Are you honestly wearing sunscreen? A question that I always ask my patients as part of my skin consultation. Sunscreens have been around as part of our skincare for many years but do we really know their importance with regards to aging and health matters?
I wanted to capture something that got me thinking about a subject that I am so passionate about so much so that I have co-written an article in the Aesthetic Journal
If we didn’t have the Covid-19 outbreak and we were not in lockdown we probably are planning breaks away whether, for the Easter Break, school holidays, public holidays, or summer breaks, and one of the items that we tent to pack away with us is a sunscreen. However, we are in lockdown and we are at home. So, how much thought do we now give regarding protecting ourselves against the damaging rays of the sun? After all, we still have to go to the shops to get our essential shopping or if we are blessed with gardens or balconies then we would be spending time soaking up the rays.
In order to really understand the impact of sun rays, we need to understand what exactly are sunrays.
There are two main rays that are responsible for skin damage:
The UVA RAYS: These are the longest of the wavelengths and they tend to penetrate deeper into the skin where they impact the dermal layers of the skin. They are responsible for photo-aging, pigmentation, and textural changes of the skin breaking down collagen and elastin fibers leading to wrinkled slacked skin as well DNA damage.
The UVB RAYS: These are the shortest wavelengths and they tend to mainly hit the epidermal layer of the skin they are responsible for tanning the skin. We tan as a result of the presence of melanin which is natural umbrellas in the skin protecting us from the harmful rays of the skin. However, excessive exposure leads to burring of our skin.
HEV (blue light): This is the new kid on the block and more and more research is emerging linking it to skin damage. However, on the plus side, the blue light is responsible for boosting mood, alertness and improves memory.
However, we shall focus mainly on the two main rays which are the UVA and the UVB rays where UVA stands for ageing whilst UVB stands for burring.
The difference between UVB and UVA is that UVA can penetrate throughout the year where it can penetrate through glass and on a cloudy day damaging our skin. Therefore, we do not need a sunny day to use sun protection. It should be incorporated throughout the year.
Therefore, the effects of UV damage are detrimental to our skin. However, what is far more decremental is the risk of skin cancer.
A healthy mole as seen in this would be round and symmetrical as compared to an unhealthy one is asymmetrical. There are other changes that affect the appearance and these include borders surrounding the mole, the color, the diameter. In addition, they evolve.
This is known as the A.B.C.D.E rule
If you start to notice any difference in the appearance of your mole or if it starts to itch, bleed, or does not heal then, it is vital that you contact your doctor for assessment and diagnosis.
So let’s sunscreen:
When it comes to using sunscreen, how can we select the right product?
Sunscreen formulations are divided into two different forms:
Inorganic: Known as physical
Organic: Known as a chemical
However, please be mindful that organic, in this case, does not mean natural. All it means is that it contains a carbon atom in the formula.
The difference between them is the way that they are formulated and how they work.
Organic Chemical filters:
Absorbs the energy of the UV rays and converting it into a safer energy
Inorganic physical filters:
Sits on top of the skin and deflects the light, however, there is an element of absorption also.
An example of Inorganic filters are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide
However, recent research has shown that both organic and inorganic filters work in similar ways.
The inorganic physical filters tend to be less irritating on the skin which serves as an advantage but may be more costly than the organic.
Is there a difference between the numbers of SPF on the sun protection preparations?
The majority of patients that I see in my clinic only use sun protection in the summer when the sun is shining or incorporated in their makeup or moisturizer as factor 15 (SPF 15).
So, let’s talk SPF numbers. Is SPF 50 better than SPF 30?
If a sunscreen has an SPF15 then it will take 15 times longer for the sun to redden the skin. Similarly, if an SPF30 is applied to the skin then it would be 30 times longer for the sun to redden the skin. However, in terms of percentage protection,
SPF15 provides 91% sun protection
SPF30 provides 96% sun protection
SPF50 provides between 97-98% sun protection
Therefore, the difference in protection between factor 30 and factor 50 is 1.6-2% therefore, it is worth noting what total protection means, doubling up the factors or increasing its numerical value does not mean doubling to achieve total protection throughout the sun exposure. You should opt for an SPF no less than 30.
It is also worth keeping in mind that the numerical value in sun protection only corresponds to the UVB-rays and therefore an indicator of protection against UVB- rays and not UVA rays. You will notice star ratings on your packaging of sun protection such as 3,4 or 5 and these demonstrate the level of protection against UVA-rays.
What is important to note is that effective sunscreens must contain a UVA filter as well as a UVB filter to provide protection against the damaging rays of the sun. This is known as broad-spectrum sun protection.
In reality, we could never have complete protection unless we ensure that we apply the correct amount which tends to be approximately two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. To put it simply, half a teaspoon for the face.
Ensure frequently repeated application covering all the areas that are exposed including the ears. In addition, ensure that we use protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses covering the areas that are most exposed to minimize exposure during intense sun presence between the hours of 11-15.00hrs.
So how do you reapply sunscreen after you wear makeup?
This is a common question that I get during my consultation as often there is a concern that the makeup will be smeared off. Thankfully there are formulations that can address this which range from sprays, powders, and creams.
My absolute favorite and one that I always recommend and incorporate as part of the skincare plan to purchase is the skinbetter science® tone smart compact. This is an amazing cream to powder formulation with physical filters that adapt to the tone of your skin giving you total broad-spectrum protection making reapplication a breeze.
science® Tone Smart advanced broad-spectrum protection factor 50
We all love the sun and love to bask in it but, we need to respect it and respect our skin. So, the take-home message is to ensure that you are adequately and fully protected.
Please source advice from skin experts with a clinical scientific background where their prime concern is your welfare rather than social media coverage with unfounded claims or misinformation/
Sunscreens will not stop the skin from tanning but only protect against burning and delays the signs of ageing and risk of skin cancer
All the treatments that I perform, where the client spends their hard-earned money to achieve skin health offer no value if, the skin is not protected and damage continues.
My final ask is to avoid at all costs using sunbeds as they can damage the skin and contribute to skin cancer.
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My special thanks to my wonderful colleague fellow professional Lorna Bowes the CEO of Aesthetic Source for giving me the opportunity to co-write an article with her on a subject that is so important for health.