sun exposure can still trigger the sun’s aging effects and can lead to a higher risk of skin cancer.  You need to apply sunscreen as part of your daily routine regardless of the weather.

The sun, not time, is the skin’s greatest adversary.   The sun’s rays lead to more than 80 percent of the changes that result in aging.  The sun’s radiation includes two types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB.  UVBs are the more potent rays, leading to sunburn and skin cancer. The sun’s UVA rays are responsible for tanning but also penetrate deeper into the skin causing the effects of aging like wrinkles and spots.  These rays are not just a product of direct sun but of all natural light, capable of reaching the skin through glass, clouds and smog.

So, which sunscreen to use?   The SPF (“Sun Factor Protection”) of a sunscreen measures its ability to screen out skin damaging ultraviolet rays, primarily UVBs.  Some sunscreens claim to be “broad spectrum,” protecting against both types of rays. However, despite such a designation, there are still concerns about any sunscreen’s ability to protect fully against UVA rays.  Despite improved sunscreen usage and labeling, skin cancer is still increasing at disturbing rates.

A super-high SPF factor will not negate the sun’s risks.  An SPF of fifty blocks about 98 percent of the sun’s rays.  Any number above that will not provide significantly more protection.   People often wait too long before reapplying their sunscreens or they stay outside too long, thinking a high SPF protects against many hours of sun exposure.  The big numbers give people a false sense of security.

Dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30 for everyday, and an SPF of 50 if you’re going to participate in outdoor sports.  An SPF of 30 means it would take 30 times longer to burn than if you don’t use any sunscreen.   However, sunscreen is not a panacea.  The only way to avoid the effects of the sun is to stay out of the sun, avoiding the mid-day summer sun, and generally avoiding sun exposure between ten and two p.m.

People are often concerned they will not get enough sun exposure to maintain their Vitamin D levels.  Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium, keeping bones strong.  Because Vitamin D isn’t present in most foods, people use sun exposure to maintain adequate levels.   But maintaining Vitamin D takes only minimal sun exposure.  The Office of Dietary Supplements says it takes only a half hour of sun twice a week to ensure that you have enough Vitamin D.

Active ingredients in sunscreen come in two forms, mineral and chemical.  The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin.  Laboratory studies have shown that these active ingredients can be hazardous.  For example, the ingredient oxybenzone may cause allergic reactions and disrupt hormones, posing a risk of interference with pregnancies.  Avobenzone, another chemical ingredient, breaks down in sunlight, making it a less effective sunblock compared to other options.

Avoid sunscreens which contain the ingredient Vitamin A, also called retinyl palmitate or retinol.  Government data, although disputed, has shown exposure to ingredients containing Vitamin A may accelerate the risk of developing skin cancer.

The top recommended sunscreens contain zinc oxide as the active ingredient because it provides the best protection from UVA rays and has the fewest health concerns.  Plus, zinc oxide does not break down in the sun.  Years ago, zinc oxide sunscreens were unpopular.  They went on in a thick, white coat (think lifeguards’ noses in older movies), but today there are far better versions.

People with sensitive skin are less likely to have a reaction from zinc oxide as opposed to other active ingredients.   As someone with very sensitive skin, a zinc oxide based sunscreen is the only type I can use.  It took some trial and error, but I did find a brand which does not leave a visible white film and which feels pleasant to apply, as opposed to drying.

Stick to a sunscreen in the form of a cream.  It’s important to avoid sunscreens in the forms of powders, pumps and sprays.   You can mistakenly inhale these types of sunscreen, causing them to enter your lungs, and from there the bloodstream.  Health concerns from inhaling sunscreen include the risk of cancer and tissue-damage.

Apply sunscreen cream plentifully and thickly.  For proper protection, you need to use about one shot glass, about two tablespoons, of sunscreenfor your face and body. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours.   And check the expiration date.  Sunscreen generally has a three year lifespan.   Protect areas not covered by sunblock: wear sunglasses and an SPF 30 lip balm.  Don’t forget to protect yourself before your fun in the sun!  And all other times too!




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