Most of us have gotten pretty sun-savvy in recent years. We know that the once-common practice of baking our skin in the sun, lathered up with nothing more than a tube of baby oil, can cause skin cancer and premature aging.
Despite this new awareness, skin cancer is the number one cancer in America: Each year, more than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Up until age 40, significantly more women develop melanoma — the most deadly form of skin cancer — than men.
“Many skin cancers which present later in life are due to exposure before the age of 18,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Much of what we know about the harmful effects of UV is new.”
For the uninitiated, UV means ultraviolet radiation; UVA and UVB refer to different wavelength ranges of light. “From a clinical standpoint, UVB is the form that causes sunburns, along with accelerated skin aging and skin cancer,” says Dr. Friedman. “SPF [Sun Protection Factor] refers to a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB only. UVA tends not to cause sunburns — the silent killer so to speak, it penetrates deeper in the skin, causing damage to the support structures, and ultimately having a significant impact on the cosmetic appearance of the skin.”
Regarding SPF, Dr. Friedman suggests going with an SPF of 30 or higher. “Sunscreens with SPF 2 to SPF 14 can prevent sunburn, but they provide no protection against skin cancer or premature skin aging.”
These days, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to redefine the language sunscreen manufacturers are able to use in their marketing. Gone is the word “waterproof,” replaced by “water resistant” and “very water resistant” — which means that the sunscreen stays effective for 40 and 80 minutes in the water, respectively. In addition, manufacturers can no longer claim that they protect against broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays — unless they prove it (one brand being Gardiner-based Kiss My Face, see below).
Ingredients are now limited, too: “There are currently 17 UV-filtering ingredients approved by the U.S. FDA,” says Dr. Friedman. “Remarkably, no new ingredients have been approved since 1999.” By contrast, 27 are approved in Europe. This inaccessibility of ingredients has galvanized a group of industry advocates, dermatologists, and health organizations to create the proposed Sunscreen Innovation Act, which would impose time limits on the FDA approval process.
In the meantime, the magic ingredients to look for, in this country at least, are “mineral, physical blocking agents like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide; and organic blocking agents, such as ecamsule, cinoxate, octyl salicylate, and benzophenones,” says Dr. Friedman. “They work synergistically.”
Right here in the Valley, Kiss My Face has been adding its own twist to traditional sunscreen. Two years ago, the Gardiner-based personal care products company slipped in the patented ingredient Hydresia to its Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40. “It performed so well that we added it to our other products,” says Heather Halpern, director of research and development. Not a sunscreen ingredient per se, Hydresia is a moisturizer derived from safflower seeds that helps sunscreen ingredients like zinc and titanium rub into the skin more easily without the telltale white streaks left behind by traditional formulas.
“It also acts as an emulsifier to hold a lotion together so we can use it instead of artificial ingredients,” says Halpern. “Plus it has natural water resistance because of the oil factor.” Look for Hydresia in several of the company’s products, including Oat Protein Sunscreen Sensitive Side 30, which is formulated for people with sensitive skin; and Face Factor Sunscreen SPF 30 and 50, “which people rave about because it doesn’t feel gloppy,” Halpern says. “You could use it as an everyday moisturizer.”