Most people remember the cute baby on the Coppertone bottle. The familiar figure was drawn by Joyce Ballantyne, who used her three-year-old daughter as a model to launch one of the most famous sunscreens in history. That sunscreen was launched in 1956, more than 60 years ago!
Sunscreens made their first appearance in the 1930s, when Franz Greiter, a Swiss chemistry student, got a sunburn while climbing a mountain and decided to invent what is now known as sunscreen. At that time, sunscreens were oily and thick and did not provide much protection from the sun.
In 1978, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed regulating sunscreens, providing the first guidelines, some of which never took full effect. However, this was the beginning of the era of regulating sunscreens as a “drug” class and providing some guidance to consumers, warning them about the dangers of sunburns.
The late 1980s ushered a more science-based era where UVA and UVB rays were better understood. Understanding ultraviolet rays helped pioneer a new generation of sunscreens with slightly better results. Back then, the correlation between ultraviolet rays, sunburns, and skin cancer was not yet fully understood. It would take a full decade – the 1990s – when the real effect of UVA rays on melanoma and skin cancer became truly studied and more fully understood. This is when the newest generation of more powerful sunscreens became commercially available. In the last 20 years, more and more refinements have been made to sunscreens with the introduction of nanotechnology.
Not your mother's skin
Women often state, “My mother had beautiful skin and no wrinkles well into her 60s, so I am not too worried about it.” Unfortunately, this thinking could not be further from the truth. In the 1940s, most women did not go to the beach regularly and when they did, they stayed under an umbrella. At that time, tanning was considered to be a faux-pas in many circles of society. By the late ‘60s, a deep tan was all the rage. Drugstore aisles were filled with tanning oils to provide darker skin.
The women who grew up in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s are very disappointed to have more wrinkles than their moms ever did at the same age and many more brown spots appearing on their skin, seemingly out of nowhere. Most clients have a hard time believing that their brown spots and blotchy uneven skin tone are the product of sunburns from when they were teenagers. Many women, to this day, with all the information available, still tan in the summer or use tanning beds to get that “glow.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about genetic background and aging. Most women think they will look like their mothers as they get older. If clients have the same lifestyle, sun exposure, and skin tone as their mother, then it is possible, but not guaranteed. Most people, however, have very different habits, lifestyles, and food choices than their predecessors. So, comparing skin to other generations is wishful thinking, at best.
Photoaging properly perceived
While chronological aging cannot be stopped or reversed, photoaging can certainly be controlled. Aging is correlated with the amount of sun exposure people receive, especially in their teenage and young adult years. Photoaging, or aging by UVA and UVB exposure, is one of the worst contributors to the aged appearance of the skin because DNA can absorb both UVA and UVB rays. Multiplied by years of exposure, this can potentially cause mutations at the DNA level. The sun can cause oxidative stress that can overload the skin’s own defense mechanisms, causing free radical and cellular level damage.
DNA mutations can, in turn, affect the cellular renewal of collagen and elastin, which are the building blocks behind the skin. A slower cellular renewal of collagen and elastin causes wrinkles. Photodamage applies to all skin types, not only fair-skinned individuals. Regardless of how much melanin the skin contains, photoaging affects everyone.
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, ultraviolet light contains UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. These long wavelength rays are present with relatively equal intensity during all daylight hours throughout the year. It is important to know that UVA rays can penetrate clouds and glass, which means, unless someone is in a dark room with no windows, UVA rays can reach exposed skin and cause photoaging. UVA rays penetrate the skin below the dermis and go into the lower layers of the skin, the epidermis. Studies show that UVA damages keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur.
UVB rays are short-wavelength rays that cause the top skin layer or dermis to darken. UVB rays are responsible for tanning, or sunburns, when the skin is exposed for too long. UVB plays an important role in the development of skin cancer. Although UVB rays are most typically active between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from April to October, UVB rays can burn and damage the skin year-round, especially at high altitudes or on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, which bounce back the rays so that they hit the skin twice. Fortunately, UVB rays do not significantly penetrate glass.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is on a steady rise. Statistics and data show that “from 2003 to 2012 in the United States, the incidence rate of melanomas of the skin increased significantly” by 1.4 percent per year among women and 1.7 percent per year among men. In 2014, 76,665 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, including 45,402 men and 31,263 women. 9,324 people in the United States died from melanomas of the skin, including 6,161 men and 3,163 women. This is an astoundingly disturbing trend. Anyone, no matter their skin tone, can get skin cancer.
With all this data, skin care professionals might think almost everyone uses sunscreen, but this is not the case. Only about 13 percent of girls and seven percent of teenage boys apply sunscreen regularly. Amongst adults, about 30 percent wear sunscreen on their skin daily. Most adults do not reapply sunscreen after sun exposure.
SPF stands for sun protection factor, which is still relatively vague. The FDA defines SPF as “a measure of how much solar energy (ultraviolet radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin.”
There is a mistaken belief that the number immediately after the letters SPF is the amount of time someone can stay in the sun before sunburn. The number relates, somewhat, to the amount of ultraviolet photons that can penetrate the skin.
Ultraviolet rays are composed of photons. If 100 photons were to contact skin, an SPF 15 sunscreen will offer protection from 93 percent of those photons; out of the 100 photons that could have reached the skin, only seven actually will. For SPF 30, the protection factor is 97 percent, therefore three percent of photons will reach the skin. Sunscreens with SPF 100 provide about 99 percent protection.
All of this is relatively meaningless, unless the products are applied and used correctly. Water, sweat, and the amount of time the skin is exposed to the sun are factors in how well sunscreen will work. In reality, sunscreens fade, rub off, and eventually stop working and, if not reapplied every two hours, can lead to sunburn.
Also, not all SPFs are created equally. While a client may not get sunburned because they have protected their skin from UVB rays by wearing sunscreen, the sunscreen in question may not protect them against UVA rays, which is what causes skin cancer. The key type of sunscreen for professionals to recommend is broad spectrum sunscreen, ones that clearly deliver both UVA and UVB protection. The ingredients should include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone to enable the sunscreen to provide this dual UVA/UVB protection. Generally, sunscreen should be reapplied about every two hours and after participating in water sports or sweating.
Recommending the right products
It is easy to confuse clients because of the amount of choices available. There are two types of sunscreens every professional should know about: physical and chemical or organic sunscreens.
These sunscreens, which are formulated only with the inorganic ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, physically block the photons from penetrating the skin. Think of them as an invisible shield. These products protect from both UVA and UVB rays; they are stable and will not break down under the sun. In the past, these formulas had their limitations because they would give the skin a chalky, unappealing look. However, the recent advent in micronized ingredients have allowed the newer formulas to be more silky and to blend in better, avoiding this look.
These sunscreens are made of organic compounds and contain a larger family that includes avobenzone and oxybenzone. Because of the variety involved, not all chemical sunscreens can protect from both UVA and UVB, so a blend is needed in the formula to provide broad spectrum capabilities. Chemical sunscreens work by converting UVA and UVB to protect the skin from the ultraviolet radiation. While it may be easier to discount chemical sunscreens, the reality is that most products on the market meant to be used in a spray or aerosol are chemical sunscreens, while the physical sunscreens are more easily blended into creams and lotions.
According to the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology, correct and regular use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen prevents sunburn and reduces the risk of non-melanoma cancers by 40 percent and, more importantly, fatal melanoma cancers by 50 percent. Skin care professionals should not hesitate to educate clients and stress the importance of using sunscreen regularly, not only to avoid skin cancer, but also to delay the effects of aging. Physical sunscreens have more limited availability and tend to be more difficult to apply. As for chemical sunscreens, a controversy erupted in 2001 on the use of oxybenzone in sunscreen formulations. Animal studies showed that oxybenzone was a hormone disruptor. Subsequent studies with humans, however, could not confirm this data.
Better safe than sorry
Recommend that clients apply a base layer of either a moisturizer (for younger women) or a serum and an anti-aging day cream (for more mature clients) before applying sunscreen. Most of these products, no matter how expensive they are, do not contain enough moisturizers or antioxidants and are easy to layer on top of good skin care that provides hydration and antioxidant protection. Some women have reported contact dermatitis with continued use of chemical sunscreens directly on the skin. So, it may be better to apply them over a base layer.
Below is a list of acceptable active ingredients in products that are labeled as sunscreen by the FDA:
- Aminobenzoic acid
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Octyl methoxycinnamate
- Octyl salicylate
- Padimate O
- Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid
- Titanium dioxide
- Trolamine salicylate
- Zinc oxide
Is too much of a good thing a bad thing?
Some studies suggest that the rise in vitamin D deficiency is caused by the overuse of sunscreens. Does using sunscreen daily prevent vitamin D absorption? Ninety percent of the body’s vitamin D comes from sun exposure and when vitamin D is deficient, there could be significant consequences such as bone mass loss and osteoporosis. Anthony Young, a professor at St. John’s Institute of Dermatology, King’s College London, conducted a study that showed that even when SPF 30 sunscreen was used and applied correctly, when exposed to the sun, vitamin D levels still rose by 16 nml in the blood stream. Women should not avoid sunscreen just to get enough vitamin D because sun protection is important to reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer and slow the photoaging process.
Sunscreens, particularly chemical sunscreens, lose their effectiveness over time and will not work, especially if they are kept in uncontrolled temperatures. Professionals should always remind clients to look closely at the expiration date. Clients can use a large black marker on their sunscreen to mark the expiration date so they never exceed the date. Also remind clients to never leave products anywhere but in their bathroom or purse so there is less chance of spoilage.
What about sunscreen pills?
Some companies are selling liquids that have sunscreen claims. This practice, however, is not approved by the FDA. Most recently, scientists wondered how fish protect themselves from the massive amount of radiation found in the upper ocean. The answer appears to be a compound called gadusol, which is thought to be produced by the zebrafish by combining an enzyme with a protein to make the compound in their own body. These scientists then proceeded to synthetize the same product by expressing a gene in yeast. All of this research is in early stages and, in the meantime, the skin cancer foundation still only accepts sunscreens in lotions and spray.
Retin A and sun sensitivity
The makers of tretinoin creams, commonly known as Retin A (vitamin A), caution that users may get sunburned more easily when using the products. Although many professionals believe in exfoliating the skin to induce cellular renewal, there is a real issue with clients overusing exfoliants and creating the opposite effect, skin sensitivity. The professional should always counsel clients to use a balanced approach when applying vitamin A-based or tretinoin creams. Clients should also avoid using products that contain both sunscreens and retinol creams combined in the same product.
When it comes to their sun protection routine, clients can remember these three letters: PRB. P stands for “prevent moisture loss.” Moisture loss can cause aging, so using a great moisturizing cream helps diminish water loss from the skin. R is for “replenish lost nutrients.” As people age, the skin loses essential vitamins and nutrients, so it is important to use products that feed the skin from the outside and to eat a healthy diet that feeds the skin from the inside. Last, B stands for “block the sun.” Keeping these three essentials in mind, clients will have a good foundation for protecting themselves from sun damage.
Janjua, N. R., B. Mogensen, A. M. Andersson, J. H. Petersen, M. Henriksen, N. E. Skakkebaek, and H. C. Wulf. “Systemic absorption of the sunscreens benzophenone-3, octyl-methoxycinnamate, and 3-(4-methyl-benzylidene) camphor after whole-body topical application and reproductive hormone levels in humans.” The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. July 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15191542.
Schlumpf, M., B. Cotton, M. Conscience, V. Haller, B. Steinmann, and W. Lichtensteiger. “In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens.” Environmental health perspectives. March 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11333184.
“Understanding Over-the-Counter Medicines - Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun.” U S Food and Drug Administration. July 14, 2017. https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/UnderstandingOver-the-CounterMedicines/ucm239463.htm#types.
“United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2014 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/.
Christiane Waldron is the founder and CEO of Jenetiqa, a professional luxury skin care company focused on providing highly bio-available skin care products that combine scientifically proven antioxidants with natural notanicals and skin vitamins. Waldron is a chemical engineer by profession and is the chief scientist for Jenetiqa. She personally hand picks each ingredient in the formula. Waldron’s philosophy is to design and formulate multi-tasking products that help address all signs of aging. Jenetiqa is her brain child and she developed a best-selling anti-aging system that is unique in that it provides four treatment products into a simple to use system. Waldron also developed a professional line that caters to the spa industry. She is a strong believer in a 360 degree approach to skin care and giving skin all the food it needs to stay healthy. Her philosophy focuses on education, early prevention, and an excellent daily routine. Jenetiqa’s highly active anti-aging products are the secret to beautiful, healthy skin.