Tuesday, 28 April 2020 12:01

Sun Protection: A look at sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, and other sun safety measures

Written by   Cynthia Malcom Taylor

The body’s response to overexposure of the sun is a tan. It is an inflammatory immune response. The skin, being the largest organ and in charge of protecting the body, sends the body’s available melanin supply to try to further protect it from continuous breakdown from the sun.


Any time the skin is injured or stimulated, it releases protectors such as collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid to cause the body to protect and heal itself. Melanin is another protectant that can be stimulated to protect the skin. The more melanin available in an individual’s genetic background, the more their body can produce to protect the skin. Have you ever wondered why some skin tones produce a dark bronze and other skin tones become splotched with freckles? This is the result of more melanin in the body. In both cases, the skin is trying to protect itself, but the skin that has the most melanin can bring melanin up in an umbrella effect.


The amount of pigmentation in skin directly relates to the UVB levels to which past ancestors were exposed. The current understanding of evolution places the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa, one of the continents with the highest concentration of UVB-rich sunlight due to its proximity to the equator. To reap the benefits of UVB without irradiating, evolution developed extra melanin in skin. This darker pigment served as a natural sunscreen (approximately a sun protectant factor of four through six), absorbing the brunt of UVB while allowing a small amount in for the health benefits. This system worked great until humans began migrating from Africa to places in the world with less light.


Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, sunlight filters through more of the atmosphere the further away a location is from the equator, which reduces the amount of UVB that makes it through. Thus, people who settled in northern areas had difficulty absorbing UVB. Over time, paler complexions developed to allow more vitamin D production. Such evolution produced the rainbow of human skin tones seen today.


With the Industrial Revolution came various technological advancements in transportation, such as airplanes, someone from Ohio with a Fitzpatrick II could now rapidly migrate to regions with plenty of sunshine like Mexico or Africa. However, their skin would not have time to adapt or evolve to these new sunny environments, and excessive sun exposure led to burning, aging, and more severe health conditions like skin cancer. This eventually prompted the creation of sunscreens and led some people to avoid the sun altogether.


The Fitzpatrick scale measures the body’s ability to handle sun exposure. Theoretically, the lighter the skin is the less exposure the skin can handle, and the darker skin is the more exposure it can handle.


Sun exposure causes free radicals to form. Free radicals are oxygen molecules that steal from other paired cell structures and DNA and when DNA is altered this is how cancer is formed. Overexposure to the sun is the number one cause of cancer, but it is not just true that individuals only need it for a sunny day or an all-day softball event; it is cumulative sun damage that affects the skin most, so while one day out at the beach or one burn might seem harmless, ultimately those habits over time will affect the skin negatively. An unprotected day of snowboarding can burn and further break down the skin, just like an unprotected day of sunbathing at the beach can, too. Sun protection while bathing in the sun is imperative, no matter the weather or Fitzpatrick classification.


The sun projects light in a spectrum and, with the thinning of the ozone layer, more rays reach earth. UVA rays are known to cause damage to DNA and the dermal structure of skin, attribute to melanomas and other cancers and aging, and can penetrate through glass. UVB are shorter rays known to penetrate for burning the skin.



When the skin is damaged by the sun, this causes an inflammatory response – this is what a tan is. Clients think it is glorious, but they have just triggered a chain of events that will break down the skin. The free radical damage leads to the body releasing main extracellular matrix – self-destruct enzymes that break down collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. Consistent destruction of protectors leads to premature aging. You may not notice it today because it is the cumulative effect that cause the overall damage.


Keep in mind that clients should protect themselves from overexposure to the sun’s rays by wearing sunscreen on all areas that can be exposed to the sun. UVA rays can penetrate through glass and it is a good practice to apply sunscreen to all areas that are exposed, even when driving in the car or eating in front of a glass patio door. The rays emitted from a tanning bed are UVA rays, as well.



Active ingredients in sunscreen work by reflecting or absorbing and neutralizing the ultraviolet rays from the skin. Sunscreens that perform the job of reflecting are known as physical sunscreens. Sunscreens that absorb or filter through the sun rays are known as chemical sunscreens.


Heat reflecting sunscreen ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and work by refracting or scattering the sun’s rays away from the skin. When using a physical sunscreen, a client can go in the sun right away because these refracting sun protectors protect from both UVA and UVB rays of the light spectrum immediately. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are also known to be safe for the environment.


Chemical sunscreens include ingredients like octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl), homosalate, padimate A, and padimate O. These ingredients release energy by absorbing ultraviolet light. Think of a screen door on a house; the screen door is filtering the light and, often, it may be hard to tell if the front door is open or closed because the screen door is filtering so much light out. When chemical sunscreens are used on the skin, the chemical is absorbing the light and dispersing it as heat in the body.


These sunscreens should be put on 20 to 30 minutes before entering the sun. Clients with sensitive skin conditions, such as rosacea or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, should use physical and heat-reflecting sunscreens, as chemical sunscreens will activate the sensitivity or inflammation.



SPF stands for sun protection factor, which determines how long the user can remain in the sun without burning. An SPF of 15 means the skin can remain in the sun 15 times longer than it normally could without getting a sunburn; however, there are several variables such as sweating, swimming, and reapplication time, as well as the correct amount of sunscreen applied. Higher SPFs filter slightly more ultraviolet light, but the difference is minuscule, as the difference between an SPF of 15 and SPF 30 is a difference of approximately 4%. A sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 should be chosen for daily use. Keep in mind to reapply while bathing in the sun, sweating, and swimming. Water-resistant sunscreen will break down and wash off after approximately 40 to 80 minutes in the sun without reapplication.


The correct amount of sunscreen is one ounce for the entire body. A two-ounce bottle would be two applications; a 16-ounce bottle is 16 applications. Apply enough sunscreen to the body to fill a shot glass. Most people do not use enough sunscreen and, as a result, they may be getting only half the protection shown on the bottle. It is also important to completely apply the sun protectant factor to the entire body, not just to places seen in the mirror. Places like the hairline, around the mouth, the ears, nape of neck, back of arms, legs, and the bottom are often overlooked.


An SPF of 15 applied to the face in an SPF moisturizing product and an SPF of four foundation makeup product applied to the face will not render a total SPF of 19. The sun protection factor will be an SPF of 15.


Sunscreens are regulated over-the-counter drugs that come with an expiration date. It is important to keep sunscreens in a cool place, wrapping it in a towel, keeping it in an ice cooler, or another cool place when visiting the beach.



Sunscreens protect users not from browning completely, but they protect from the harmful rays that come from baking in the sun. If a client wears full sun protection, they will still get a great tan. In fact, they will have a better tan – they just will not expose themselves to all the harmful rays of the sun.


Although there is no safe way to tan without protection, sunless tanning or spray tanning can give the skin the desired bronzing without the inflammation and breakdown of the skin. However, the skin is more suspectable to burning after a spray tan. The skin, although looking physically tanned, still does not have a longer sun protection factor just because it looks darker. Sunscreen should still be applied.



Choose sun-screened garments, long-sleeved clothing, and brimmed hats that have an SPF additive. There are companies that make an SPF additive that can be added to the wash and protects clothing for up to 20 washes.


Choosing clothing that has been designed for sun protection and tested to confirm its ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) will give a client greater control over their overall level of ultraviolet exposure.


Always look for a garment’s laboratory tested ultraviolet protectant factor rating (if it is available) to evaluate its true ultraviolet protection level. Ultraviolet protectant factor-rated clothing enhances everyone’s protection against ultraviolet-related health risks, but it is especially helpful for:

  • people with fair skin that burns easily
  • children, who have thinner, more sensitive skin
  • people at high elevations, in equatorial regions, on snow, or water (sun intensity is greater in each of these environments)
  • those with sun sensitivities increased by drugs, including acne treatments, antihistamines, antibiotics, certain anti-inflammatories, herbal supplements, vitamin C, tyrosine inhibiting supplements, or drugs such as hydroquinone


Ultraviolet protectant factor is the rating system used for apparel. It is like sun protection factor, the rating system used for sunscreen products. SPF pertains only to a sunscreen’s effectiveness against UVB rays, considered to be the more damaging type of light. Ultraviolet protectant factor gauges a fabric’s effectiveness against both UVA and UVB light.


Wearing ultraviolet protective clothing and these other precautions gives clients tools to keep their skin healthier. Be smart about the sun and it will be easier to soak up the fun when outdoors.


Darker Fitzpatrick types who rarely show signs of burning can still develop skin cancer, so they, too, will benefit by being proactive about sun protection.



Antioxidants are known to be helpful in inhibiting free radicals and inflammation due to sun exposure. Have clients use antioxidants like vitamins C and E in the morning before applying sunscreen to protect from the damaging rays that get past sunscreen. Sunscreen alone is not enough to protect clients from sun damage. A study in 2006, by Haywood, found that sunscreens only block 55% of the free radicals caused by sun exposure. For skin to be well protected from sun and pollution, clients should use topical antioxidants and daily sunscreen. While there is no one product that can protect clients completely from the sun’s rays, studies show that antioxidants like vitamins C and E help. Apply them before and after serious sun exposure to get the best result.


When applied together, vitamins C and E act as a natural form of sun protection. Together, they have greater effectiveness than either vitamin does alone. Therefore, even if some of the vitamin C in a product is degraded or oxidized, the remainder works better in the presence of vitamin E. Combined, they provide four times more protection against free radicals. Wrinkles are reduced and skin stays healthy and beautiful.


A single, strong blast of ultraviolet light can destroy half the skin’s natural supply of vitamin E, so apply a sunscreen supplemented with vitamins C and E before going into the sun. Some studies show that the anti-inflammatory action kicks in to reduce damage even after one has been in the sun.


When skin is damaged by the sun’s rays, the body produces free radicals. Free radicals are atoms that have an uneven number of electrons. The uneven number is what makes them unstable. To become stable, the atoms steal electrons from other stable atoms. When this happens, it can cause permanent damage to skin. A professional will start to see premature signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. Antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, fight aging by destroying the free radicals that destroy the collagen supply. They work by donating an electron to the unstable atom to make it stable and neutralize free radical damage.


Vitamin C

Look for products containing vitamin C, listed as L-ascorbic acid, as this is the best form of vitamin C for skin in combination with vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol or tocopherol acetate).


Vitamin C is one of the few topical ingredients that has clinical studies to back its effectiveness. Taking vitamin C as a supplement in food can make sunscreens more effective. It works by decreasing cell damage and aiding in the healing process. The body needs vitamin C to produce fibroblasts, as they are required for collagen production and to heal damaged skin. Ways to take in vitamin C include eating foods rich in vitamin C, taking vitamin C supplements, and using skin care products that take vitamin C directly to the skin.


L-ascorbic acid is the most effective form of vitamin C in skin care products. There are many products on the market today that have vitamin C or one of its derivatives as an ingredient (for example, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate), but L-ascorbic acid is the most effective useful form of vitamin C in skin care.


Vitamin C should be near the middle of the ingredients list and have a 5% or higher concentration to get the biggest benefit. Clients should look for skin care products with vitamin C in opaque, airtight containers that are made to keep vitamin C stable.


Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found naturally in many foods. Like vitamin C, it is an antioxidant that protects the body from free radical damage. When the body absorbs vitamin E, the antioxidants work on all cells to prevent the damage that free radicals cause. Eating a diet high in vitamin E is just one way to protect one’s self from free radicals. When it is applied to skin, it works directly on skin cells, neutralizing free radicals in skin and preventing signs of aging.


Vitamin E protects against ultraviolet radiation and free radicals that have contact with skin. There are not many studies of vitamin E on humans, but studies on rodents have shown that vitamin E may reduce the risk of skin cancer caused by sun damage. Studies also show that when it is used before sun exposure, skin is less red, swollen, and dry. As an oil, vitamin E can help improve skin hydration. It may even have some anti-inflammatory effects. The best way to get vitamin E is through food. Multivitamins and vitamin E supplements are also a good source of vitamin E.


Skin care products with vitamin E include vitamin E creams that will help minimize skin’s roughness, wrinkles, and facial lines. It will also help skin to retain its natural moisturizers. Like vitamin C, vitamin E’s main function in skin care is to protect against sun damage. There are vitamin E sunscreens, after-sun products, creams, lotions, and serums.


Skin care products that contain both vitamins C and E are more effective than those that contain only one of these vitamins. On the other hand, deficiencies in either of these vitamins increase the risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Combine vitamins C and E to a client’s sun protection routine for the best sun protection.



Allowing skin to burn sends the skin into the inflammation cascade. Recommend that clients wear a daily broad-spectrum SPF that should be reapplied throughout the day. Adding antioxidants into a sun care routine will help to eliminate sun damage, as well as aid in healing from sun damage when added in after-suncare routines.



Cynthia Malcom 2019




Internationally certified CIDESCO diplomat Cynthia Malcom Taylor is the founder of Edgar Renee Aesthetic Education and Consulting Group as well as other beauty-based companies. Malcom Taylor has gathered all the knowledge that she has learned behind the treatment table within the last 20 plus years in the beauty industry alongside of advanced training. She has placed that knowledge in a bottle to heal, treat the skin, and assist aestheticians in obtaining the best results in skin care treatments. She continues to offer expert advice, while working as a guide in the field of aesthetics to help to strengthen professionals in the aesthetic industry. Her goal is to create a stronger more knowledgeable aesthetic professional as a standard.

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