Scroll to the bottom to see the 10 things you should know about sunscreen!
May is the national skin cancer and melanoma awareness month. This is a topic near and dear to me because my mom was diagnosed with melanoma when she was in her early 40’s. I believe this is such an important topic so I wanted to talk about the prevention of these cancers.
Growing up on the beaches of Southern California, we lived for the pool or the beach. Everyone wanted that perfect summer glow year around. In high school, I discovered tanning beds and everyone in my family used them at least once a week. Then one day, my mom went to her dermatologist and he noticed an abnormal mole on her face. It was not obvious, pale and small. He took a biopsy at that visit and a week later called with the news that it was melanoma. My mother was very fortunate in that she was able to have it fully excised and no further treatment was needed. This was our wake up call.
We went from tanning beds and tanning oil at the beach, to SPF 50 and big floppy hats. I still desire that sun kissed tan but I now achieve it with a weekly spray tan.
Skin cancer has become alarmingly common, it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. This rise in skin cancer frequency is directly related to our sunbathing habits. It is fashionable to be tanned year around plus you appear healthier and skinnier when you have that golden glow, at least until the wrinkles catch up to you! We complement each other on our tans when we get back from a sunny vacation and daydream about laying out at the beach. But as the years of sun tanning have started adding up, so have the cases of skin cancer.
So what is it that we want to block? UV radiation, in particular UVA and UVB, is the culprit behind photo aging, sunburns, and skin cancer. These are the two types of UV radiation that can penetrate the ozone layer. UVA is more prevalent, making up about 95% of the UV radiation. It can penetrate to the deeper part of the skin, the epidermis. There was a former thought that UVA did not contribute to skin cancer, only photo aging, because it was believed it did not damage the outer layer of skin where skin cancer occurs, the epidermis. Research has proved this theory incorrect and it is now accepted that UVA is contributing to skin cancer. UVA is the dominant tanning ray and is what is emitted in a tanning bed, but 12 times more than the sun does. UVB only accounts for approximately 5% of the UV radiation we absorb, but it has long been known to be a major factor in the development of skin cancer.
10 Things to Know About Sunscreen
- Sunscreen is composed of a filter that either reflects (organic) or absorbs (inorganic) the UV radiation. Broad spectrum sunscreen typically contain a combination of these products.
- When choosing a sunscreen, you want to choose one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The term broad spectrum indicates that there is protection against UVA and UVB, but does not indicate how much UVA protection there is.
- SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is an indication of the products ability to protect against UVB only. As of 2013, the FDA does not allow sunscreen companies to label their product as broad spectrum unless it meets the FDA’s standards of protection against UVA.
- The number after SPF refers to the length of time to develop a sunburn compared to no sunscreen, i.e. SPF 30 means it will take 30 times longer to develop a sunburn than with no protection at all. The FDA recognizes SPF 15 and greater as adequate for delaying photo aging and protecting against skin cancer. SPF 15 screens 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 screens 97%, and SPF 50 screens 98%.
- SPF greater than 50 has negligible change in the protection offered.
- When selecting a broad spectrum sunscreen, most broad spectrums have protection against UVA1, especially at higher SPFs. To protect against UVA2, choose a product that contains avobenzone, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide. A broad spectrum with high SPF and one of the three ingredients will protect you against UVB, UVA1, and UVA2.
- As the damaging effects of sun exposure have become popularized, many cosmetics companies have started adding SPF to their formulas, usually between 15-30. Be aware that many of these products are not broad spectrum and are not protecting you against UVA1 or 2, only UVB.
- If labeled water resistant, this means the SPF will be maintained after 40 minutes of water activities. Very water resistant stretches this time period to 90 minutes.
- Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure. It should be reapplied every 2 hours as needed. It should also be reapplied after water exposure and every 40 mins or 90 mins for water resistant and very water resistant respectively.
- In experimental settings, Vit D production was shown to be decreased when wearing appropriate amounts of SPF and then being exposed to UVB only. It is not well understood if this translates to real life but those with low Vit D levels should supplement Vit D. *Speak to your doctor before starting any medication or supplement.
Here are my favorite sunscreen products:
I don’t ever run out of the Chanel sunscreen. I only use it on my face and I showed the back to show you that it contains 17.1% zinc oxide. Usually zinc creates a white film over your skin, but Chanel used some nano technology so there is no film! I love this product!!! Both the Chanel and the Coola are broad spectrum. I only use the Coola on my body and it has a great cucumber smell. It does leave a greasy feeling though if I spray too much.