Is Your Sunscreen Doing More Harm Than Good?

Many over the counter sunscreens fall short of fully protecting your skin and contain ingredients that may be harmful to your health. At Melissa Langley MD and Aesthetics, we spend a great deal of time researching and scrutinizing sunscreens for their effectiveness and safety so you don't have to. We also search for the most cosmetically elegant sunscreens from around the world for your personal protection and enjoyment.

There are different types of sun rays or wavelengths of ultraviolet light that one must protect the skin from. The most notable are UVB and UVA. UVB is the one responsible for burning the skin and damages the skin by releasing inflammatory mediators and thus increases the risk of skin cancer and melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer. UVA is the most penetrating wavelength and damages the collagen and elastin of the skin which causes aging, wrinkling and sagging of the skin. It also damages the skin’s DNA increasing the risk of skin cancer as well.

Until recently, many sunscreens were labeled using the SPF which indicated only the amount of protection from UVB. Now, a new system is in place in the United States called the broad spectrum protection factor which indicates protection against both UVA and UVB. The UVA protection is comparatively weaker than the UVB protection as the ingredients used in the US against UVA are unstable and break down quickly on exposure to sunlight and heat.

The most commonly used chemical UVA sunscreens in the US are benzophenone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. These chemicals work by absorbing the ultraviolet radiation from the sun. These sunscreens have many shortcomings. They are potent allergens to some, but more importantly they are highly unstable and break down easily thereby decreasing their effectiveness for sun protection. Also worrisome is their ability to be systemically absorbed into the bloodstream and possibly alter hormone levels.

There are two FDA approved mineral-based sunscreens or physical, non-chemical sunscreens: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These act as an umbrella over the skin and deflect and reflect the UV radiation from the sun. They do not break down easily and are not allergenic, thus making them better options in the US to block UVA. Some of the over the counter formulas are heavy and give the skin a white appearance. Lightweight, cosmetically pleasing formulas are usually available at your dermatologist or skin care professional.

European sunscreens have newer, better chemicals which block UVA without breaking down quickly on exposure to the sun, and they do not get absorbed into the body like the US-approved sunscreens do.  These ingredients are Mexoryl, Tinosorb S, and Tinosorb M. Despite being approved and used all over the world for many years, these sunscreens have not been approved in the US because of the lengthy red tape of the FDA. These European ingredients offer better protection and are more pleasing cosmetically which encourages proper application and reapplication for those finicky customers who dislike sticky, smelly formulas.

OUR PHILOSOPHY: Keep these guidelines in mind when caring for your skin year round:

  • Invest in your sun protection. While many spend hundreds of dollars for the latest antiaging creams to reverse sun damage, they cringe at spending $30 for an advanced, professional sunscreen. Why not prevent the sun damage? Studies have shown prevention with daily sunscreen use will effectively anti-age your skin  and allow your skin to repair itself as it is not being constantly bombarded by UV radiation which breaks down collagen and elastin.
  • Check the labels on your sunscreen and discard those that have avobenzone, oxybenzone or benzophenone as these have been shown to breakdown quickly thus decreasing protection and get systemically absorbed and may alter hormone levels.
  • Avoid the drug store when purchasing sunscreens as they contain the above ingredients and are cosmetically less pleasing. Seek the advice from your dermatologist or skin care professional to assure that you will get the safest and most effective sunscreen for your skin type.
  • Apply an adequate amount of sunscreen. A golf ball size dollop is recommended for the body. Reapply frequently at least every 2 hours and reapply immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.  Say goodbye to the summers where one bottle of sunscreen lasts the whole season.
  • Wear sunscreen on a daily basis. You will always be prepared to face the day. UVA penetrates windows and even fluorescent light bulbs emit UVA. A light weight, non-waterproof sunscreen with at least an spf 30 is good for daily use. Don’t forget to do face, neck, décolleté, and hands daily. Keep all exposed skin protected.
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends staying inside during peak hours from 10 AM-4PM. Children should especially stay in as one bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma. Infants younger than 6 months old should stay out of the sun entirely.
  • Avoid aerosolized sunscreens as they contain harmful ingredients that when inhaled may lead to pulmonary fibrosis or scarring of the lungs as well as exacerbation of asthma.
  • Sunscreen is just one component of your defense against the sun. Remember to grab a large brimmed hat, wear clothing made from special sun protective fabric, and stay in the shade when possible. Consider a topical or oral antioxidant supplement such as Heliocare to increase the skin’s own protective mechanisms.
  • Never lie in a tanning bed!

Melissa Langley MD / Board Certified Dermatologist / Nashville TN

Melissa Langley MD offers a wide variety of the best sunscreens the world has to offer.  Stop by today and let us hand select the one that is perfect for you and your lifestyle.

Melissa Langley
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