Sunscreen Fails

Posted on June 24th, by staff in Skincare. 10 comments

Sunscreen Fails

The best anti-aging cream isn’t a jar of La Mer, but plain old sunscreen—the broad-spectrum kind that protects against both UVB (the burning rays) and UVA (the aging and skin cancer rays). Science has finally proven that daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen slows down the signs of aging significantly.

Aging hands

Hands with sunspots and visible loss of elasticity.

The groundbreaking study

Published in the journal , Australian researchers followed 900 people (all under the age of 55) over 4 years, dividing them into four groups.  Half of the group were told to apply a dollop of sunscreen (SPF 15+) to their head, neck, arms and hands each morning, after bathing, during sun exposure and after heavy sweating. The other half were told to wear sunscreen whenever they felt like it.

The researchers used a technology called microtopography, which included a six-point grade scale to measure the amount of aging seen on the back of one hand of all participants. 1 signifying no damage to skin and 6 meaning severe signs of photo aging. Base line measurements were taken, and four and half years later, the same hand was examined and measured again. Results? The sunscreen devotees showed 24% less skin aging compared to the discretionary use group.

“This study substantiates what dermatologists have been telling their patients for years, which is that daily sun protection, including sunscreen use, not only decreases your risk of skin cancer, but also decrease skin aging,” says our medical advisor Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto-based dermatologist.

Despite sunscreen formulations being better than ever, thanks to evolving science that have created lighter textures and multi-functional formulas, people are still not wearing sunscreen every day.

Recent stats from the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trends Report revealed that only about 31% of adults wear sunscreen daily. A survey conducted by the Canadian Dermatology Association showed that even though attitudes towards sunscreen have become more positive over the years, our actual use of sunscreen products has remained low to moderate.

Why aren’t you slopping on the SPF? Here are the top excuses for slacking on the sunscreen plus solutions to help turn you into a SPF loyalist.

FAIL #1 You’d rather not look greasy so you skip it. Finishes have come a long way since your grandma’s sunblock. Many formulas use pulverized mineral ingredients in micro or nano-sizes (which Health Canada considers to be acceptable), which lead to a matte finish or in the case of continuous spray sunscreens, a dry-touch finish that doesn’t clog pores. TIP: Ask your dermatologist what she or he uses. They’re often exposed to many brands before they hit store shelves.

FAIL #2 You’re using just a dab.  For sunscreen to be effective, you need to apply the right amount: ¼ teaspoon for the face and neck, and two tablespoons for body—or a shot glass full, to simplify. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, occurs even in the most unlikely places. Areas that are easily forgotten include the upper ears, exposed scalp (for men!), eyelids, under straps, hairline,  your hair part, underarms, and tops of feet.

FAIL #3 You’re not reapplying.  The sunscreen you apply at home in the morning is no longer effective when you’re sitting on that patio with friends after work. To be effective, sunscreen has to be reapplied every two hours and immediately following swimming or excessive sweating.  Even water-resistant and water-proof sunscreens lose their SPF value with continued water exposure. TIP: Keep a tube of SPF 30 in your makeup bag for post-work touch-ups.

FAIL #4 You think makeup with SPF is enough.  “Makeup with SPF is never enough to protect against UVA and UVB rays for a couple of reasons,” Dr. Kellett explains, “First, the level of protection, a 10 or 15, isn’t high enough to adequately protect skin. You need to wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. And secondly, makeup with SPF doesn’t protect against UVA rays – the ones that go deep into skin, can travel through glass, are around all day, and cause great damage.” That SPF-spiked BB cream might be enough, however, if you’re you’re indoors all day long, says our contributing expert Giselle Curcio, National Educator for Vichy Canada: “An SPF of 15 is sufficient when you’re inside all day, as it provides 95% UV protection. But ensure to up your protection to at least an SPF 30 [with a separate sunscreen product] when you’re outdoors to get 97% protection.” Just like a great cardigan, you should use SPF-spiked makeup as a layering tool. TIP: Apply serum, moisturizer/sunscreen, and then makeup. This is what Jenny Frankel, a Toronto-based cosmetic scientist, says is the correct order of product application.

FAIL #5 You’re using expired sunscreen. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of three years.  In these cases, the FDA does not require a printed expiration date.  In sunscreen products with a shorter shelf life, an expiration date must be indicated.  You can find one either stamped or embossed on the crimp of the packaging or printed on the bottom of the product packaging. Keep in mind that exposure to high temperatures can speed up the deterioration of your sunscreen. TIP: Don’t leave your sunscreen in the car.

FAIL #6 You fuss over type. Most skin types do well with physical-mineral sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium oxide), which deflect the sun’s rays like a disco ball. These work immediately upon application, but can be thick and leave behind white or grayish cast. On the other hand, chemical-organic sunscreens (avobenzone and oxybenzone), which absorb UV rays into the skin, tend to go on smoother. But they can irritate sensitive skin, and requires more re-application and “at least 30 minutes before sun exposure to be effective,” notes Dr. Kellett. Luckily, many modern sunscreens combine both physical and chemical blockers. TIP: Seek a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, in a texture you love enough to use every day.

FAIL #7 You use SPF 80. There’s been a lot of confusion over the higher (50-100) SPF ratings currently available. As of January 2013, the FDA capped SPF labeling at 50 in order to safeguard the public against misguided sun exposure. Health Canada is proposing to do the same, so eventually sunscreens with sky-high values will eventually fall under “SPF 50+”  like in the U.S, but there are still sunscreens available in our neck of the woods with high values.  What you need to know: Anything above an SPF 30 gives only a small increase in UVB protection by about 1 percent more, as “SPF” refers to UVB protection only. This means that a higher SPF may prevent sunburn but not sun damage or skin cancer. Toronto-based cosmetic chemist Louise Hidinger also believes that there is compelling evidence to support not using sunscreens with a high value. “Sunscreens with SPF values of 50 and over often contain oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, which is a sunscreen compound that has become controversial [this study has linked it  to interference with the endocrine system in humans] and should probably be avoided, especially if it is a sunscreen product to be used on children.”

FAIL #8 You mull over cancer-causing chemicals. It’s a hotly debated topic, but many dermatologists are clear on the belief that getting skin cancer from not wearing any sunscreen should be your bigger concern. “The risk of skin cancer is much higher than having problems with the chemicals in sun block,” states Dr. Lisa Kellett. For a detailed report on this, read this story.

FAIL #9 You’re driving unprotected.  Consider getting your car windows tinted with a UV shield.  According to a 2006 study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, this could prevent skin cell death by up to 93% and keep you from ending up like Bill McElligott, the 69 year-old truck driver with severe sun damage on the left side of his face as a result of UVA rays penetrating through the window of his delivery truck over the course of 28 years. If tinted windows aren’t your thing, arm yourself behind the wheel with UPF 50+ driving gloves and a hat. Clothing with a Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) are made with fabrics that are treated with UV filtering chemicals that can disrupt UV radiation to some degree. A UPF rating of 50+ (the highest rating possible) indicates the fabric will allow roughly 2% of available UV radiation to pass through it.  Regular clothing, such as a white t-shirt, only provides 6% protection from the UVA/UVB rays.

The Takeaway

Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen moisturizer every single day is just one way to keep your skin youthful and help prevent skin cancer. Other measures you should take include wearing sun protective clothes and avoid going outside during the peak hours of 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. With a little practice, protecting your skin from the sun will become as common as brushing your teeth. And that’s the goal!

Click the infograph below to enlarge.


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