Sun Protection: What They Are Not Telling You

Due to the effects that sun damage has on clients, skin care professionals should all be experts on sunscreens. However, that has not been easy due to the confusing regulations and misinformation that surrounds this category. In this article, what is known about current sunscreens will be clarified along with information on how to safely advise clients about the many myths associated with this category of skin care.

Myth #1: The sun is damaging at all times.
While it is true that the sun is an important cause of collagen loss, age spot development, and skin cancer formation, it is important to remember that these events are primarily associated with sunburns and excess sun exposure, not casual sun exposure. The skin was built to be in the sun. It forms melanin to protect from prolonged exposure, but short-term exposure (usually under 15 minutes of direct sunlight) is well-managed by systems within the skin. The skin has epidermal reflection, melanin absorption, antioxidant protection, and immune repair activity, which are all brilliantly designed to allow skin to be outside time after time without long-term damage accumulation. The current Western medical recommendations for sun exposure are to avoid it and protect the skin at every instant, which is a bad idea. Study after study has demonstrated the remarkable benefits of 15 to 30 minutes of unprotected sun everyday. It reduces the incidence of several cancers and diseases too numerous to mention here; it is not just about vitamin D and bone health. If clients put on SPF 15 to 50 every morning, they may be doing a disservice to their health. Sun protection is only needed for extended stays in intense sun in almost every case, depending on a client’s tolerance.

Myth #2: Sunscreens are safe.
Chemical-absorbing sunscreens are highly questionable. Skin care professionals should review the consumer reports that recently failed the safety of many sunscreens or the environmental working group’s scathing analysis of current options for a quick summary of the problems. The bottom line is that chemical sunscreens (avobenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate) significantly increase the number of free radicals in the skin right after application and without any sun exposure. This fact alone argues that chemical sunscreens should not be applied regularly (daily) as part of a routine, especially considering the first myth. Clients need to realize that if it is put on in the morning, free radicals that wound the skin are created. By the afternoon, the skin no longer has sun protection from the applied morning dose. Not good. In addition, several of the approved sunscreens (sulibenzone, oxybenzone, dioxybenzone) have been associated with reduced male fertility. You can bet that if it is influencing hormones, women and children are affected as well. The only thing they studied in women was whether it prolonged pregnancy attempts. The bottom line is that sunscreens are better than nothing only when clients are exposed to prolonged, intense sunlight. Remember, there are several epidemiologic studies that have shown an increase in skin cancer rates with the use of sunscreens.

Myth #3: Titanium and zinc are toxic.
The most definitive study on these ingredients was done by the Australian Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They determined there was no toxicity associated with the topical application of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. While it is true that those ingredients can create free radicals when mixed with chlorine and sometimes water, these two ingredients do not penetrate the skin enough to be of concern. Also, they are not inhaled into the lungs, which was the other concern. Coated titanium and zinc only react in the presence of chlorine, so it is reasonable to assume that if someone went into a chlorine pool, these ingredients would not even be present on the skin because they rest on the surface and wash off easily.

Myth #4: Topical sun care is the most important form of sun protection.
The truth is that clients who are immunocompromised by medication or illness cannot tolerate even five minutes of sun exposure and often see little effect from sun protection when sunscreen is applied. This is very telling. The primary focus, especially considering that most people do not use sun protection, should be on the immune system. Birth control pills, antibiotics, hormones of any kind, most any medication used for pain or inflammation, and most prescriptions, will interfere with the skin and body’s ability to heal all daily wounds, including those created by sun exposure. While the term sun sensitizing is often used, what is really happening during this process is that client’s skin burns quickly and the skin ages much more rapidly than it normally would. The reason is simple – the immune system is not able to repair the damage the way it normally could. Immunosuppression may also be one of the reasons that skin cancer rates are going up, regardless of sunscreen use.

Myth #5: SPF 50 is better than SPF 30.
Just about every SPF 50 product uses chemical sunscreens that cause inflammation as opposed to coated zinc and titanium. SPF 30 absorbs and blocks 97 percent of UVB radiation and SPF 50 absorbs and blocks 98 percent of UVB radiation. It makes no sense to double the free radicals in the skin (by using 50 over 30) for only a one percent improvement in sun protection.

Myth #6: Broad spectrum coverage is the standard.
UVB protection is easy to find amongst the majority of sun-protecting ingredients. Avobenzone, dioxybenxzone, and mexoryl each only partially block UVA radiation, but they come carrying the baggage of adding inflammation to the skin and often degrading quickly. Titanium and zinc are excellent ingredients but they are not easy to work with and wash off easily. Clients need to be aware that when they buy broad spectrum sun protection containing only small amounts of the physical blocks and get most of their SPF claim from the chemical absorbers, they are essentially only getting UVB protection. This is especially true with water-resistant formulas, since the UVA component either washes off or is marginally-effective. Remember that first-line, broad spectrum protection is an intact epidermis, so clients need to stop exfoliating daily.

Myth #7: Photostabilizers are effective in sunscreens.
We are far from conclusion on the use of photostabilizing ingredients in sun care products. There is certainly some improvement in the durability of chemical sunscreens in the presence of these stabilizers, but there is very little science on their safety. As seen time and time again, a chemical is often seen as effective and put into practice… until it is actually researched to find out what it does a decade later. The inherent problem in the system is that there is a lot of money working to create new ingredients and very little money dedicated to examining the long-term effects of these ingredients. There is not enough information on this subject and nothing in these stabilizers protects the skin from the chemical effects that occur in the skin and body when these toxins are absorbed.

Myth #8: Drinkable sunscreen is not possible.
The development of a drinkable sunscreen sounds pretty crazy until it is realized that the ultraviolet radiation is a collection of frequencies and science has shown that frequencies can be canceled by other frequencies. UVA, UVB, and infrared wavelengths create harm when they hit the skin over an excessive amount of time. By imprinting the cancellation waves in water and then ingesting those waves, it is possible to get the sun protecting, cancellation waves to the skin where they negate the damage before it hits the skin. It still requires a healthy immune system to function well, but this is arguably the future of sun protection since it protects every part of the body, including eyes and hair, and it cannot wash off. A clinical trial was done where 16 out of 24 people were protected by this method. The eight participants who burned did not go in the sun regularly and reported lower tolerances to sun exposure with topical forms of protection. There have also been many anecdotal reports of it working better than anything else on polymorphic light eruption (sun allergy).

Sun protection is of critical importance as we see the health of most Americans slipping from exposure to toxic air, food, and pollutants that weaken immune systems. Professionals have been far too trusting of the pharmaceutical/sun care industry when most know that the industry’s primary goal is to make money, not make us healthy. Chemical sunscreens have been proven to be toxic in most cases and that is only with a superficial analysis of their effects. Make sure clients do not fall into the trap of hiding from the sun – it is only excessive sun exposure that is the problem; casual exposure is healthy and humans are designed for it. Zinc and titanium remain the gold standards and their use can reduce skin cancer in individuals who get too much sun exposure too often. However, the future of sun protection may very well be using frequency cancellation technology.


Ben Johnson, M.D. is the current founder and formulator of Osmosis Skincare. Dr. Johnson began his career starting one of the first medical spa chains in the country, along with founding/formulating Cosmedix. He is an established speaker, educator, and formulator who is well known for his unique approach to skin conditions by thinking outside of the box. Dr. Johnson's passion is creating tremendous change in the skin without constantly exfoliating away the protective benefits of the epidermis.

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