Not all “sunscreen” products protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean you no longer need to worry about the sun’s harmful rays. In fact, up to 80 percent of ultraviolet (UV) radiation will penetrate clouds and age your skin, if not burn you. Didn’t know that? You’re not alone. Unless you’re a dermatologist or a medical aesthetician, it’s also even less likely that you would know that not all products labeled “sunscreen” protect your skin in the same way.
Chances are your doctor has never talked to you about the importance of using sunscreen at all, according to a new report published Sept. 4 inJAMA Dermatology. In the report, medical researchers evaluated trends in sunscreen recommendations among physicians in the United States (1). They found that the rate of which physicians mentioned sunscreen to their patients was dismally low, even for patients with a history of skin cancer.
What makes these findings alarming is the sheer degree of how grossly uninformed most Americans are about the importance of protection to guard against the long-term cumulative damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, despite clear consensus from dermatologists regarding sunscreen use. But another cause for serious concern is how little most of us know about the variances between sunscreen products.
It’s not enough to rely solely on a product’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating. SPF rating is really only helpful for figuring how long a product will protect you against sunburn; for instance, an SPF of 15 will keep you from burning for approximately 150 minutes than normal, depending on your skin. But an SPF rating does not give you any idea of whether a sunscreen will protect you from all UV wavelengths that can prematurely age your skin.
One of the most important points to know is how drastically different UV protection can be depending on a product’s use of chemical or mineral ingredients:
- Chemical Sunscreens: Chemical ingredients work by absorbing UV radiation, yet have limitations. They can only absorb a narrow region of the UV spectrum and most offer no protection against UVA rays that can lead to premature aging. For this reason, chemical sunscreen products often use more than one chemical to achieve “broad spectrum” protection. Oxybenzone, for instance, can protect against UVB and may be paired with avobenzone for protection against UVA rays. In any case, the term “broad spectrum” should not mislead users into thinking the sunscreen can filter out all UV radiation. No sunscreen product can absorb all UV radiation completely. Chemicals can also become absorbed into the skin raising concerns over potential disruption of hormones internally.
- Physical Sunblocks: While still labeled as “sunscreen,” natural minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide really act as “sun blocks” because they are physical barriers that scatter UV radiation. They provide broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, are not absorbed into the skin, and are gentle for every day use without skin irritation. These physical minerals are best paired with each other for optimum protection against the sun’s UV rays for minimizing sun damage (2).
Yet another misconception people often have about use of sunscreen is that its application is only needed during the spring or summer months, on sunny days of the year. The facts are that UV rays, especially UVA rays, affect your skin all year no matter if the days are overcast, rainy, or snowy. Regular application of UVA-blocking mineral sun protection is needed 365 days a year.
Then, there’s the golden tan—still widely popular and once a symbol of good health—is not at all healthy for your skin. The evidence is clear that tanning is a major contributor to premature aging of the skin and to an increased risk of skin cancer. Even indoor tanning has a well-established link to skin cancer. The notion of a “safe tan” doesn’t appear to hold when you consider that any kind of indoor tanning is correlated with a 74 percent increased risk of melanoma. Let’s put the idea of a “safe tan” to rest.
There is one drawback, a minor one, from application of any type of sun protection—be it sun-protective hats, clothing, chemical sunscreens, or physical sunblocks—and that is the reduced ability to create the “sunshine vitamin.” The unfortunate reality is that vitamin D synthesis in the skin is heavily diminished when protected from UVB rays and the result is potential insufficiency or deficiency of the powerful hormone-like vitamin (3).
Dermatologists and nutritionists disagree on how to approach the problem of vitamin D. Some suggest exposing skin (besides the face) to the sun for approximately 15 minutes at times of the day when UVB rays are strongest to maximize vitamin D synthesis. An informed decision is to be sure you get enough vitamin D daily from food (e.g. salmon) or a quality supplement while protecting skin as much as possible from cumulative sun damage.
Ultimately, there are clear long-term benefits from using a mineral-based, broad-spectrum UV blocking product daily. Good quality products include Isagenix Moisturizing Day Cream SPF 15 or IsaSunGuard SPF 30 that include both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Pair either of those with a quality supplement containing vitamin D such as Ageless Essentials Daily Pack and you’ll have optimum sun and nutritional protection.
- Akamine KL, Gustafson CJ, Davis SA, Levender MM, Feldman SR. Trends in Sunscreen Recommendation Among US Physicians. JAMA Dermatology, 2013 Sept 4. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.474
- UCSF School of Medicine. Sunblock. 2011 June 11http://www.dermatology.ucsf.edu/skincancer/general/prevention/sunscreen.aspx
- Godar DE, Pope SJ, Grant WB, Holick MF. Solar UV doses of adult Americans and vitamin D(3) production. Dermatoendocrinol. 2011 Oct;3(4):243-50. doi: 10.4161/derm.3.4.15292. Epub 2011 Oct 1.