UNDERSTANDING UV RAYS
It is important to understand how UV radiation affects our skin. First and foremost, sunlight is a source of life energy for all living organisms. As humans, we need a healthy amount of sun daily to ensure we acquire adequate Vitamin D, which is necessary for cellular function. Overexposure to UV radiation is where issues arise and needs to be avoided.
There are two types of ultraviolet rays; UVA and UVB. UVA is comprised of UVA1 & UVA2. UVA rays, the “tanning” rays, are deeper penetrating and responsible for longer term skin aging, wrinkles and cellular damage. Overexposure to UVA rays is now believed to be a key contributor toward the most aggressive and potentially deadly form of skin cancer, Melanoma. UVB rays are primarily responsible for reddening or “burning” of the outer layers of skin. UVB damage and sunburn can also cause skin cancer. Each incidence of burning to a peel is believed to increase one’s risk of skin cancer by 50%. To easily remember the difference between the two: UVA (aging/tan) and UVB (burning/sunburn). Overexposure to both UVA and UVB rays is carcinogenic and can cause skin cancer.
Some additional facts about UV rays:
- The intensity of UVA rays remains constant throughout the seasons of the year.
- UV exposure can be increased by as much as 25%, 50% and 80% from the reflection off of sand, water and snow respectively.
- UVA rays penetrate through glass windows all year round
- Higher Elevations increase the intensity of UV rays and can possibly lead to exposure of UVC radiation.
- Over 90% of UV radiation hitting the earth are UVA rays.
- Over 80% of UV radiation, especially UVA radiation can penetrate cloud cover all year round.
- UV damage is cumulative throughout our lifetime. Meaning, each occurrence piles on top of the previous. Each time a person sunburns to a peel, their risk of cancer increases by 50%. Persons with more than 40 moles are 3 times more likely to develop skin cancer.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) refers to the amount of protection against UVB rays a sunscreen offers. This amount is measured in percentages and is not a linear scale. For instance:
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
Therefore, SPF 50 only provides 1% more protection than SPF 30.
All sunscreen, whether SPF 15 or 70 needs to be applied and reapplied properly. An SPF of 30 does not mean that a sunscreen protects your skin for 2xs longer than SPF 15. It does not measure a product’s ability to protect your skin from UVA rays, which are also damaging.
Most dermatologists recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or SPF 30 for a few reasons. First, sunscreens with very high SPFs do not offer much more protection than SPF 30 and give people a false sense of security that they are more protected than they actually are. Also, in order to have true broad spectrum protection, the UVA protection should be at least 1/3 of the UVB protection. Sunscreens with high SPFs typically have much greater UVB protection than UVA. Lastly, typically, double or triple the amount of chemicals are needed to achieve an SPF higher than 30.
BROAD SPECTRUM PROTECTION
Sunscreen’s most important job is to provide true broad spectrum protection. Broad Spectrum protection refers to a product’s ability to effectively mitigate the harmful effects of both UVA and UVB rays. Under the FDA regulations, a product marked ‘Broad Spectrum’ will now be mandated to filter a balanced amount of UVA relative to its SPF (UVB) claim. Zinc Oxide is the only active ingredient that solely provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays, which is why it is in the only active ingredient in our sunscreens.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen
With label claims, ingredient lists and testing translations being so confusing, it is important for consumers to understand how to go about choosing sunscreens that are safe and effective.
- Choose Broad Spectrum Non-Nano Zinc Oxide protection.There are presently still 16 FDA approved active ingredients in sunscreen. While many of these offer UVB protection, only four offer any UVA protection. Zinc Oxide is the only single, broad spectrum active. Non Nano Zinc Oxide is a mineral that physically blocks the entire range of UVA & UVB. Non Nano Zinc Oxide sits on top of skin, is large enough to not absorbed as the others and is a non skin irritant. Look for Non Nano Zinc Oxide percentages to be over 18% and ideally the only active ingredient. Non Nano Zinc Oxide is reef safe. Titanium Dioxide does not cover the full range of UVA radiation by itself.
- Use Broad Spectrum SPF 30, beware of lower or higher numbers.It is a widely accepted that Broad Spectrum SPF 30 is the benchmark needed to provide adequate UVB & balanced UVA protection. In FDA mandated testing, SPF 30 sunscreens filter 97% of UVB rays while SPF 50 only filters 1% more at 98% and SPF 100 would only offer 2% more at 99%. In real life application, however, it is very unlikely that filtering more than 97% of UVB rays is plausible. Furthermore, extremely high SPF claims provide a false sense of security, double or triple the amount of chemicals and skin absorption while risking excessive UVA exposure.
- Choose ʻWater Resistant 80 Minutesʼ, a proven track record, & avoid spray on products.”The term ‘Water Resistant 80 Minutes’ is regulated by the FDA. It represents a sunscreenʼs ability to remain effective after 80 minutes exposure to water. ‘Waterproof’ and ‘All Day Protection’ claims are misleading and not allowed. A product that is Water Resistant 80 Minutes will likely offer better sweat resistance as well. Ultimately, a Water Resistant 80 Minutes sunscreen that has performed well for you in the past is a wise choice in the future. Avoid sprays or powder sunscreens at all costs. These applicators expel excess amounts of chemical ingredients which immediately become lung inhalants and pose a health hazard. Additionally, these chemicals go airborne and indiscriminately pollute the environment. Furthermore it is nearly impossible to determine the correct dosage application and quite often skin coverage is not effective.
Using Sunscreen Effectively
Equally as crucial to choosing the right sunscreen, and maybe even more challenging, is how to go about using this sunscreen properly. The manner and amount of sunscreen a consumer applies will dramatically affect sunscreen performance.
- Sunscreen is the last line of defense, not the first.It is imperative that a complete approach toward sun protection is used. Contrary to popular belief, no sunscreen alone will keep you totally protected. It is always suggested to stay out of peak sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm, seek shade and wear protective clothing and hats. Avoid extended periods of exposure, never allow skin to sunburn and avoid a deep tan, as both UVB and UVA rays cause skin cancer.
- Apply more than enough. In order for sunscreen to be effective as advertised, the correct amount must be applied.The FDA regulates that all sunscreens must be SPF tested in the amount of 2mg of formula per square centimeter of skin. What this means is that an adult wearing only shorts must use one full ounce of sunscreen per application to cover all the exposed skin properly. Approximately a teaspoon size amount is needed to adequately protect the face, ears and neck. Using less than the correct amount drastically reduces the sunscreens ability to protect the skin and the SPF claim will not be met. Apply enough to leave an even, visible film over desired coverage area, then rub in to the desired look.
- Apply early, reapply often. The vast majority of chemical sunscreens require early application, at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure to be effective. Reducing this time period will reduce the effectiveness of the sunscreen. Non Nano Zinc Oxide, as a physical barrier is effective the moment it is evenly applied to the skin. It is imperative to reapply sunscreen often, at least every eighty minutes during long periods of sun exposure. Regardless how ʻWater Resistantʼ a formula claims to be, it is wise to reapply after any water exposure, sweating, or towel drying. Applying early and reapplying often will give the sunscreen the best chance to perform effectively.
SUN PROTECTION TIPS
Although our sunscreens are a great first line of defense, we want to offer you some sun safety tips to get optimal protection:
- Always wear UV protective clothing, including hats, sunglasses, rash guards, etc.
- Limit your time in the sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm, when the sun is most intense.
- Always stay hydrated and seek shade whenever available.
- Young children need even more protection from heat and sun.