Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Maximizing Sunscreen Efficacy

What if you could be armed with an invisible force field that would protect you and your loved ones from any unseen dangers and harm? Sounds good, right? To have a secure way of ensuring you and your loved ones are safe all day, every day, would definitely be ideal. What if I told you that your search for this invisible bulletproof vest has been right under your nose and that you can get it at your favorite dermatologist’s office? That lifesaving product is none other than sunscreen.

Sunscreen, when used properly, works much akin to a coat of armor; an almost invisible bulletproof vest that contains organic molecules that absorb, scatter and reflect ultraviolet radiation, thus protecting you and your family members from a silent killer called the sun. Over-exposure to UV rays means a significantly heightened risk for skin cancer, which is the commonly diagnosed cancer in the world and, yet, the most preventable.

Two decades ago, sunscreen was relatively unheard of, whereas today it is part of our common jargon. Increased awareness of skin cancer and the importance of sunscreen, even sun protective clothing have, in ways, only further confused us and perhaps even caused us to ignore the warnings. Have you ever wondered why there have been occasions when you slapped on a pound of SPF 45 before hitting the beach only return home burnt to a crisp? The problem is, we are told to use sunscreen but aren’t being instructed on how to properly apply it; to maximize its efficacy.
Unlike a bulletproof vest, however, sunscreen must be re-applied in order for it to properly provide protection from ultraviolet radiation. Consider the 30-20-2 rule: Apply an SPF 15+ sunscreen on at least 30-minutes prior to going outdoors—even on cloudy and cold days, reapply it within the first 20-minutes of being outside, and then reapply consistently in two hour intervals. (For children under 18, sunscreen must be applied every hour). The reason sunscreen works this way is based on the mechanics of our skin.

As we learned in the beginning of this course, our skin works much how a sponge does. The top layer, the epidermis, absorbs sunscreen, forming a protective layer on top of the skin that blocks UV rays from reaching the melanocytes that lie deep within the skin. Yet, your skin reaches its saturation point after approximately two hours, thus leaving you unprotected from ultraviolet exposure and causing sunburn and/or other skin-related damage. Hence, it is imperative that a broad-spectrum sunscreen be reapplied in order to maximize its protective powers.

Alas, not all sunscreen products out on the market today work proficiently. To deliver optimum level of protection, a sunscreen must have sufficient quantities of essential ingredients. In other words, when choosing the best sunscreen product for your family, take a look at the bottle— You will want to make sure it contains proven effective agents such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. (Preferably, a minimum 5% of both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide). Furthermore, make sure the product is a broad-spectrum formula, meaning that it blocks both UV-B and UV-A rays. If the sunscreen is not broad-spectrum, do not buy it! You are not being sufficiently protected or covered.

The significance of a broad-spectrum sunscreen cannot be over-emphasized. UV-B and UV-A rays have varied affects on your skin, your immune system, and your body as a whole. UV-B irradiation disrupts the melanocytes, causing them to release the redness known as sunburn. Any change in the color of your skin as a result of over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation is damage to your skin, even if your skin tends to tan as opposed to burn. Any change in your skin pigmentation is your melanocytes way of telling you that normal, healthy cells have been severely disrupted and, thus, they are trying to compensate for the damage they have sustained (but photo damage from ultraviolet radiation is un-repairable). On the other hand, damage to your skin caused by UV-A irradiation is far more serious. UV-A rays are especially harmful as they penetrate deep beneath your epidermis, into the layer underneath known as the dermis. Typically, the immediate affects of UV-A rays are not visible, but they are the chief culprit behind photo-aging and wrinkling. Have you ever left basketball outside in the hot summer sun for a lengthy period of time? Then, when you went to retrieve the ball, you almost immediately notice that the elasticity of the ball has weakened. The ball feels almost as if it has melted and never quite bounces back. This is exactly what happens to your skin as a result of prolonged UV-A exposure. Both UV-B and UV-A rays have cumulative affects and coupled together can lead to skin cancer. Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen that adversely damaging affects on a variety of biological systems.

Thusly, make sure you understand SPF when purchasing a brand of sunscreen, and do not be fooled by those that claim to deliver a high level of protection. For starters, SPF stands for sun protection factor (or sunburn protection factor). The way SPF works can be best described by the following example:

A SPF 20 sunscreen is only allowing five out of every 100 UV protons to reach your skin. In other words, it is protecting you from an estimated 95% of UV rays. Therefore it is strongly recommended that a minimum SPF 15 sunscreen be used year-round. Yet, if you are planning a long, leisurely day at the lake or even a marathon day on the ski slopes, up your sunscreen to a SPF 30 and be sure to apply the 30-20-2 rule so as to prevent a painful reminder of your day of recreation. It is noteworthy to mention that, according to the American Cancer Society, 60% of Americans suffered [at least] one severe blistering sunburn last year as a result of improper sunscreen application and use. Could this lack of proper sun safety be contributing to the ever-increasing skin cancer incidence? How many skin cancers could be avoided if we were to only properly use a SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen? Certainly the world’s most common cancer can be prevented if we are more proactive about properly protecting ourselves with adequate sunscreen. Would the crusaders of old leave their homes to face a battle without being adequately armed with protection or equipped with the proper weapons to defend themselves from the enemy at-hand? Of course not! So, be sure to properly and regularly apply sunscreen to your skin. After all, a well-made sunscreen is the closest to a bulletproof vest we have against a growing epidemic—skin cancer.

To learn more about sunscreens, check out ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Resources.

Be SunSavvy,

PS: Blue Lizard is my personal favorite. Check it out and see for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Hello Danielle,

If you don't know our product, I would very much like to send you samples.

KINeSYS performance sunscreen has focused on our sprays. We found that no matter how great a cream sunscreen is, some people just won't apply it, so we came up with a very unique and effective spray, see's VP, on CBS (right hand side)

Our sprays are oil, alcohol, paba and preservative free. They are water and sweat resistant, hypo-allergenic and non-comedogenic (won't block your pores). As you mentioned in your blog, you don’t "endorse" products and I respect that, but I was hoping you’d be interested in trying ours?

Please let me know where to ship and thank you for your time and commitment to educating people on sun safety.

All the best,
Jeff Kletter
KINeSYS Performance Sunscreen

Danielle said...

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for taking the initiative to contact me. Indeed, Jeff Bedard is a wonderful man and entrepreneur. We very much value our association with him and Del-Ray Dermatologicals/Blue Lizard. (Not to mention, Blue Lizard Sunscreen is a truly AMAZING product).

I welcome opportunities to team up with individuals and organizations who share our passion for skin cancer prevention education.

While I agree with the AAD that cream sunscreens are most effective, and only recommend such, you do bring up an excellent point - some people prefer sprays. I am extremely careful about what products I disburse and/or recommend to others, especially sunscreen; however, I am happy to look more into your product. Does your sunscreen product include the following:

* A minimum 5% of titanium dioxide and 5% of zinc oxide

Additionally, is your product at least SPF 15 (preferably SPF 30)?

According to Australian standards, a sunscreen is most effective when it has ample amounts of the aforementioned ingredients. These two key ingredients aid in making a sunscreen an effective broad-spectrum formula by reflecting/deflecting both UV-B and UV-A rays. I appreciate that your product is fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, alcohol-free, paba-free, and non-toxic. This, indeed, is important both for effective sun protection and good skin care/skin health.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to doing some research on your product.

Thank you, again, for contacting me! Truly, we need more individuals joining the "crusade" to fight skin cancer.

Danielle M. White
The Cancer Crusaders Organization

Anonymous said...

For years, I've known I've needed to be careful. I'm fair and freckley, and I spent years in the sun in Africa and as a lifeguard. I didn't use sunscreen like I should.

However, this is finally the year when I made the switch. I put it on every single day, even if I'm just going to work. Part of this I'll credit to the sunscreen manufacturers who are finally beginning to make products that aren't greasy. But part of this I'll credit to me, finally wising up. I hope I'm not too late.

Genie, Link TextThe Inadvertent Gardener

Danielle said...

It's never too late to start protecting yourself from the sun and ultraviolet radiation.

While a majority of our lifetime sun damage does occur before age 18, adults need to regularly (and properly) apply sunscreen, too. Sun protection not only helps with skin cancer prevention, but helps reduce the signs of aging caused by prolonged exposure to the sun; it helps protect the elasicity of our skin.

At any rate, it's no too late!!!!

Be SunSavvy,