Know your Sun Protection
By now, we all accept that we need to protect our skins from exposure to the sun, but we have also heard that not all sun protection is equal.
What is available, and what actually works?
When it comes to using creams, sprays, gels and lotions in the sun you need to make sure that your product has a minimum SPF50 (sun protection factor) and the broadest spectrum (protecting against UVA and UVB). (We stock a range of topical products which meet these criteria, they are also clinically proven and internationally recognised.)
There are two classes of topical treatment. The first contains organic filters which absorb UV radiation, converting it into manageably small amounts of heat. Organic filters include Cinnamates, Salicylates and Benzophenones and each absorbs a different wavelength of the Ultra Violet spectrum. So when using an organic filter it pays to check which wavelengths you will be protected from. Because they are chemical barriers, they have to be stabilised with other compounds and can cause reactions on more sensitive skin.
Inorganic filters contain fine mineral particles which act as a physical barrier, reflecting and scattering UV radiation in all wavelengths of the UVA and UVB spectrum. Physical sun barriers usually contain carbon compounds such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Because they are much more stable, they are less likely to cause allergic reactions. Recent developments in Nanotechnology have been able to reduce the application of inorganic filters from a thick, occlusive white paste, to a thin transparent film.
Figure 2 INORGANIC FILTERS
For the most complete protection against both UVB and UVA radiation, you will need to look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Ensure your product comes from a reputable manufacturer and has been clinically tested. The South African Standard (approved April 2013) states that the UVA to UVB ratio of protection should be at least 0.33:1, so make sure that your product is able to offer this.
SPF is the sun protection factor of a sunscreen and is an indication of how much extra time you can be in the sun without burning. For example, if 10 minutes is all it takes for your unprotected skin to burn, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will allow you to be safely exposed for fifteen times longer. This would amount to an extra 2 hours and 20 minutes (10 mins x 15 = 150 mins or 2½ hours).
There are a number of conditions to being able to depend on this rating. Firstly, you need to apply enough sunscreen. When the SPF of a sunscreen is tested under clinical conditions, 2mg/cm² is applied. For an average sized adult, this translates into half a teaspoon for each of the head, neck and each arm (10ml in total), and a full teaspoon for each of the front and back of the torso and each leg (another 20ml). If you use half the quantity, you get half the protection in terms of “time before burning”.
Secondly, you need to apply sunscreen often. The industry standard is that you should reapply it every 2 hours. Swimming, perspiring and towelling down your skin all dilute the level of protection and cause coverage to become uneven. Even if your product is water resistant. You also need to remember to apply product to areas such as your ears, the back of your neck, the back of your hands and the tops of your feet, as well as the sides of your torso.
Lastly, you need to understand that sunscreen cannot block out 100% of harmful solar radiation. When applied correctly, the UVB absorbed by a sunscreen ranges between 93% (SPF 15) and 98% (SPF 50) within the timeframe mentioned above. If you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen your additional UVA protection will be one third of the UVB protection. If you do not put enough sunscreen on, and if you only put it on once this level of protection decreases dramatically along with the time you are protected for. If your product has been open for longer than a year, it will have degraded and needs to be replaced.
When using SPF in products and cosmetics, you also need to remember that using more than one product with SPF does not increase the amount of time you can be exposed to UV radiation without burning. Using two products with SPF15 will not give you the equivalent of an SPF30.
In addition, most manufacturers recommend that you apply their products a full 20 minutes before going into the sun. This allows the product to settle evenly on the skin, and for it to be properly absorbed, before exposure to the sun.
Oral sunscreens are dietary supplements (usually containing Polypodium Leucotomos) which support and maintain the skin’s ability to protect itself against UV related effects and ageing. They work on a cellular level to protect the skin’s structure and support its immune response. They do this by neutralising the free radicals and scavenging the reactive oxygen species which are created when the skin is damaged during exposure to UV. These high energy molecules are responsible for the direct cellular damage associated with photo-ageing.
Depending on the manufacturers’ instructions, normal day to day protection is achieved by taking one capsule daily. If you know you are going to go out into the sun for an extended period of time, the manufacturers usually recommend taking one capsule one half hour before exposure to sunlight and a second capsule 2-3 hours after the initial capsule. (We stock clinically proven HELIOCARE® oral capsules containing Fernblock® PLE (Polypodium Leucotomos Extract) technology.)
Most of the literature available on sun protection agrees that you should never rely on just one type of sunscreen. Other than avoiding extended exposure to UV whenever possible, they offer the following additional guidelines:
- Cover up, but remember: unless your clothing or hat or sunglasses are UV resistant, you will still need to apply other sunscreens to achieve UV protection.
- Not all geographical locations receive the same amount of UV radiation. Generally, the less atmosphere the UV travels through, the more radiation reaches Earth’s surface. So, the higher the altitude, the higher the level of your exposure. Similarly, the closer to the equator, the less filtering achieved by the atmosphere. Whilst complete cloud cover acts as a filter, partial, thin, or broken cloud cover still allows significant levels of radiation to reach Earth’s surface. Being near the surface of water and snow increases the levels of UV radiation through the process of reflection. Usually UV radiation is at its peak when the sun is at its zenith – between 10:00am and 3:00pm.
- Even if you have a darker skin, you still need to use some form of sunscreen. The general rule of thumb is that the fairer your skin, the higher the SPF you will need to apply. Do not be misled into thinking that sun damage is always visible in the form of pigmentation and ageing. The deepest levels of the skin can be damaged a long time before there are physical signs on the skin surface.
- Most skin professionals will tell you that the majority of sun related skin damage occurs before the age of 23. Because of their level of activity children are particularly vulnerable to the damage caused by UV radiation. Ensure that they wear UV resistant hats and bathing suits/clothing and that you renew their sunblock often. The youngest you should be applying sunscreen is 6 months. Prior to that, you should be keeping your child safe from UV exposure.
Written by Kim Magennis