Category Archives: Basics of Sunscreen

sunscreen, dangers, oxybenzone,

Sunscreen sprays, burns, dead coral and more: what we’ve heard in the news about sunscreens

blog image July 2016Things We’ve Heard About Sunscreen This Month:

Why is Sunscreen Bad for Coral Reefs?

 It turns out the UV filter Oxybenzone is hard on more than just our bodies, it can be absolutely devastating to the coral reefs that span our oceans. While deeply saddening , it’s not necessarily news. If you recall from our blog post from The Sunscreen Doc, click here to read, there have been signs up in Hawaii telling people to wash off their sunscreen from a long time ago. This photo was taken back in 2006.

Sunscreens Why is Oxybenzone so detrimental to the reefs? Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, meaning it’s detrimental effects are triggered by sunlight (making it an odd choice for a sunscreen ingredient). In very small concentrations, Oxybenzone was shown to disrupt the living larval forms of coral by reducing their motility, ossifying their exo-skeleton and causing its DNA to mutate. The overall effect was to exacerbate bleaching of the reef, something that is linked to rising sea temperatures, which is the ultimate death knell for the living organism.

Swimmers (but also all sunscreen users) should look for Oxybenzone free products but can also use sun protective clothing to reduce the amount of sunscreen they have to wear overall.

2nd degree burns on boy after using SPF 50 sunscreen

A mom in the UK posted pics of her son’s 2nd degree burns after spending 5 hours at the beach but after having religiously used sunscreens all day. The family had been using a popular sunscreen spray marketed especially for kids by Banana Boat. While there are multiple versions of the kids spray formula, we have found some versions that make it very clear as to what could have happened.

Banana boat ingredientsThis version shown here, has numerous potential issues with it (including the use of parabens in the non-medicinals). The most obvious issue is that it combines Avobenzone with Octinoxate, which is somewhat of a rookies mistake. It’s a well established fact that octinoxate degrades Avobenzone when exposed to sunlight. The end result is a sunscreen that loses the ability to protect against UVA as the Avobenzone degrades but then also against UVB as the octinoxate begins to deteriorate as well. Click here to read more about this well documented phenomenon. Fortunately, it’s not one that we see very often now so it’s astonishing to find it in a sunscreen for babies.

The fact that this sunscreen was an aerosol spray I believe compounds the problem and you can read more about that in the next section. This sunscreen also is just generally a poor choice due to the potential issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals with Avobenzone, un-encapsulated octinoxate, the varios salates and the parabens included in the non-medicinals. It’s all around a poor sunscreen but it’s all made worse by the fact that it’s marketed towards kids.

Aerosol Sunscreen Might Not be as Safe as you think

Finally, spray sunscreens currently exist in a nether-region in US regulation. The FDA has mandated as of 2011 that they would impose a ban on all spray sunscreens unless manufacturers could prove their safety. Spray sunscreens are still available until such ban is actually enforced but the concerns against their safety center around inhalation risk but also as to efficacy when it comes to applying them sufficiently and uniformly. Anecdotally, before my days of working at CyberDERM, I purchased a can of spray sunscreen and threw it in my purse to have on hand throughout the summer days. Unfortunately, the can leaked and pooled in the bottom off my silver coloured leather bag. After, quasi-melting my phone and I-pod (was back in 2010 and my beloved I-Pod Shuffle was toast!), the sunscreen also had stripped the silver paint of my bag. Most spray sunscreens use alcohol as the main solvent to solubilize their filters, which is how it was able to dissolve paint. It’s unsavoury to imagine that sitting on your skin all day.

3D_SunWhip-copy

Which Sun Whip is right for you? Simply Zinc or Every Morning

With our two sunscreens about to imminently launch, you may be wondering what’s the difference and which one is right for you?   Both are fair questions and for those of you who cannot try both Sun Whips before you buy, here are some tips for choosing the best product!
How would you describe your skin type:
The New Simply Zinc Sun Whip
The New Simply Zinc Sun Whip

If you would describe your skin as:
Normal to combination: Every Morning. Sun Whip.   The Every Morning Sun Whip is a great choice with its cashmere matte finish and light application.  It’s great for applying every day, before your make-up with minimal shine.
Dry/Sensitive or mature:  Simply Zinc Sun Whip.  The Simply Zinc Sun Whip is ultra-calming and hydrating with its extract of olive oil.  Its 22% zinc oxide formula is richer than its Every Morning counter-part but still applies invisibly and without shine. It has peptides to help repair your collagen and elastin fibers in your skin and therefore is a true anti-aging tool!
Ethnic, darker skin:  Every Morning Sun Whip.  People with darker skin types sometimes think they can get away without wearing daily sun protection.  Don’t be fooled!  Darker skin types are still susceptible to certain forms of melanoma, can suffer from melasma and can have aging concerns like uneven pigmentation.  It pays to protect which is why spokespeople like Gabrielle Union has come out to talk about using sunscreen on a daily basis.  Our Every Morning formula still applies transparently to darker skin tones with no worry of casting a whitish tint!
Do you have:
Acne:  Every Morning Sun Whip. Although people with acne worry about using anything to rich on their skin, they still need sunscreen daily.  Zinc is a natural anti-inflammatory which will help calm irritated skin but this lighter formula will provide just the right amount of hydration without clogging pores.  It also will not leave you with an oily finish, which no one wants!
Melasma or hyper-pigmentation:  Simply Zinc Sun Whip.  Anyone who suffers from melasma or hyper-pigmentation knows that you have to be absolutely sun vigilant.  If you have also ever been diagnosed with any form of skin disorder like actinic keratosis or melanoma, you also know that you cannot afford to take sun protection for granted.  You need strong, consistent photo-stable protection and the 22% zinc in this formula gives just that- consistent, long wave UVA and UVB protection!
Are you:
Pregnant, breast-feeding or thinking of becoming pregnant: Simply Zinc Sun Whip.  Anyone that has been pregnant before knows that it is of great importance to consider how what you apply to your skin affects your infants’s health in the womb.  There is some worry over other chemical filters like avobenzone and oxybenzone in sunscreens being absorbed into your body.  It is unclear about their effect once in the body but certainly it is not a risk worth taking on your unborn child’s health.  The thinking would be then that if your sunscreen is safe enough to use when you’re pregnant, it’s safe enough to use for the rest of your life. Remember that we all still apply zinc to our baby’s behinds because of its healing properties! Our resident mom’s who work at CyberDERM also love the Simply Zinc to use on their children as they grow up.  They love to maintain natural and holistic lifestyles and Simply Zinc fits in it!
This is a somewhat reductive guide because in the end your choice may just be a matter of which one feels right on your skin.  We hope you find one that you love either way and stay protected all day, every day.

All the best,
Sara
Photo-of-Lady-in-hat-high-res

The Skinny on Sunscreens, Part I

Check out one of our first blog posts in this month’s retrospective.  This was written back in 2009 and you can see that not much as changed in terms of sunscreens since then.  The FDA has pushed through their amendment to the sunscreen monograph and we are starting to hear more about UVA protection.  Here in Canada, draft legislation is still in consultation so it will be another couple of years before we see its impact on the shelf.

We’ve just our first warm weekend here in Ottawa and a lot of pale faces are emerging but hopefully not before remembering to apply a sunscreen (you should actually be wearing one all year round- word to the wise). The problem though is that there is a lot of misinformation and confusion concerning sunscreens. Just when people were starting to get the message- ‘Wear a sunscreen’- the message had to go and get a lot more complicated.

We have all been told not to use tanning oils, that an SPF of 4 is not adequate. We know that if our sunscreen smells like a pina colada perhaps it is not a ‘serious’ sunscreen. We know to reapply repeatedly. We know that to burn is bad. We do not know, however, that the SPF measurement on the bottle could actually be doing us a disservice. We constantly hear about the numbers game that is SPF but what we really need is to be rewired about the way we think of sunscreens and what it means to be protected.

I have fallen victim to this same misunderstanding before. I’m a sun zealot and I vacation down South frequently. Despite this- I felt like I was being sun smart by wearing sunscreens with SPF’s of 50-60 everyday and I was reapplying it frequently. It was only when CyberDERM began formulating its own sunscreen and I began researching that I realized that the SPF on my bottle was only half the picture (and not the better half either).

Here is the short story. We are exposed to two kinds of UV radiation. The trick to remembering the two is simple: UVA light Ages our skin, UVB Burns, both cause Cancer (thus the rule of ABC). Protection against UVA light is absolutely critical not only for cosmetic reasons but for safety ones as well. However, SPF only measures the amount of protection from UVB light and is not correlated to the amount of protection you are receiving from UVA light whatsoever. In other words, when I turned over my bottle of SPF 50 sunscreen, I realized I was using a brand of sunscreen that offered almost no UVA protection! Worse- I was staying out in the sun for longer periods of time at peak hours because I had a false sense of security.

CyberDERM Every Morning Sun Whip
The Beauty of Being Sun Smart-Every Morning Sun Whip

Currently, both the FDA and Health Canada are coming up with a system to grade sunscreens on their level of UVA protection. They are running a little bit behind though. I would guess however that many sunscreens on the market today will have to consider reformulating once the new labeling laws do come out.

Your next logical question may be to ask then how do you choose a reasonably good sunscreen if an SPF is no longer a responsible indicator. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on the designation that many sunscreens use “Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB”. Both the FDA and Health Canada are also in need of regulating what that designation means precisely. Manufacturers are permitted to label their sunscreens as being broad spectrum as long as they offer a modicum of UVA protection. Many brands however fail to span the full length of the UVA spectrum or they offer very weak protection at best. The hard answer is that there is no easy way to look at the front of a bottle and know the quality of protection you are being afforded. You need to flip the bottle over and look at the ingredients listed as most ingredients protect against UVB only, some protect against UVA only, and even fewer span the entire range of both.

In Part II of this blog, I’ll go over which ingredients to look for and in what concentrations they need to be present in to be effective. The shocking news will not end here though. As a tidbit- did you know that the two of the most popular sunscreen ingredients can have negative reactions when they are exposed to sunlight? The quality of some sunscreens is mind boggling. Yet, until consumers know to ask for better, there is no impetus for manufacturers to change.

Perhaps that is why we never read about the dupe that is SPF. Until the FDA and Health Canada comes out with their own labeling system for UVA, you have to be a sunscreen sleuth to figure what constitutes a good sunscreen. It’s disheartening to think that all the work one does to treat your skin well (including cosmetics/cosmeceuticals, diet, and cosmetic procedures) is being undone the moment you walk outside with mediocre protection.

If you cannot wait until Part II, I suggest reading the Primer on Sunscreens that I wrote for our patients at our sister clinic Laserderm (http://www.cyberderm.ca/Media/Documents/SunscreenPrimer.pdf). Also- a non-profit group based in Washington DC has an excellent database that you can use to type in the name of our sunscreen and see what level of protection you are getting (http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/). You can also search for sunscreen active ingredients in case your brand is not available.

I’d encourage you to be proactive about finding an excellent sunscreen and I promise to help with any questions you may have.

Until Part II, all the beauty best (even if that is hard to come by).

Sara A. Dudley