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SUNSCREENS: HOW IT WORKS, WHAT IT MEANS
Which sunscreens are best and why?
The ideal sunscreen would be highly effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays, contain active ingredients that do not break down in the sun (so that the product remains effective), and contain active and inactive ingredients that are proven to be safe for both adults and children. Unfortunately, there is no sunscreen that meets all of these criteria, and no simple way for consumers to know how well a given product stacks up on any of these fronts — which is why EWG created this guide to safer and more effective sunscreens. To see how we conducted our analysis and ranked products,read our methodology.
When picking a sunscreen look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, avoid oxybenzone and sunscreens with fragrance. Choose a product with an SPF of 30 or higher, avoid sprays and powders and bug repellants.

Is a good sunscreen all I need to stay safe?
No. Sunscreen can only provide partial protection against harmful effects of the sun. Limiting sun exposure and wearing protective clothing are even more important when it comes to protecting against skin cancer and premature skin aging. Be extra careful about sun exposure during 10 am and 4 pm since the sun's rays are the most intense during this time of the day. When using sunscreen, make sure you apply it generously 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it often — at least every 2 hours. Even the best sunscreen won't work if you don't use it correctly. (ACS 2007; BCC 2003)

Doesn't the government ensure that sunscreen protects us?
No. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has two systems that theoretically regulate sunscreen safety and effectiveness, one has never been implemented and the other is optional and rarely used. The upshot is that there are no mandatory requirements about what sunscreen manufacturers can (and can't) put into their products, and what kind of claims they can print on the label. The Connecticut Attorney General has called the current situation a "marketing Wild West" in which "sunscreen makers can make claims that are unproven and untrue." Learn more about how FDA has failed to establish regulations for sunscreens or see the top ten false and misleading claims to be wary of when buying sunscreen. (Blumenthal 2006)

Which sunscreens are best for children?
Since kids are more vulnerable to damage caused by the sun and to harmful effects of chemical exposure, you want to make sure you choose a sunscreen that is rated highly in terms of both effectiveness (against both UVA and UVB radiation) and safety. Use EWG's guide to help you find one. If your child is going to be swimming or playing in the water look for a sunscreen that says it is water resistant. Avoid sprays, powders and products with bug repellant.

Make sure to apply sunscreen generously before going out and reapply often. (Don't believe claims that a product will remain effective for a certain period of time, as these are not always reliable.) Infants under 6 months need special protection Ñ at this age, a fair-skinned baby does not have melanin proteins for sun protection and needs to be kept out of the sun. The AAP recommends that you avoid using sunscreen on children younger than 6 months unless protective shade and clothing are not available. In this case you can apply a minimal amount to exposed skin (AAP 2008). Remember that sunscreen is just one part of a sun-healthy lifestyle. Limiting sun exposure and wearing protective clothing are even more important than wearing sunscreen.

How much sunscreen is enough, and how often?
Follow the advice of the American Cancer Society and put on sunscreen early, regularly, and generously. Apply it 30 minutes before going outside, and at least every 2 hours thereafter. Make sure to reapply after being in the water, sweating a lot, or towel drying since all of these activities can remove sunscreen from your skin. (One study indicates it's best to reapply your sunscreen after 15-30 minutes in the sun, so consider doing this as well.) Don't skimp when putting on sunscreen: Studies have shown that consumers typically apply only a quarter to two-thirds of the amount of sunscreen required to achieve the product's SPF rating. The FDA recommends applying one ounce (about a palmful) evenly to all exposed skin. (ACS 2007; BCC 2003; Diffey 2001)

Will sunscreen protect me from cancer and wrinkling?
There are two main types of UV radiation that are known to contribute to skin cancer, wrinkling, and skin aging: UVA and UVB. To get the most protection, you need to use a product that filters out a significant proportion of both types of rays. All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but only some sunscreens protect against UVA. These latter products are usually labeled as UVA/UVB or "broad spectrum" sunscreens. You can tell how effective a particular sunscreen is at protecting skin from UVB by looking at the SPF number — the higher the number, the better the protection. But SPF values tell you nothing about how much UVA protection you are getting. In fact, The FDA has no regulations about what degree of UVA protection a sunscreen must provide to be able to make such claims, so you won't know how much protection you are actually getting by reading the bottle. This is one of the primary reasons that EWG created its sunscreen guide — to give consumers much needed information about how effective their sunscreen is at blocking both types of harmful radiation.

What does "SPF" really mean?
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measurement of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn. If your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, for example, wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen would theoretically allow you to stay in the sun for 150 minutes (10 x 15) without burning. This is a rough estimate, however, and your own skin, the type of activity you do in the sun (i.e. one involving water or sweat), and the intensity of sunlight may give you more or less safety. Note that SPF ratings can be confusing or misleading at times. For example, the rating tells you about UVB protection, but nothing about protection from also harmful UVA rays. The SPF scale is also not linear: SPF 50 does not prevent burns 2/3 times longer than a SPF 30, and in fact blocks only about 1.3% more UVB radiation than SPF 30. In addition, The Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns that current testing methods may not be able to accurately and reproducibly determine SPF values for high SPF products (FDA 1999).

How high of an SPF should I use?
The American Cancer Society recommends that people use a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15. Higher SPFs will give you more protection, but consumers should recognize that once you reach SPF 30, there isn't a huge difference between products with higher SPF values. A SPF 50 product, for example, only blocks about 1.3% more UVB radiation than a SPF 30 product. More important than seeking out ultra-high SPF products is that you apply your sunscreen generously — most people put on only a quarter to two-thirds enough sunscreen to actually reach the product's SPF rating. (ACS 2007, BCC 2003)

What is the difference between sunscreen, sunblock, and suntan lotion?
Products marketed as "sunscreen" and "sunblock" contain ingredients that provide at least some degree of protection from sunburn and other damaging effects of the sun's UV rays. Products marketed as "suntan" or "tanning" lotion, on the other hand, do not contain such ingredients and do not provide any such protection and are intended to be used while acquiring a tan. The FDA has indicated that it intends to ban the term "sunblock" from being used in marketing claims — when the agency eventually finalizes its sunscreen regulations — because it falsely implies that the product is blocking all light from the sun when no product can do this. Similarly, the agency has also indicated that it will require the following warning to be printed on all "suntan" products: "This product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn. Repeated exposure of unprotected skin while tanning may increase the risk of skin aging, skin cancer, and other harmful effects to the skin even if you do not burn."

What is PABA and why do so many sunscreens say they are "PABA-free"?
PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) was once a very popular sunscreen ingredient that fell out of favor with manufacturers because of problems with allergic dermatitis and photosensitivity and because it tended to stain clothes yellow. The exceptionally common "PABA-free" marketing claim is almost meaningless since virtually zero sunscreens still contain PABA. A derivative of PABA called Padimate O is still used, however, and may be found in sunscreens labeled as PABA-free. Padimate O appears to be safer than PABA, but still shares some of the same health concerns as its parent chemical.
 

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Part 2

My sunscreen says it has nano particles in it, should I be concerned?
Environmental Working Group is among the many advocacy groups who have raised concerns about whether the rapidly expanding use of nanotechnology poses risks to human health or the environment. Many zinc and titanium sunscreens contain nanosize particles, even when they are not on the label.

Although we expected to reach a different conclusion at the outset of our sunscreen investigation, when we balanced all factors important in sunscreen safety, we found many zinc and titanium-based sunscreens that our analysis shows are among the safest and most effective sunscreens on the market. Our product ratings reflect our concern about the very real dangers of cancer and other health hazards from sun exposure, balanced against concerns about the potential health hazards of sunscreen ingredients. Read our full assessment of zinc and titanium sunscreens here.

Our study shows that consumers who use sunscreens without zinc and titanium are likely exposed to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients than consumers relying on zinc and titanium products for sun protection. We found that consumers using sunscreens without zinc and titanium would be exposed to an average of 20% more UVA radiation — with increased risks for UVA-induced skin damage, premature aging, wrinkling, and UV-induced immune system damage — than consumers using zinc- and titanium-based products. They contain four times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more).

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are stable compounds that provide broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, while the available studies consistently show very little or zero penetration of intact skin by these compounds, indicating that real world exposure to potential nano sized particles in these products is likely very low (BÅ¡rm 2006). The sun protection benefits, in contrast, are very high.

EWG's rating of zinc and titanium-based products as among the safest and most effective sunscreens available in the U.S. today should not be interpreted as an endorsement of nano-materials in general. We remain deeply concerned about the overall safety and oversight of nanotechnology as well as impacts to workers and the environment.

Benefits:

UV exposure is damaging to health, and Zinc and Titanium offer broad spectrum UV protection.
Zinc and titanium are 2 of only 4 UVA blockers used in the US. Alternatives including Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M are available in Europe but not approved by FDA for use in the U.S. As it stands, the only other U.S.-approved sunscreen with UVA-I protection are avobenzone and Mexoryl SX, both of which are unstable in most sunscreen formulations (i.e., they break down in the sun).
In 15 peer-reviewed studies, nanosize zinc and titanium were shown not to penetrate through unbroken skin at concentrations exceeding 1.5%. A recent review for the EU decision-making body found that, "There is currently little evidence from skin penetration studies that dermal applications of metal oxide nanoparticles used in sunscreens lead to systemic exposure" (Borm 2006).
Zinc oxide poses a low level of concern based on currently available science: it is well studied and is a necessary nutrient to humans.

Concerns of zinc and titanium in sunscreens:

No studies have tested nanosize zinc and titanium penetration through fragile or damaged skin. Conventional zinc is widely used on damaged skin including diaper ointment and burn treatment. However, other nano-scale particles have been shown to penetrate the skin, especially when it is repeatedly flexed.
U.S. regulatory framework has lagged far behind industry in addressing the impacts of nanotechnology. Due to inadequate labeling requirements, consumers have no options for avoiding products containing nanoparticles.
Nanoparticle production poses serious concerns for workers, especially particle inhalation, which available science indicates is likely the greatest human hazard for nanoparticle exposures. Occupational production is virtually unregulated in the U.S.
Nanoparticles, including zinc and titanium, are potentially toxic to the environment. Like all sunscreen ingredients their use in sunscreens results in releases of the chemicals through production, users' contact with water, and as waste.
Read our detailed summary of nanotechnology risks and benefits.

What to do:

FDA needs to evaluate nanoparticles as distinct from larger particles in products.
Manufacturers using materials with all or a fraction of the ingredient in the nano-scale range must clearly label their products with this information, to allow consumers the option of avoiding them.
FDA must evaluate and approve new sunscreen chemicals that can protect from UVA and might offer fewer risks to workers and the environment.
The safety of nano-scale zinc and titanium in sunscreen must be fully assessed.

How do sunscreens work?
The active ingredients within sunscreens absorb, reflect, or scatter ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and thereby alter how the body responds to this radiation. Sunscreens typically contain a combination of different chemicals that are known to be effective for certain wavelengths of UV light. Some chemicals work better than others, however, as do some combinations of chemicals. For years, manufacturers created sunscreens that were only effective at screening out UVB radiation, since this is the type of radiation that was known to cause sunburn and lead to skin cancer. More recently, manufacturers have worked to create sunscreens that will protect the skin from both UVA and UVB radiation, since scientists realized that UVA radiation is also harmful. All sunscreens provide UVB protection, but only some protect against UVA rays (FDA 1999).

Has sunscreen usage decreased skin cancer rates over time?
The National Cancer Institute says that there is currently inadequate scientific evidence to answer this question. However, consumers might be interested to know that two controlled studies comparing sunscreen users with others found that sunscreen reduced the risk of one common form of skin cancer (squamous-cell carcinoma) but not another common form (basal-cell carcinoma). This work provides further support for the generally accepted recommendation for people to use sunscreen but not rely on it exclusively to prevent sun-related harm to the skin (NCI 2007; van der Pols 2006; Green 1999).

What is the matter with sprays and powders?
EWG does not recommend powder and spray sunscreens due to concerns about inhalation. We are especially concerned about inhalation of nano- or mico-sized zinc and titanium in powdered sunscreens. Inhalation is a much more direct route of exposure to these compounds than dermal penetration, which appears to be low in healthy skin. If you want the benefits of a mineral sunscreen choose a zinc- or titanium-containing lotion instead of powder. When using a pump or spray sunscreen lower your inhalation risk by applying the product on your hands and then wiping it on your face.

What about sunscreens with bug spray?
We would advise you to skip regular use of products that combine bug spray with sunscreen. For starters bugs may not be a problem during the hours that UV exposure peaks. Sunscreen may need to be reapplied more frequently than bug spray, or vice versa. You should avoid using pesticides on your face too. Most worrisome are the fact that sunscreens often contain penetration enhancers. Studies indicating that concurrent use of sunscreens and pesticides leads to increased skin adsorption of the pesticide (Brand 2003; Kasichayanula 2005; Pont 2003; Pont 2004; Wang 2006; Wang 2007).

For rated sunscreens go to: www . ewg.org/cosmetics/report/sunscreen09/findyoursunscreen
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I realize this is a LOT of information. However, I believe it is acurate an unbiased. And since this is a forum on skin care, I believe, sunscreen is a MAJOR product not only to help keep us wrinkle-free, but safe from cancers as well. I presented the article in it's entirety instead of the link in case you would like to make it a "sticky" thread at the top of the category. Or feel free to delete it if you feel it's too much info. Robin~
 
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