3 Reasons Why Your Sunscreen Is Failing You

There are a few weeks of summer left, but it's never too late to give some thought to what you're doing for sun protection and skin care. Here are some good things to know when it comes to your Summer skin care:

1. Most sunscreens are not broad spectrum

There are 3 types of UV rays:

  • UVC: Shortest wavelength of UV rays that is typically blocked out by the ozone and does not warrant much concern.

  • UVB: Medium wavelength UV rays that can penetrate the top layers of skin to cause sunburn, but also allows for vitamin D production.

  • UVA: Longest wavelength UV rays that penetrates into the deeper layers of skin causing skin aging, wrinkling and increased risk of skin cancer.


Most sunscreens are not broad spectrum, meaning they only work to block UVB rays but most do not block the deeper penetrating UVA rays. To date, only 2 substances have been shown to provide notable protection against DNA damaging UVA rays: Zinc oxide and a chemical called Avobenzone.

2. SPF is not everything


SPF (a.k.a. Sun Protection Factor): How long it takes for the sun's UV rays to redden skin with vs. without sun screen. Example: with a SPF30 sunscreen it would take 30x longer for skin to burn than without sunscreen.


BUT! According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), SPF provides a false sense of security as most people tend to expose themselves and spend more time in the sun than they should when wearing sunscreen. Not only that, but higher SPF does not necessarily mean more protection as the higher your SPF the less effective it becomes at blocking problematic UVA. Anything above an SPF of 50 is not effective at blocking UVA.

3. Your sunscreen may be toxic


There are two types of sunscreen sold: mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreens provide a physical barrier to reflect sunlight whereas chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin to "neutralize" UV rays. Though chemical sunscreens are preferred by most because they are lightweight and comfortable on the skin, chemical sunscreen ingredients can act as hormone disruptors, skin irritants and lead to toxic breakdown products after application. Not only that, but toxic chemical sunscreen ingredients have been shown to be present on the skin and in the blood weeks after initial application.


Another factor to consider is that many sunscreen companies will add vitamin A (a.k.a. retinyl palmitate or retinol) to their sunscreens because vitamin A is considered a great antioxidant, however a 2012 study showed that vitamin A application on sun exposed skin potentially acceclerates growth of skin cancer.

If you have to choose, opt for a natural, mineral, broad-spectrum sunscreen but also consider protection beyond your sunscreen:

  • Suit up: Wear protective clothing (ex. hats, long-sleeve, full-length pants, sunglasses).

  • Know your limit: If skin begins to redden, blister or sting you've passed your skin's sun limit.

  • Bathe in the shade: Offered by nature or something you construct, take shelter on bright days.

  • Timing is everything: Go out in the morning or late afternoon (10am-3pm is when the sun is typically at it's highest and does the most damage).

  • Moderation is key: Aim for regular, moderate exposure rather than tanning in for hours and risking overexposure.


Resources:

EWG: Sunscreens, E., 2020. EWG's 2020 Guide To Safer Sunscreens. [online] Ewg.org. Available at: <https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/skin-cancer-on-the-rise/> [Accessed 20 August 2020].

Sunscreens, E., 2020. EWG's 2020 Guide To Safer Sunscreens. [online] Ewg.org. Available at: <https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/imperfect-protection/> [Accessed 20 August 2020].


Sunscreens, E., 2020. EWG's 2020 Guide To Safer Sunscreens. [online] Ewg.org. Available at: <https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/> [Accessed 20 August 2020].


Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5615097/pdf/main.pdf> [Accessed 20 August 2020].


Ntp.niehs.nih.gov. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/htdocs/lt_rpts/tr568_508.pdf> [Accessed 20 August 2020].


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