Practice Safe Sun

May 4, 2011 by

Acronyms are supposed to be short and sweet ways of remembering more complicated words. In the world of sun protection though, there are far too many to keep everything straight. We go from SPF to UVA and UVB, then you can throw in some FDA and the list goes on. Keeping all of them straight can make you want to scream a four-letter word in frustration. In all efforts to keep it classy, I decided to break down all of those impossible to remember letter combos and explain what each one really means.

Of course being the educated beauties that we all are, I know each and every one of you wears sunscreen religiously, even on the days you don’t feel like you need to. And if not, in order to avoid a lecture, please never mention it and correct your ways. Recent studies have shown that sunscreen usage is at an all time high, so why is it that skin cancer is also at a similar peak?

The problem isn’t that people are not wearing their sunscreen, its that they are not doing their research first and picking the right one. When you see a bottle of sunscreen it will say a few of those tricky acronyms, but it wont tell you what they mean. It’s you job as a consumer to educate yourself.

Since we’re already on the topic of labels, let’s think of one number (aside from price) we all look for when picking sunscreens : SPF. Sun Protection Factor or SPF for short is the degree of protection a formula will provide against UVB rays alone. They range from a meager SPF 5 to a whopping SPF 110, SPF’s are essential to gauging how much protection your sunscreen will give you from the dangerous burning rays that are UVB’s. To calculate the level of protection you divide the skins natural sun protection in minutes which is 2, by the number of SPF. Even the highest of SPF’s are only going to protect you for less than an hour.

There are two types of UV radiation, Ultraviolet class B (UVB) and ultraviolet class A (UVA). The UVB rays damage the superficial Epidermis layer of your skin causing a sunburn. They vary in strength seasonally and generally peak around noon in the summertime. This damage may contribute to skin cancer, freckles, sunspots, age spots and skin that looks like leather. Don’t you dare think UVB’s are the only bad guy rays associated with the sun though, let me introduce you to UVB’s much stealthier and more damaging partner in crime: UVA rays.

UVA rays account for a staggering 95 percent of all the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth. NINETY FIVE PERCENT! They cut through clouds and glass, and wreak havoc year-round. The UVA’s are the little twats that contribute to sagging skin and wrinkles, all the  while triggering cell mutations in your second layer of skin, the dermis which could turn into skin cancer. With their super-radiation wavelengths they can penetrate deeper into the skin, destroying our fair weather friends collagen and elastin. UVA rays are a force not to be reckoned with. The worst part? There’s not a damn thing our other friend SPF can do about it, SPF offers no protection against them. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. There isn’t an FDA-approved rating system for UVA protection on sunscreen labels at all. Gee, thanks for doing your part, FDA.

Before you resign to being a lobster face, there are ways to protect yourself. Let me spread some sunshine on a sunscreen power player, Avabenzone. This is the best broad spectrum ingredient out there for putting the smack-down on UVA rays. This magical chemical absorbs UVA’s once they hit your skin (woot woot), but the down side is that it can only do this for an hour or so. It must be re-applied religiously. Remember the white chalky look you would get at the beach when your mom applied sunscreen all over you as a kid? You can thank another super hero for that, Zinc Oxide. This power player reflects the UVA rays back into the environment like a mirror to protect your skin. Another plus to this ingredient is that it doesn’t contain chemicals, its great for anyone with sensitive skin, acne, or rosacea.

Now to recap what you just learned. When looking for a sunscreen, you want something with a high SPF so you don’t burn, and a label that says broad spectrum, Avabenzone, and Zinc Oxide. Just like with shopping, label whoring is not such a bad thing. Typically you’re going to want Chanel over Wal-mart. The same goes with sunscreen, you have to pick the one with the right label.

1 Comment

  1. Many combinations of synthetic and natural ingredients may go into the formulation of a single sunscreen. A formulation is generally geared towards a specific SPF rating or the needs of a specific consumer group.


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