What’s In a Sunscreen?

If you were a teenager in the 80’s then more than likely you fried your hair and your skin. I continue to hear horror stories of women who put baby oil and iodine on their skin to get that sun-kissed look. One woman even told me that she would lay out on her trampoline simply because it was black and would absorb more of the sun’s rays….yikes!
Everyone knows that the sun is bad for the skin; it causes brown spots (hyperpigmentation), wrinkles, leathery skin, and worst of all….skin cancer. Did you know that 85% of all aging that is seen on someone’s face is due to sun damage? That means that your skin could look 85% better if you hadn’t fried it in the tanning beds (or possibly trampolines) when you were younger.

So now what? Well there are some great corrective skin care treatments out there including IPLs, Lasers, chemical peels, and mechanical exfoliations such as microdermabrasion. However the most important thing for you to do is protect your skin from those harmful rays by using sunscreen. What’s important to remember is that not all sunscreens are created equal. There are two broad definitions of sunscreens: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical sunscreens block the UV rays by their bright
white color, they literally reflect the UV rays. Examples of these sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Chemical sunscreens absorb and diffuse the UV rays. Examples of these include oxybenzone, octyl salicylate, avobenzone….and pretty much anything else that isn’t zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. What is important to remember is that if you have a mechanical sunscreen, you need to apply fairly thickly so that white color can reflect the sun. Sunscreens can also be classified by the UV rays that they block. The two UV rays that actually reach the earth’s surface are UVA and UVB. UVA is 400 to 315 nm in length. They are longer wavelengths compared to UVB rays. They reach farther in the skin and thus cause more of the aging associated with sun damage. UVB rays have a wavelength of 315 to 290 nm. Because they are shorter they are the rays that cause the burning of the skin. Just remember UVA= Aging; UVB= Burning.

What many cosmetic companies fail to mention is that most sunscreens only protect you from only a portion of those rays. A lot of companies only include the ingredients to protect against UVB rays. So just because you are not burning, does not mean that you are not getting damage (via UVA rays). You need to look for a sunscreen or combination there of that protects from 290-400nm. Below is listed all of the FDA approved sunscreens and the wavelengths they cover. Check  your sunscreen…make sure that it has a combination that includes all or look for the “Full Spectrum” coverage label on the front.