Friday, May 11, 2012

Sunscreen Anyone?

(Originally Posted Wednesday, June 22, 2011)
I am so torn on the whole sunscreen issue.  On the one hand I have incredibly sensitive skin that is extremely fair, burns easily, I have a family history of skin/other cancers and I already have sun damage.  On the other hand, I have sensitive skin that has already been damaged by what I believe is a lifelong exposure to parabens (preservatives found in most commercial personal care products), plus recent research suggests vitamin D, aka "the sunshine vitamin" is essential in helping ward off some serious cancers and a host of other dastardly diseases, commercial sunscreens leave my face red/hot/irritated, and finally, I am committed to trying to reduce the amount of chemicals that go in and on my body.  Furthermore, I get asked quite often whether SkinKissed Naturals' Go Green Tea facial moisturizers have sunscreen in them.  So what is a person to do?  I decided to look into this issue further and share some surprising information with you.

First of all, Go Green Tea facial moisturizers do not have sunscreen in them, because adding an SPF to a moisturizer automatically makes it an over-the-counter drug according to the FDA, and my insurance will not cover OTC drugs.  However, if you have sensitive skin like me that does not respond well to traditional sunscreens, but would still like to put on some sunscreen in order to be out in the sun, I have a suggestion for you:  Apply your Go Green Tea moisturizer as you would any other day and then layer your sunscreen over the top of that.  This way, you will have the more natural, gentle, good-for-your-skin ingredients directly on your skin and can still get the sunscreen protection you want as well (and perhaps get a bit of a buffer from the harsher chemicals and ingredients in the sunscreen).


As far as the other information I found out about sunscreens, I have some bad news and some good news.  I'll start with the bad news, but to understand it fully, I need to give a little background information first.  To start with, UV radiation comes in two forms:  UVA (Ultra Violet-A rays) and UVB (Ultra Violet-B rays).  UVA rays are a longer wave radiation that penetrate deep into the skin and is generally referred to as causing premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.  UVB rays are a shorter wave radiation that only penetrates the top layer of skin and is generally referred to as causing sunburn and some cancers with repeated exposures.  SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of how long you can stay in the sun before getting sunburned, comparing bare skin to skin with sunscreen.  So as an example, an SPF 4 should allow me to stay in the sun 4 times longer without getting burned than if I didn't have any sunscreen on at all. 

The bad news is that for years sunscreens only protected against the UVB rays.  It isn't until just recently that we have even heard of or seen any sunscreens with UVA protection.  So here is where the bad news gets even worse.  All this time we consumers have been putting on our SPF 30 (or whatever), thinking we are protecting ourselves from sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging, and we went and spent the whole glorious day playing or relaxing in the sun.  We were thrilled if we didn't get sunburned, but meanwhile, the UVA rays that we couldn't feel quite possibly had all that time to deeply penetrate and damage our skin!


So here is where the good news comes in.  After a 30 year wait the FDA has finally just come out with new rules pertaining to sunscreen.  And although you may start to see some manufacturers labels reflecting this change now, the industry has been given a year to comply with the new testing and labeling requirements.  Following is a summary of the changes. 
  • Broad Spectrum - The FDA strongly recommends using only sunscreens listed as "Broad Spectrum".  This means the sunscreen provides both the traditional UVB protection, as well as, UVA protection.  Only those sunscreens that provide both UVA and UVB protection with at least an SPF 15+ can carry the "Broad Spectrum" label.  All other sunscreens with lower SPF numbers or UVB-only protection must include only the SPF number on the label.
  • Product Claims - Only "Broad Spectrum" sunscreens with an SPF 15 or more can claim to "decrease your risk of skin cancer, premature aging of the skin and sunburn".  Products with a lower SPF or UVB-only protection can only claim they "help prevent sunburn".
  • No More "Sunblock", "Sweatproof", "Waterproof" - The FDA says no sunscreen completely blocks UV rays, and all sunscreen loses significant effectiveness with sweating or in water.  They determined these terms are misleading and overstate their effectiveness.  Therefore, under the new rules, labels may carry the term "water resistant" and then they must also state whether they remain effective for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on testing.  Furthermore, they must not state they are effective more than 2 hours without re-application.

A couple other things the FDA is looking into and thinking about proposing for future rules has to do with products claiming SPF's over 50 and dosage.  Apparently, the FDA has determined there is no evidence that an SPF greater than 50 provides any additional benefit, and again, is misleading. 

The EWG (Environmental Working Group - a team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers who pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and conducts their own laboratory tests to expose health and environmental threats and provides solutions), agrees with the FDA's assessment of SPF 50+ products and goes on to say studies show people wearing these products tend to stay in the sun much longer with just one application, thereby increasing their exposure to damaging UVA rays.  Additionally, they believe there may even be evidence that certain sunscreen chemicals actually break down when exposed to sunlight, forming free radicals and possibly penetrating the skin, leading to potential DNA damage.  Therefore, the higher SPF products just provide an increased exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals that do not provide any greater sun protection anyway!  The FDA responds to this saying sunscreen chemicals have been used for years and they have no reason to believe they are not safe, but report they will look into this further in the future.

Another surprising (even shocking) thing I learned about sunscreen has to do with proper dosage.  The FDA plans to look into this area in the future and come up with new rules.  The EWG cites studies showing consumers consistently apply only 1/5 - 2/3 the amount necessary to achieve the SPF rating manufacturers use in their testing.  They say this inadequate dosing results in exponential cuts in protection due to the physics of sunlight (which I don't understand, but just take their word for it).  They give an example of applying 1/4 of the amount of an SPF 30 product provides you with just SPF 2.3 protection, and an SPF 100 product becomes just SPF 3.2 protection!  Say what?! 

So just how much are we talking about?  EWG says we should be applying a full ounce (about a palmful) evenly to all exposed skin, leaving about a full teaspoon for our faces.  So think of it this way...a typical 8 oz. bottle of sunscreen will give you just 8 applications!  That is a lot of slathering!  They also say not to rub it in too much (no more than 6 passes).


The EWG believes mineral sunscreens have the best safety profiles in general, saying they are stable in sunlight, they do not appear to penetrate the skin and they offer good UVA protection.  However, if you just cannot live with the whitish tinge and want something that disappears more easily on your skin, they suggest opting for products with avobenzone at 3% for the best UVA protection.  They believe we should avoid oxybenzone and 4-MBC due to possible hormone disruption, especially in kids' products.  Personally, my sensitive skin does best with mineral sunscreens without any parabens for preservatives, which I can easily find in natural food markets.

In summary, the FDA gives the following recommendations to help avoid sunburn, decrease your risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging when we are in the sun:
  • Wear protective clothing such as long sleeve shirts, long pants, broad brimmed hats and sunglasses
  • Limit your time in the sun, seek shade as much as possible and avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10am-2pm when the sun's rays are at their peak
  • Use sunscreen with "Broad Spectrum" SPF 15+, following all label directions
  • Re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours, more often if sweating or jumping in and out of the water
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