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Practice Safe Skin & Prevent Aging – Looking Younger the Easy Way

sunscreen at the beach

Routine use of sunscreen not only helps to prevent skin cancer (currently an international epidemic with the depletion of the ozone layer) but helps to prevent aged skin. As a cosmetic plastic surgeon I consult patients daily to evaluate where they are in the aging process and what can be done to help them regain and maintain their youthful appearance. The four major things which make people look older are gravity effects, hyperactive facial muscles, loss of facial bone volume and last, but not least, skin surface changes- the “icing on the cake”.

Sun and artificial tanning destroys skin elasticity, and creates thickened skin with deeper pores, discoloration and wrinkle lines which all lead to an aged appearance. So an easy up-front fix at younger ages is to avoid facial tanning, prevent sunburns, and to use protective clothing (wide-brimmed hat) and sunscreens. Remember that a tan equals skin damage. A summary of “The Truth About Sunscreen” in the July 2014 issue of Consumer Reports follows. SPF is the “Sun Protective Factor” and is the number which divided into 60 indicates how many minutes of unprotected sun ultraviolet B ray (UVB) exposure you would receive in an hour under the sun if you have the sunblock correctly applied to your skin. For instance using an SPF 30 sunscreen during an hour of sun exposure should equal only 2 minutes of exposure without using protection. An SPF 30 provides 97% of UVB protection; SPF 50- 98%; SPF 100-99%. So there is not great need to spend a great deal more on sunscreens rated above SPF 50. In fact the FDA may eventually limit sunscreen labeling to not allow those above SPF 50.

But here are the problems with sunscreens:

1) The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the Federal Government consumer product and drug regulatory agency. The FDA has not tested sunscreens for accuracy of the SPF numbers. Nor does it test for accuracy of the terms “broad-spectrum” (which means UVA and UVB light ray protection) and for “water-resistance” of these products. Although ultraviolet B rays (UVB) are most implicated in sunburn, skin damage and skin cancer, ultraviolet A rays (UVA), which penetrate deeper, can cause signs of premature skin aging, and contribute to the development of Melanoma.

2) The FDA does not make a distinction between sunscreens marketed for use on children or adults. Often the ingredients in each were found to be identical. Some kids’ sunscreens are formulated to be mild, sting-free and tear-free but adult sunscreens may also share these gentler characteristics. The bottom line- use a sunscreen that does not irritate your skin. If you develop a rash with use, try another from the recommended list.

3) You need to use enough sunscreen to make it work. It takes about 2 tablespoons to properly cover your face and body (less in small children). This amount should be applied at least 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied every 2 hours (even when using those sunscreens that claim to last longer or are “water resistant”). Most people apply an inadequate amount of sunscreen which will not be effective. A little does not go a long way.

4) “Natural” and “chemical” containing sunscreens are equally safe to use. Mineral based zinc oxide and titanium oxide ingredients are often listed as “natural” because these are mined from the earth, but they are highly purified and processed and often are coated with other chemicals in the processing. However, some sunscreens use “clear” (instead of white-colored) versions of titanium and zinc which are broken down into nanoparticles. Nanoparticles may be absorbed through the skin and there is some controversy about their health effects.

5) Although there seem to be many more spray sunscreens being sold than in prior years, there is no advantage to using spray over sunscreen lotions. In fact, sprays may blow away from your body while being applied leading to much less protection. Consumer Reports recommends holding the nozzle 4-6 inches from the skin and rub in after applying. Spray each area twice to prevent missing skin surfaces. Also- avoid spraying your face (spray your hand and apply from your hand to cover your face) to prevent inhaling spray sunscreen. Inhaling spray can irritate your lungs and inhaled titanium dioxide may cause cancer! Let the spray sunscreen dry before going near flames (the grill). While wet, the spray may catch fire and burn you. The FDA is still evaluating spray safety and effectiveness.

6) While sunscreens may be labeled water resistant, the FDA no longer allows manufacturers to use the terms “waterproof, sweat proof or sunblock”. Those sunscreens who claim water resistance must be labeled with how long the listed SPF protection will last when sweating or swimming. The FDA only allows them to list 40 or 80 minutes. No brands are allowed to claim effectiveness beyond two hours- the recommended time to reapply all sunscreens.

The FDA recommends avoiding tanning and practicing “safe skin” using the following guidelines:
Spending time in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. To reduce this risk, consumers should regularly use sun protection measures including:

  • Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher regularly and as directed.
  • Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun; for example, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.

So what sunscreen is best to buy and use?
According to the July 2014 Consumer Reports magazine of all sunscreens tested, the following are the best bets:
Lotions: Coppertone Water Babies SPF50 ($11.00; cost per ounce $1.38);
Equate (Walmart brand) Ultra Protection SPF50 ($9.00; cost per ounce $0.56)

Ultrahigh SPF Lotion: Neutrogena Ultimate Sport SPF70+ ($11.00; cost per ounce $2.75)

Sprays: Bullfrog Water Armor Sport InstaCool ($10; cost per ounce $1.67)
Up & Up (Target) Sport SPF50 ($8.00; cost per ounce $0.80)
Well (Walgreens) Sport SPF50 ($9.50; cost per ounce $1.58)

Ultrahigh SPF Spray: Banana Boat Ultra Defense Max Skin Protect SPF110 ($10.50; cost per ounce $1.75)