All About SPF: UVA, or how to avoid premature aging and skin cancer

The first installment in this mini series on sunscreen covered UVB rays, which if you remember, can be easily recalled by ‘B is for burning.’ These are the rays that the SPF number on your tube of sunscreen warn you about (and protect you from). But, these are not the only ultraviolet rays to reach the earth (and YOU!). Longer in wavelength than UVBs, but shorter than visible light, UVA rays can be remembered by ‘A is for aging.’ Ain’t nobody got time for premature aging, but unfortunately aging isn’t the only gift these long rays bring.

It’s the longer wavelengths that make UVA rays so damaging to our skin. These rays penetrate to the deepest layers of the skin (UVBs aren’t so insidious), causing photo aging (premature aging) and are now thought to cause skin cancer as well.

The longer wavelengths also penetrate clouds. This means your ‘I don’t need sunscreen today, it’s cloudy’ excuse to not put on sunblock is leaving you exposed to the most dangerous UV rays. Yes, you may not get burned … but you remember Magda, right?

Great looks AND cancer! Yassssss.
UVA: How to protect yourself from these rays

So, apart from hiding indoors, how do you protect yourself from UVA exposure? ‘Easy,’ you say, ‘I just wear sunscreen. Duh.’ And yes, you’re right, it’s that easy. Except, it’s not.

It’s not that easy because, unlike the SPF system for UVB rays, there is no standardized system that quantifies how much of these rays a sunscreen blocks. In North America and Europe, a manufacturer can write “broad spectrum” on the label in addition to the SPF number, which indicates it blocks UVAs. How much of the UVA rays that reach your skin are blocked? Well, they have to block at least 1/3 the amount of UVBs they block. That’s the only requirement, and they don’t tell you what the actual percentage is.

It’s a little better in Asia. Most Asian manufacturers use the PA+ system. It ranges from PA+ to PA++++. And as you may have guessed, mo plusses are mo bettah. Except … the system isn’t numerical and transparent like the SPF scale is. It’s just … better coverage with more plusses. The consumer is left in the dark on exactly how much better.

UVA: What ingredients block UVAs?

In the U.S., the FDA approves a few active ingredients that protect against UVA rays, including the following: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, and ecamsule (or Mexoryl SX, which is patented by L’Oreal).

Outside the U.S., there are other (more effective, but that’s info for another installment) active ingredients that protect against UVA rays: Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Uvinal A, and Mexoryl XL. To simplify things, a smart consumer should look for more than one of these ingredients; some of these protect against UVA-1 rays and some against UVA-2. And no–of course, the “broad spectrum” or “PA+” designations do not mean they protect against both types of UVA. Because that would be helpful.

That’s about it for this super brief overview on UVA rays. Just remember: UV-Burning and UV-Aging, and if you are using a chemical sunscreen (which again will be a topic for another day), looking for more than one active ingredient generally means you’re getting truly broad spectrum coverage (i.e. covering both types of UVA).

The following are affiliate links to fully broad spectrum sunscreens. They cost you nothing extra to buy from but can provide me with some dinero.

Mini Review: Kate Cream Blush

Today we’re talking about cream blush, and specifically about one from Kate. Kate is a drugstore brand readily available in Japan (but possibly not so easy to find outside of the country). Kate cream blush also boasts an SPF of 20 (but … why?) and comes in two colors: bright fuchsia and red.

I’ve talked recently about my love for cream blush, and this one has proved itself worthy of my small but mighty cream blush arsenal. It comes in a small and sleek black plastic case. I originally went looking for the cult bargain favorite from Canmake, but the shade I wanted wasn’t in stock and so I moseyed on.

After trying a few different models on for size on the back of my hand, I made it to the Kate display. The color from the Kate cream blush testers was super pretty and super believable, like my true blushing shade (OK, my true beet red shade) and had a faint and healthy luster (no glitter). It was also about 800 yen ($7.50 USD) … SOLD.

kate cream blush
Here’s ‘classy pink’ (finally! I’m classy! Or at least my blush is) swatted and sheered out.

At home, I was curious to see how it behaved over foundation and how long it lasted. On both fronts, it performed well. It didn’t disturb any base makeup I applied it over. And it lasts pretty admirably … about 8 hours of wear is what I’ve seen so far. Better than most drugstore blushes (and some department store ones as well).

The downside is Kate cream blush only comes in two shades … but the upside, both shades are very natural “blushing” shades for a wide range of skin tones in my opinion … and they build well. It’s easy to tap in a very sheer layer, and you can also build up the color if you’re looking for a more dramatic blush.

Overall … I would definitely recommend this blush. I have an oilier skin type recently, and I don’t have issues with it “sliding off,” and drier skins always benefit from cream blush. It’s win-win.

kate cream blush

Recommending Products and Tourist Shopping: the Conundrum

I am lucky to have houseguests right now; two family members are visiting us here in Japan from the U.S. One has been here before, and one has not. For any of you who have hosted houseguests from another city (probably everyone?), you know what it’s like to try and remember what it’s like to be new in your city so you can show your guests the best it has to offer in the limited amount of time they have. This was a truism in Alaska, and it definitely is here in Japan. Recommending products, when friends ask, reminds me a lot of this process.

Does this seem weird? Maybe. It’s true though. When I have guests come to town, I try and tailor activity ideas to not just what I consider the “best” my home has to offer, but to their interests and abilities. Also, I know how expensive travel can get, and I always try hard to not break the bank on the activities and restaurants we do. Recommending products is much the same. I try hard to evaluate the friend asking’s lifestyle and skin type, how comfortable they are wearing cosmetics if it’s a makeup question, and also price. Continue reading “Recommending Products and Tourist Shopping: the Conundrum”

All About Sunscreen: UVB, or how to avoid frying yourself into a crisp

We’re coming up on summer, and while I will always harp on you that you should wear sunscreen, no matter the season or weather; summer is even more crucial. Longer days, higher UV indexes and more time outdoors (with more skin exposed) means it’s time to get serious on sun exposure. Today, I’m starting a multi-part series (how many parts? Who knows?!) on deciphering sunscreen so you know exactly what you’re buying. First on the docket: UVB rays. What they are, and why you care (and yes, you should care).

What the hell are UVB rays?
See? SPF 50+. Even if you’re ginger AF like me, SPF 100 is useless.

OK, so the sun sends down its ultraviolet, or UV, rays to us here on earth. You can’t see them because their wavelength is shorter than the rays in the visible spectrum (the ROYGBIV!). UV rays are organized into three main groups, UVA with the longest wavelengths, UVB in the middle, and UVC with the shortest wavelengths.

UVC rays are so short the all-powerful ozone layer absorbs them. Yay for the ozone! Yay for us! So we will move onto the middle class of ultraviolets, UVB. UVB rays can be remembered by “B for burning.” These rays hit the surface layers of the skin and, you guessed it, cause sunburns.

UVB Rays: How to Avoid Them

The upside to UVB exposure: the entire SPF system (which is standardized worldwide, hooray!) is set up to inform consumers sunscreen protection levels from these rays. Once blamed for causing not only sunburns but skin cancer, UVB rays are effectively blocked by many different active ingredients, and the results of sunblocks containing these are very transparent to consumers.

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, informs consumers what percentage of UVB rays are blocked (when using an appropriate amount of product).

SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays

SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays

SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays

So you see, the scale is not linear. SPF values above 50 offer almost no additional protection over 50 factor (in fact, in Australia, sunscreen manufacturers are barred from advertising any SPF above 50 to avoid a false sense of security for consumers). If you are shopping for sunscreen in Asia, you will also find manufacturers do not promote more than SPF 50+ on their products as well.

That’s pretty much it on UVB … aka medium length ultraviolet rays that cause burns and penetrate shallower layers of your skin. Very dangerous in the short term. Use an appropriate amount of SPF30 or greater and reapply as directed and you should be able to avoid most of these bad boys. Up next, the most insidious of UV rays, the long and strong UVA rays, or, the component of sunshine that will turn you into Magda and can literally kill you.

The following is an affiliate link. It costs you nothing extra to purchase from it, but may result in a commission for me. 

Japanese Summer Essentials: What You Need to Survive

Have you been to Asia in the summer? Or for many parts of Asia, anytime? The world’s water crisis could be solved if only the Asian humidity levels could be harnessed … all joking aside, the summers here are BRUTAL. Where I live, in a sub-tropical zone, the winters are cool (ok, I’m from Alaska, so it’s hard for me to not describe them as “winters”) and the summers don’t really climb above the low 90s (low 30s in Celsius), but the humidity … holy hell, the humidity. You know how they tell you when you visit Arizona, oh but it’s a dry heat? Yeah. Not in Asia. The air practically sweats here it’s so saturated. Luckily, Japan is always prepared. For (almost) everything. And they have your Japanese summer essentials covered … follow along and see what you need to not just survive but thrive in the Asian sweatbox this summer. Continue reading “Japanese Summer Essentials: What You Need to Survive”