As Team Costhetics prepares for summer, the talk around the water cooler naturally turns to sunscreen. As every Australian knows, sun protection needs to be a way of life.
Without it, you’re at greater risk to be one of the 66% of the population diagnosed with skin cancer by the time you’re 70.
Sunscreen should be big business in this country, but according to one survey, the average Australian household spends less than $10 per year on this essential health item. Rather than purchasing a specialty sunscreen, they grab and go at the chemist or grocery store. Furthermore, people tend to under-apply sunscreen without truly understanding what their skin needs. This is reflected in the Slip Slop Slap campaign launched in 1981: “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat.”
While Slip Slop Slap has helped many people protect their skin, ABC asked, “If you have ever found yourself staring back at a regretful, hyper-sensitive, pink-skinned version of yourself in the mirror thinking ‘that sunscreen didn’t work as well as it should have,’ then you’re probably doing sunscreen wrong.”
In this article we do a deep dive into the world of sunscreen to make sure you’re doing it right.
Your First Step: See Your Trusted Advisor
When we needed an expert to give us the facts about sunscreens, we went to Simone Vescio, Founder and Director of dermaviduals Australasia. Simone holds a diploma in Beauty Therapy, along with certificates in IPL and LASER safety. With her strong knowledge of advanced skin analysis and correction, she is recognised as an expert in skin health and beauty.
You need an expert, too. It’s important to consult with a skin care professional who truly understands skin in order to determine what SPF you need, how often to apply it, and more.
If you’re curious about your skin type, you can check the colour of your skin on a Fitzpatrick colour scale. (Just Google “Fitzpatrick colour chart” and figure out what you are.) The scale will help you determine your burnability.
Melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation, is stimulated by UV exposure. People with higher levels of melanin enjoy a higher level of sun protection when they are outside. Melanin serves to provide a “sun umbrella,” so if you score a 4, 5,or 6 on the Fitzpatrick scale, you won’t burn as easily as someone with a lower score. You have naturally more protective pigment in your skin.
In the previous paragraph, we refer to UV exposure. Did you think UVA rays were the only culprit in skin ageing? Think again…and read on.
UVA, UVB, & Why U-Need Sunscreen for Both
There’s a common misconception that if you’re out exercising in the sun at 7am, you won’t get sun exposure. Once the sun hits the horizon, you will be hit by UVA rays and a smaller amount of UVB rays, which become stronger later in the day. Well, here’s a newsflash: morning athletes may not be at risk for developing sunburn, but they are at risk for developing ageing wrinkles and fine lines.
Sun protection is an all-day affair. After the sun goes down, you’re safe. (Do vampires have beautiful skin? Probably. However they probably also have a Vitamin D deficiency.)
Here’s an easy way to remember why you and your sunscreen should be inseparable
- UVB – The “B” is for burn rate
- UVA – The “A” is for ageing skin
If you’re not familiar with the concept of burn rate, you’re about to get a crash course.
7 Factors that Impact Burn Time
Everyone’s “burn time” is different. The first clue to your burn time is how your skin feels when you go out in the sun and how long it takes you to fry and go burn-red. Burn rate is just part of the equation. Other important things to note when you’re considering sunscreen SPF and re-application:
- Your Skin – If you have very fair skin and apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30+, you might need to reapply every 45 to 60 minutes. If you have darker skin, however, 30+ might last a little longer before you need to apply more.
- Time of Day – The intensity of the sun’s rays depends on the time of day and where the sun is positioned in the sky.
- Season – You also need to factor in the seasons, as the sun is more intense at different times of year.
- Altitude – You’re more likely to be affected by the sun if you’re up in the Himalayas or some other high mountain range.
- Location – Reflected sun can impact application time, too. Keep an eye out for bright sand and water, which can intensify the effects of the sun.
- Clouds – While clouds can somewhat reduce the effect of the sun’s rays, you will still suffer skin damage if it’s cloudy and you’re unprotected.
- UV Index – The UV index depends on what’s happening on that particular day. So, it’s almost impossible to know exactly which SPF you need on any given day. Even scientists don’t know!
Manufacturers consider the above factors when creating their sunscreen formulations. The problem is that most commercial brands are made to be used on average days by average people. Costhetics doesn’t think you’re average. We think you’re better than average. You and your skin deserve better than average skin protection. That’s why we recommend bespoke sunscreens and beauty products made specifically for your skin and your needs.
Chemicals: The Most Common Worry about Sunscreens
An FAQ that appears in the Costhetics’ emailbox over and over again: “I’ve been told all chemical sunscreens are bad. Is that true?” No. It is true that many of the chemicals used in sunscreens are detrimental to health, but some chemicals used in sunscreens aren’t. Some are completely skin-friendly.
What’s the difference? Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, each using a unique mechanism to protect and maintain skin stability in sunlight:
- Chemical Filters – The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters, often as many as six. Active ingredients that are detrimental include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
- Mineral Filters – These filters, called physical blocks, use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. A handful of products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters.
Titanium dioxide refracts light on the surface of the skin. The presence of titanium dioxide alone, however, is not the sign of a quality sunscreen. It’s important to understand what the titanium dioxide is floating around in (i.e. the emulsifiers it’s been formulated with). For instance, has the chemist who’s created the sunscreen you’ve chosen:
- Put a perfume in there that can make you photo sensitive? Some perfumes have chemical pigments, for example.
- Use emulsifiers that can disrupt your skin barrier when you sweat or swim? This barrier disruption means that the SPF just won’t work for any period of time.
There are more chemical sunscreens on the market than you can shake a stick at. (We know. We’ve counted them.) What’s so challenging is the fact that it’s virtually impossible to understand which is best for you without standing at the chemist for three hours reading every label and then having a scientist with you to decode each ingredient. Even then you can’t be certain you’ve made the right choice.
Understanding what the chemicals are in your skincare and how they work for YOUR skin is what you need to work towards. Skincare and sunscreen should work together. If you’re putting a sunscreen on your skin without applying a good antioxidant, your sunscreen will be less effective. Antioxidants add another level of cellular protection when you’re exposed to UV rays.
You may not have known that the higher the SPF of a sunscreen, the more ingredients it will contain, some of them chemicals. “I’d rather put fewer chemicals on my skin and reapply my sunscreen more often, than use a high SPF,” says Simone. “The difference in coverage you receive with an SPF of 50+ (98%) and 30+ (96.7%) is negligible, so there’s really no difference.” Even an SPF of 15(93.3%) can be sufficient if you re-apply it often.
Make-Up and Sunscreen
Make-up and sun protection are not always compatible. In some instances, under-makeup sunscreen can make skin look shiny or chalky. Even worse, women who wear sunscreen combined with their makeup have come to incorrectly believe, “Oh, I’m wearing a tinted moisturiser with a sunscreen in it, so I’m covered all day!”
The scorching truth, however, is that you only have between 45 and 75 minutes “burn-time” from when you apply your sunscreen make-up to when you’re in the sun (depending on your Fitzpatrick). So, you still need to re-apply your sunscreen every hour. “Formulating make-up with sunscreen gives you a false sense of security. It’s better to keep them separate. Sun on your face, neck and décolletage should be avoided at all times,” says Simone.
Organic vs. Natural: They’re not the Same
Consumer desire for “natural” and “organic” products extends from food to health and beauty products. Unfortunately, the beauty industry has been light on rules, with a lot of flexibility regarding which products can be given these labels.
“Within the skin care industry, there is no such thing as a 100% organic product,” says Reika Roberts, Managing Director of Derma Aesthetics. “As many as ten different organisations provide organic certification. The organisations themselves are poorly regulated, with no standardised governmental guidelines in place to ensure manufacturers are able to achieve equitable or true compliance.”
Each certifying body has created a different definition of organic, including differing rules for what percentage of the product must be organic in origin. Consumers are the losers. “It frightens many people to learn that in some instances, only 10% of a so-called organic sunscreen’s constituent ingredients may actually be organic,” says Roberts.
As it turns out, organic products may not be the be-all and end-all in superior skin care. With skin care we should, of course, seek out the safest and most efficacious products available, products proven not to cause harm to our health. Safe and efficacious doesn’t necessarily mean natural.
Active agents gained from natural sources are supposed to be superior to their synthetic counterparts. Not always. Regarding quality, the synthetic agent is frequently the purer and more readily recognised by the skin.
However, synthetics that should be strictly avoided are:
- Sodium lauryl phosphates
- Mineral oils
- Colouring agents
Corneotherapy: A Concept Whose Time Has Come
Corneotherapy offers the best of all possible worlds. It is a modular system approach to skin health and beauty. It combines customised base creams and skincare actives to give people a skincare program individually tailored for their unique skin conditions. The word is a combination of
- Corneo – referring to the stratum corneum layer of the skin
- Therapy – a healing practice
dermaviduals focuses on producing a physiological product range. (Physiology is the branch of biology or science that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts…including skin.) A well-made physiological beauty product most perfectly replicates the normal function of the skin. In some instances, man-made (or synthetic) product formulations, as well as natural plant derivatives, are safe and effective.
“The principles of corneotherapy lie at the core of every product produced by dermaviduals,” explains Roberts with pride. “Each of our products mimics the natural lipid bilayers of the skin, which enables homeostasis. Once homeostasis is achieved we can then focus on effectively treating skin.” Nowhere could this approach to skin care be more important than in sun protection.
5 Body Parts You Can’t Afford to Ignore
Team Costhetics always likes to leave our readers with a “take action” tip to turn philosophy into practice. One thing we advise is that you pay attention to these often-overlooked spots on your body in desperate need of sun protection. From top to bottom (and do put sunscreen on your bottom if you’re sunbathing nude) don’t forget your:
- Back of knees
- Top of feet
Is Too Little Sun as Bad as Too Much?
Choosing to avoid the sun entirely may be good for your skin, but it’s not good for your body. Australia is a sun-loving nation, but most of us do not have adequate Vitamin D levels, particularly during the winter months. How much of this essential vitamin you need is determined by a number of things, including where you live. You must also factor in your skin type and how your body absorbs sunrays. However, according to Osteoporosis Australia, “the amount of sun exposure required to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D is relatively low.”
Talk to your doctor about Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D supplements may be the answer.
The Next Generation of Beautiful Skin
There’s a sad truth about sun and skin: by the time you’re in your 20’s, the sun damage you’ve endured is going to be with you for life. The visible evidence of a misspent youth ignoring sun protection will appear later in life and likely need professional solutions.
Costhetics says it’s never too early to learn about sun protection. Happily, many companies, organisations, and people share our point of view. The Early Childhood Sun Safety Teaching Plans book is loaded with ideas for youngsters. (Did we mention it’s free online?”)
Costhetics offers you best wishes for a sun-filled summer, but don’t forget the sunscreen…the right sunscreen.