The chills of winter are hopefully behind us and we all look forward to the warmth of summer sun. Although most of us have come a long way in understanding the dangers of the sun and the need for sunscreen, it is amazing that even today; otherwise well read, educated individuals continue to believe, what are nothing more than sun protection myths.
‘It is perfectly safe to be out in the sun for extended period of time as long as you have sunscreen on’.
‘A golden or dark skinned complexion (Asian Indian) does not require sunscreen’.
In reality whether we are Asian Indians or Caucasian, UV rays play havoc with our skin’s health. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and the first line of defense against Bacteria, Free Radicals and the Environment. Although sunlight does help our bodies produce natural Vitamin D, a natural protectant from osteoporosis and 3 lethal cancers- Breast, Bowel and Prostrate, too much sun leads to ‘photo aging’. This can progress into skin cancers and even melanoma. The fact is our body only needs 5-10 min of sunlight daily for an adequate supply of Vitamin D.
It is unfortunate that those “total block” sunscreens with high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) give us a false sense of safety. It should be understood that the SPF numbers only relate to UV-B ray.
UV-B rays indeed are more powerful than UV-A rays, but the atmosphere filters out most- and only 5% UV-B rays reaches our skin. Furthermore these rays do not penetrate further than the epidermal layer of the skin, but exposure can result in redness and a burning sensation.
UV-A rays on the other hand are far more dangerous for they cannot be adequately filtered out They are the key players in skin cancer. They cause premature aging as they penetrate further into the dermis layer of the skin, injuring the fibroblasts and skin matrix, activating genes in way that destroys collagen and elastin as well as disrupting the normal layering of melanin, our body’s natural sun protectant. The result is loose wrinkled hyper pigmented skin that fast loses its youthful luster.
The organic (chemical) ‘Parsol’ or Mexoryl variants protect from UVA rays by penetrating the skin. However the chemical reaction occurring in the skin breaks down the ingredients resulting in free radicals generation. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide on the other hand are the inorganic, reflective, physical blocks for both UVA and UVB rays. They do not penetrate but stay stable on sun exposed skin. Until now it was difficult to formulate aesthetically pleasing sunscreens with these ingredients but technological advances have made it possible to micronize the relatively large zinc oxide and titanium dioxide molecules into nanocrystal that are practically transparent. Furthermore, these formulations are long lasting, do not degenerate in the container, feel light on the skin, are non -irritating, non-greasy and non comedogenic. The ideal formulation affording the best protection would be one that incorporates these qualities with the added benefit of antioxidants such as Vitamin E and C and A, Beta carotene, alpha lipoic to name a few.
No doubt, it is not easy to find a sunscreen that contains each and every protective ingredient in one formulation. However a qualified/ credentialed skin care professional can be a good resource and a great place to start – not only would your skin type and condition be taken into account, but also your lifestyle, which are all important factors in determining an optimal formulation for your skin. Lastly remember that SPF15 blocks 97%, SPF 30 blocks 98% and the best SPF100 % “Total” sunscreen blocks only marginally more UVB rays. The fact remains that 2% of UVB and about 60% of UVA still gets through to damage our skin.
Although we cannot totally change our lifestyle, it would be wise to find a balance between the benefits and the dangers of sun as we work and play.
Smita M. Patel- Skin Clinic Director
Published Lokvani E-Magazine June 15’ 06- Smart Sun Protection).