The latest member of the sunscreen hall of shame? Suncut UV Protect SPF 50+ PA ++++ spray. It’s marketed as sweat- and water-proof. Now … let me preface this by saying, just like with the Missha sunscreen, the language I used is a bit strong. This is not a bad sunscreen, it’s just not good for me. Why? Read on … Continue reading “Hall of Shame: Suncut UV Protect Spray Water-Resistant Sunscreen”
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?
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).
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We’re coming up on summer, and while I will always harp on you that you should wear sunscreen every.damn.day, 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?
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.
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