Many people are aware of two UV ray types, UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are most widely known and are often called "burning rays" since they penetrate the epidermis and upper dermis and cause burning. UVA rays, referred to as "aging rays," have the ability to penetrate deep in the dermal layers of the skin causing an array of damaging skin conditions. The increasing knowledge of UVA and UVB rays has caused the FDA to implement new regulations for sunscreens as part of an ongoing effort to ensure that sunscreens meet modern day standards for safety and effectiveness.
Starting this summer, all sunscreens will have to provide broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Sun protection products must have a rating of at least SPF 15 or else carry a warning label that states, "This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early signs of aging." Previous regulations upheld by the FDA only addressed UVB, not UVA rays which are the primary cause of skin damage and cancer. Also SPF will be capped at 50+ since the FDA has not found sufficient data to support the claim that sunscreens with higher SPFs actually offer more sun protection and lead consumers to believe that they do not need to reapply them as often. Sunscreen manufacturers will no longer be allowed to market themselves as "sweat-proof," "waterproof" or as a "sun block," which the FDA refers to as an exaggeration of performance. In addition, the FDA will no longer recognize SPF packaging in a spray application.
Beyond UVA and UVB
Recognizing the damage caused by both UVA and UVB rays is an important step in addressing this health care concern but another rising concern, is UVC. UVC rays are a legitimate concern that few people are talking about. UVC radiation is the most energetic and falls under the most harmful classification of rays. UVC rays are so powerful that they are also known as "germicidal rays" because it offers disinfection methods to kill microorganisms and is currently used by the medical community to sterilize equipment. Normally, UVC rays do not reach the earth's surface due to our protective ozone layer, but it is widely accepted that the ozone layer is thinning. Since the 1980s, the Polar Regions have been affected by the ozone hole. This "hole" is not a "hole" in the literal sense, but it is an area of the normal ozone that is becoming hazardously thin, shifting and spreading between Antarctica and the South Pole. It is believed that this gradual depletion of the ozone is beginning to allow UVC rays through to the Earth's surface – thereby threatening to cause more damage within the skin.
UVA, UVB and UVC can all damage collagen fibers and accelerate skin aging. In addition, both UVA and UVB destroy vitamin A in skin. In the past, UVA was considered less harmful, but today it is known to contribute to skin cancer via indirect DNA damage through free radicals and reactive oxygen species. UVB rays cause increased melanin production, a protective mechanism by the skin against UV rays that may also lead to pigmentation concerns and uneven skin tones later with age. Both UVB and UVC are responsible for the direct DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer and premature skin aging. Although there are benefits to sun exposure, we must take action against the serious threat that UV rays pose to our skin.
To the naked eye, skin can look healthy and youthful but have underlying damage. Even in the Pacific Northwest where it seems like the sun never shines and sun damage is not an issue, it is extremely important to wear sunscreen every day. On a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can pass through the clouds. Snow and sand also increase the need for sunscreens as the snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun's rays and sand can reflect up to 25 percent. Sun damage occurring during the teen age years may take decades to surface. Our skin provides us with its own internal defenses, but we must do our part to assist it. We can improve the condition of our skin and our health by following a healthy beauty regimen everyday that includes products that prevent future damage while repairing existing signs of overexposure.
There are two general types of sunscreens on the market: physical and chemical. Both have the same goal of protecting the skin from UV radiation but the mechanics of how they work differ. Some sunscreens provide protection against UVA rays only, some offer protection against UVB only, and some provide protection against both. Currently more data should be collected before evaluating the performance of ingredients designed to protect skin from UVC rays. It is important to choose a sunscreen that provides a barrier against both these types of rays and is also safe and non-irritating. Many have asked, "What is the best sunscreen?" The answer is easy. It is the one you will use again and again.
Most chemical sunscreen products are composed of a combination of several active ingredients. Many do not protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Most tend to provide protection against UVB and only a few protect against UVA damage. Combinations of chemical and physical sunscreens are frequently seen. Some people steer clear of chemical sunscreens since the risk of allergic reaction is higher. Many times when someone develops an allergic reaction toward a sunscreen, it is due to the presence of a PABA-based chemical.
Physical sunscreens use physical UV filters such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to protect your skin from the sun by deflecting or blocking the sun's rays. Both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide provide broad spectrum protection, are gentle enough for everyday use and are great for sensitive skin. For some time, many people – especially those with darker skin tones – avoided using physical sunscreens because of the chalky white appearance resulting from that particular combination of minerals. Now with micronized sunscreens, physical sunscreens can provide a more cosmetically elegant experience together with excellent sun protection. Physical sunscreens continue to gain in their popularity and results.
Antioxidants – A Broader Protection
Sunscreen is vitally important in preventing sunburn, skin cancer and the early signs of aging but antioxidants such as green tea, citrus fruits and acai berry also play a beneficial role in skin health. Antioxidants are present in many different forms including enzymes, vitamins, metabolites and botanicals. As you age, your body tissues suffer from oxidative stress as a byproduct of the oxidation process. Oxidation is caused by smoking, UV radiation, poor dietary habits and environmental pollutants and it occurs when molecules within the body lose electrons to electrically-charged molecules of oxygen. These electrically-charged molecules are called "free radicals" and have the potential to cause damage to cellular DNA. Oxidation is a natural and needed process that happens within the body but when an excess of free radicals builds up, oxidative stress can be destructive. Free radical activity is expressed in the skin in the form of age spots, loss of elasticity, wrinkle formation and other signs of aging and the most serious threat it poses is increasing the risk of skin cancer. In addressing these aging skin issues, topical applications of antioxidants play a critical role in shielding skin cells from the destructive properties of free radicals. They can be thought of as the armor that your skin needs to battle different oxidants. Daily application of antioxidants formulated in combination with sunscreens can provide your skin with broader, healthier, protective skin benefits.
Peptides – A Healthy Dose of Rejuvenation
Although many of us may hate to admit it, there was probably a time when we thought we knew better than what we were told. Did you love a healthy tan when you were young? I am guilty of maintaining a tanned complexion years ago and although I did not sunbathe excessively or frequent tanning salons, I did not wear sunscreen. This behavior can take years, if not decades, to take its toll on the skin's surface. Sunscreens and antioxidants will always be necessary to provide protection, but peptides support reversal of existing skin damage. Peptides, tiny protein fragments, are like body builders for your skin, helping to rebuild and repair. These combinations of amino acids are of similar structure to what the skin and body are already made of. They go to work promoting strength and helping to reverse skin damage. When used in the right combinations and quantities, they improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tones, elasticity and hydration within the skin – concerns caused by overexposure to UV rays. The repetitive and consistent use of peptides can provide timeless results and work effectively when applied in a serum or cream form before applying any sunscreen product.
The new regulation on sunscreens has raised awareness regarding the broad spectrum protection our skin requires. UVA, UVB and UVC rays are aggressors we should be concerned about. As we enter into the "sunny" months of the year, let us recommit ourselves to educating our clients on wearing sunscreen daily, not just when the sun is shining. Aging is a natural process that will occur but can be delayed with the proper protection against UV exposure. Let us find the sunscreen that we can be excited to wear and that provides us with not only broad spectrum protection but one that is rich in antioxidants. Even if we have cared for our skin inconsistently in the past, it is never too late or too early to incorporate the latest peptide technology into a healthy beauty regimen that prioritizes repairing and improving the health of our skin.
Cassie Miller-Hart is a medical aesthetician who specializes in post-operative skin care and the West Coast regional educator for HydroPeptide. She graduated first in her class from The Euro Institute of Skin Care in Seattle, Wash. and holds a bachelor degree in business administration from Washington State University. She is so passionate about helping others improve and maintain the health and beauty of their skin that she is a Look Good Feel Better program leader for the American Cancer Society in her spare time.
April Zangl is the CEO of HydroPeptide, a fitness wellness management professional and mother of two. She takes pride in making information on the latest beauty industry advancements more accessible to women of all ages and interests.