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Not all sunscreens are created equal….Do you know the active ingredients in your sunscreen and why this is important?
In June 2011, the FDA issued new guidelines for sunscreen labeling so that consumers would know what they are putting on their skin. The labels still don’t quite make it clear- I’ll get you in the know!
Let’s start with the basics- UVA & UVB Radiation
To help you remember- The “A” stands for “Aging” rays- UVA radiation causes wrinkles, collagen loss, compromised barrier function, and free radical damage. Lentigos, or “liver spots” (those unsightly brown spots that can appear on the skin as we age), are a product of membrane damage to our skin cells. UVA penetrates deeply into the skin and therefore damages the skin on a DNA level.
The “B” in UVB stands for “Burning” rays. UVB radiation damages the surface layer of the skin, causing either a tan or a burn. This type of radiation interferes with the melanocytes (the cells responsible for the skin’s pigment) and therefore plays a key role in the development of skin cancers. I want you to remember this sentence forever.
It only takes ONE mutated melanocyte to develop melanoma.
In plain english, that means of all the millions of melanocytes you have sitting in the basal layer of your skin, (not to mention in your eyes, & gut); it only takes ONE to go rogue and set off the whole chain reaction that manifests as melanoma. Melanoma is also the scariest form of skin cancer- it easily metastasizes or spreads to different organ systems of the body. This is due to the fact that it is a highly aggressive form of cancer that is vascular and fast growing. This is why it is SO essential to protect yourself from the sun, even if you do not have a family history of melanoma, and get skin checks by your dermatologist as regularly as he or she recommends. If you have a history of sun damage, melanoma, or indoor tanning, your dermatologist may recommend a yearly skin check. (Admittedly, this is me, as I spent time in tanning beds as a young adolescent. If I only knew then what I know now!)
Chemical vs. Physical
The inorganic compounds in chemical sunscreen protects your skin by absorbing sunlight & releasing it away from the skin. Two common ingredients are avobenzone or oxybenzone. The molecules in the ingredients absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds. As the bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat.
Some inorganic chemicals, including minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, act as a physical sunblock. They reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light. This actually creates a barrier on the skin, as if you were wearing clothing. Most often this type of sunscreen is thick and white when applied, but many manufacturers have made the molecules smaller so that they are more easily blended and absorbed into the skin.
Which do I choose?
Currently, the jury is still out on whether or not chemical sunscreens are carcinogenic as well as Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (or EDC’s). When reading the label, know that the active ingredients in a chemical sunscreen can be avobenzone or oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Therefore, the recommendation is to opt for a physical sunscreen. When out shopping at a cosmetics store, drugstore or at a spa/derms office, your physical sunscreen will be labeled as a mineral sunscreen. Choose an SPF of at least 30, and make sure that if it’s for your face that it is separate from your moisturizer, and that it is the last layer of product before you apply makeup. This is due to the fact that the molecules for SPF are very large, and the skin cannot absorb the SPF molecules as well as the hydrating molecules in your moisturizer at the exact same time. If you are spending time in the sun, reapply your physical sunscreen more frequently, at least every two hours (and wear a hat! And sit in the shade! And avoid the midday sun! I care about you!!)
My favorite mineral sunscreens
For the body, my go-to is Blue Lizard Baby . I use this on my children as well as on myself! It is extremely effective. The bottle also turns pink when it is exposed to UV rays!
For face, it’s a tie. Currently I am using SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion SPF 50. I also love Elta MD UV Clear– it looks very elegant under makeup. MD Solar Sciences is also an excellent and trusted brand!
Worried about getting enough Vitamin D?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that in order to absorb the amount of Vitamin D from the sun for necessary for healthy bones and tissues, individuals should spend 15 minutes per day exposed to the sun without sunscreen. This is 15 minutes in which the head is exposed as well as either both arms, or both legs (but not the entire surface area of the skin!) That’s all you need. If you are still concerned, speak with your physician about taking a supplement of D3 (as cholecalciferol) and what dosage is appropriate for you.