American Spa Magazine - June - Lisa Starr
With the advent of summer, it’s time to brush up on your sunscreen knowledge. We are more concerned than ever about our health, and should be prepared with knowledge on the use of sun protection and information on the latest innovations in suncare products, of which there are many.
Sunlight is divided into two types of harmful rays, ultraviolet A and B. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns and were the focus of early sun protection products. However, we now know that UVA rays can pass through glass and penetrate deeper into the dermis, causing immune system suppression and premature aging. While sunlight does provide us with vitamin D3, not to mention happiness benefits, a tan is the sign of the skin’s own natural defense system fighting against the rays of the sun, and, as such, is never as healthy as it may look or feel.
There is evidence of the use of sunscreen as far back as 400 BC by Greeks training for the Olympic Games who covered themselves with sand and oil. Modern sunscreen, however, is considered to have been created in the mid-1930s by chemist Eugene Schueller, who went on to found L’Oréal. In the U.S., Miami pharmacist Benjamin Greene developed a product in the mid 1940s, which became known as Coppertone. Until that time, tanned skin was considered a by-product of the working-class lifestyle, but the availability of a product that protects against the sun’s burning rays made sunbathing popular. However, this early product did not protect against the sun’s UVA rays. It was not until 1980 that Coppertone developed the first UVA/UVB sunscreen. It is important to note that the current FDA guidelines on sunscreen were published in 1999, and the SPF numbers currently in use only pertain to UVB protection. This year, we are supposed to see the final sunscreen monograph, which will mandate detailed UVA as well as UVB coverage and will cap SPF numbers on labels at 50. The Skin Cancer Foundation is also implementing new standards for its Seal of Recommendation program, which will include UVA protection information and categorize sunscreens based on their intended use. “Daily Use” products would be moisturizers and cosmetics worn during incidental sun exposure, and “Active Use” describes those products designated for use during outdoor sports and recreational activities.
Everyone is a potential client for sunscreen—even those with darker skin can still suffer the aging effects of the sun’s rays. More than 2 million skin cancers are diagnosed annually. More than 100,000 of those will be new cases of melanoma, and almost 9,000 people succumb to the disease each year. Melanoma causes almost 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is the leading form of cancer in young adults ages 25 to 29. Despite these dangerous statistics, surveys have shown that just one in five American households uses sun protection to guard against cancer.
Sun protection products are also divided into two camps: physical blocks, which work by reflecting the sun’s rays, and chemical absorbers, which work by absorbing the sun. Physical blockers provide the best protection, but are often visible on the skin (think of lifeguards with zinc oxide noses) and so are less popular with consumers. Chemical blocks are effective at absorbing the sun’s rays, but studies have shown that some of the chemicals used can also be absorbed into the bloodstream, particularly oxybenzone.
Scientists have been working on developing more natural sunscreen agents that have low environmental impact. At the 2010 meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), scientist Joseph Laszlo, Ph.D., presented an innovative technology that converts soybean oil into a bio-based active ingredient for sunscreen products, called feruloyl soy glycerides (FSG).
Another bio-based development involves bacteria. Human skin is covered with bacteria, and research is taking place to identify molecules in bacteria that can block UV radiation. A gene cluster in a particular type of blue-green algae has been identified that offers this protection. Separately, scientific studies have shown that sunscreens containing antioxidants have the capacity to improve the appearance of skin that has been damaged from sun overexposure, so many formulators are working to integrate antioxidants into their products, especially vitamins C and E.
As for after-sun care, one interesting fact is that most animals, all plants, and even insects use an enzyme called phytolase to automatically repair sun-damaged DNA. Humans, unfortunately, lack this enzyme, but researchers at Ohio State University have recently been able to recreate the process, and their discovery may contribute to the development of future products that can heal sun-damaged skin. A New Zealand agricultural research company discovered during testing on byproducts from Sauvignon Blanc wine production that grapeseed extracts were very effective at combating UV skin damage when applied to the skin. These developments bode well for the consumer, especially those interested in more natural approaches to sun protection. All of this research into interesting new ingredients and technologies brings a wide array of new products and approaches to the marketplace.