How to be SPF savvy this sum­mer.

Friday - - CONTENTS -

These days, more and more stars are grac­ing red car­pets look­ing per­fectly porce­lain. Anne Hath­away, Cate Blanchett, Kris­ten Ste­wart – there’s not a hint of bronze or a whiff of fake tan on these leading ladies. If you ask al­most any celeb what the se­cret is to keep­ing a youth­ful, wrin­kle-free com­plex­ion, the an­swer isn’t Bo­tox – it’s an SPF.

Celebrity der­ma­tol­o­gist Al­bert M Le­fkovits re­vealed that al­though they don’t hide away from the sun com­pletely, Hol­ly­wood and Bol­ly­wood star­lets are su­per care­ful when it comes to sun pro­tec­tion. “They don’t live in a co­coon to avoid rays, but they also don’t lie out in the sun for hours and, be­lieve me, they are al­ways putting on sun­screen” he says.

And we should be fol­low­ing their ex­am­ple and do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to avoid the ef­fects of the sun, be it with large hats, cover-ups, or the use of a sun cream. We are con­stantly be­ing bar­raged with cam­paigns telling us to pro­tect our­selves from harm­ful rays, wear a high SPF and to reap­ply it of­ten.

Even Baz Luhrmann’s old-school 90s’ hit, Ev­ery­body’s Free (To Wear Sun­screen) told the world “If I could of­fer you only one tip for the fu­ture, sun­screen would be it” – and it seems as though he was on to some­thing. But are you mak­ing the most of your sun cream, and do you re­ally know what the num­ber on the bot­tle means? Well, we’ll tell you, as it’s time to get SPF savvy…

Knowyour num­bers

SPF stands for Sun Pro­tec­tion Fac­tor, and the num­bers were de­vel­oped in 1962 as a way of mea­sur­ing a sun­screen’s ef­fect against UVB rays. They show how long you can stay in the sun wear­ing a sun­screen with­out burn­ing. For ex­am­ple, if you nor­mally burn af­ter 10 min­utes in the sun, an SPF15 will give you 15 times that – or 150 min­utes with­out burn­ing.

For an easy way to work out what SPF you need and how long it will pro­tect you, use this sim­ple equa­tion: min­utes to burn with­out sun­screen x SPF num­ber = max­i­mum sun ex­po­sure time.

Zain Shaikh, brand man­ager at Hawai­ian Tropic Mid­dle East, says one of the most com­mon mis­con­cep­tions is when people think, “If I ap­ply a lo­tion with an SPF8 and then put an SPF15 on top, I’m ac­tu­ally wear­ing an SPF23”.

As Zain says, “SPF num­bers don’t add up the way you might think. Us­ing an SPF8 and an SPF15 to­gether won’t al­low you to re­main in the sun 23 times longer than with­out pro­tec­tion. You need to de­ter­mine how long you’ll be in the sun, along with your skin type, and choose the ap­pro­pri­ate SPF level for you.”

There’s also the is­sue of high-fac­tor SPFs. We’re talk­ing 50+, with some brands go­ing so far as to claim that theirs are SPF100. This in­stantly makes you think you are re­ceiv­ing 100 per cent sun pro­tec­tion, right? Wrong (it pro­tects against 98.5 per cent of UVB rays, just 1.5 per cent more than a fac­tor 50). And this is the deadly mis­take that many of us are mak­ing.

High-fac­tor sun­screens give a false sense of se­cu­rity, re­sult­ing in less reap­ply­ing, more time in the sun, and more burn­ing and harm­ful dam­age.

To Dr Julie Sharp of Cancer Re­search UK, this is a ma­jor con­cern,” People tend to think they’re in­vin­ci­ble once they’ve put it on and end up spend­ing longer out in the sun, in­creas­ing their over­all ex­po­sure to UV rays.”

The US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion has even pro­posed a ban of la­bels higher than SPF50+, stat­ing that they are “in­her­ently mis­lead­ing”. There is no such thing as a 100 per cent pro­tec­tive SPF, nor is it the case that an SPF30 is twice as ef­fec­tive as an SPF15.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to der­ma­tol­o­gist James M Spencer, MD an SPF15 blocks

94 per cent of UVB rays, whilst an SPF30 blocks 97 per cent. “Af­ter that, it just gets silly,” he says.

The rays re­vealed

Ex­ces­sive ex­po­sure to UV ra­di­a­tion from the sun dam­ages the skin’s cel­lu­lar DNA and pro­duces ge­netic mu­ta­tions, which is why both the US Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion have iden­ti­fied UV rays as car­cino­gen – a cause of skin cancer.

This comes as no sur­prise; it’s a fact that’s con­stantly drummed into us via the me­dia, health ex­perts and beauty brands. But just be­cause you’re slap­ping on the SPF doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk, as not all sun creams pro­tect you from both harm­ful types of UV rays.

We look to an SPF as a num­ber we rely on to tell us how long we can stay in the sun be­fore we start to burn and cause dam­age, and how high a level of pro­tec­tion we are re­ceiv­ing from our sun cream or skin­care prod­uct. What it doesn’t tell you is that this num­ber refers to UVB rays only – not UVA.

It’s ob­vi­ous when UVB rays are caus­ing dam­age; they’re the ones that lead to sun­burn and red­ness as they are ab­sorbed by the top lay­ers of skin. And al­though UVBs are ar­guably more harm­ful and are the big­gest cause of ma­lig­nant me­lanoma skin cancer, the ozone layer ab­sorbs most of them be­fore they reach us, which means that 90-99 per cent of what hits us are UVA. UVA rays are con­stantly present come rain or shine, and they are the ones re­spon­si­ble for caus­ing sun dam­age on a cloudy day.

Yes, that’s right, they can get through clouds! They pen­e­trate far deeper into the skin, dam­ag­ing cells and tis­sue way be­neath the sur­face, re­sult­ing in faster age­ing, sunspots, wrin­kles and skin that re­sem­bles an old leather sofa. Nice.

So next time you reach for that trop­i­cal-smelling bot­tle, make sure it pro­tects against UVA and UVB rays, or is a broad spec­trum SPF (it will say so on the la­bel), which com­bines chemical and phys­i­cal block­ers to keep both UVA and UVB rays at bay.

There are also in­creas­ing con­cerns sur­round­ing in­frared rays, which have al­ways been there but un­til re­cently weren’t fac­tored into sun pro­tec­tion. Af­ter a 2009 Ger­man study, it was re­vealed that the spec­trum of sun dam­age goes fur­ther than UVA and UVB rays and that in­frared ra­di­a­tion is also re­spon­si­ble for re­leas­ing free rad­i­cals and ac­cel­er­at­ing the age­ing process. With in­frared rays rep­re­sent­ing more than 50 per cent of the so­lar spec­trum (com­pared to 0.6 per cent for UVBs), mod­ern sun pro­tec­tion prod­ucts now pack even more of a punch.

Dr Olivier Doucet, Lan­caster Lab­o­ra­to­ries’ vice-pres­i­dent of re­search and de­vel­op­ment, strongly be­lieves that in­frared pro­tec­tion is a vi­tal part of an SPF and has been a key player in in­cor­po­rat­ing new tech­nol­ogy into the brand’s sun prod­ucts. “In­frared rays cre­ate a strong in­crease in the skin’s tem­per­a­ture, by about 6 or 7°C,” he tells us. “By way of com­par­i­son, the body would not with­stand a tem­per­a­ture rise of this kind. This has a very sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the skin’s me­tab­o­lism.”

More­over, in­frared rays pen­e­trate more deeply than UVA rays into the lay­ers of the skin, where they cause dam­age to the skin’s ar­chi­tec­ture and the ex­tra­cel­lu­lar ma­trix (the com­po­nent of body tis­sue that sup­ports cells). These rays are par­tic­u­larly in­volved in loss of firm­ness and have a dele­te­ri­ous ac­tion on DNA, the elastin fi­bres and the genes re­spon­si­ble for re­new­ing col­la­gen fi­bre re­serves (mean­ing skin ages faster and loses elas­tic­ity and firm­ness).

The amount of skin dam­age caused by in­frared rays has yet to be de­ter­mined, but ac­cord­ing to Se­nior Re­searcher at John­son & John­son, Michael Southall, PhD, “tra­di­tional sun­screens, which only block UV, don’t pro­tect us from the sun’s to­tal ox­ida­tive toll.” This is when oxy­gen in­ter­acts with cells, leading to free rad­i­cal dam­age, cel­lu­lar mu­ta­tions and DNA dis­rup­tions – a ma­jor cause of age­ing, can­cers and skin prob­lems.

Time to see the light

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Hala Fadli, specialist der­ma­tol­o­gist in the UK and Dubai, we should all be wear­ing an SPF all the time. “Sun blocks should be used through­out the year to pro­tect our skin from skin cancer, sun dam­age, and pre­ma­ture age­ing of the skin. It is proven that skin cancer in adults is due to sun­burn dur­ing child­hood. The longer the ex­po­sure to sun­light, the higher the risk of de­vel­op­ing skin cancer.”

Even if you’re sit­ting in the shade, don’t be fooled into think­ing you’re cov­ered, as ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts at Bio­derma, “shade of­fers pro­tec­tion against the sun’s di­rect rays but not against the sun’s rays re­flected off the ground (grass re­flects 3 per cent of the UV rays hit­ting it, sand be­tween 5 per cent and 25 per cent, and wa­ter 5 per cent to 90 per cent), and not against the sun’s rays dif­fused by par­ti­cles sus­pended in the at­mos­phere (at mid­day, 30 to 50 per cent of UV rays on the skin are rays dif­fused by at­mo­spheric mol­e­cules).”

One of Zain Shaikh’s top tips is to “wait 20-30 min­utes af­ter ap­ply­ing your sun­screen be­fore go­ing out­side, so the UV fil­ters have time to soak into your skin and form a pro­tec­tive layer”.

And don’t for­get to reap­ply, es­pe­cially af­ter towel dry­ing, swim­ming or ex­ces­sive per­spi­ra­tion.

Of course the sun isn’t all bad. Our bod­ies don’t pro­duce their own vi­ta­min D, which re­leases en­dor­phins, helps main­tain a healthy im­mune sys­tem, keeps bones strong, can lower blood pres­sure, pro­tects against heart dis­ease and im­proves mus­cu­lar func­tion. So we need it from sun­light.

Dr Fadli says the sun can of­fer a host of ben­e­fits. “Sun ex­po­sure has many pos­i­tive ef­fects. Firstly, it is re­spon­si­ble for the body pro­duc­ing vi­ta­min D, which is cru­cial for preven­tion of rick­ets. Sec­ondly, some skin con­di­tions can im­prove with sun ex­po­sure, such as eczema and pso­ri­a­sis. Sun ex­po­sure can also help treat de­pres­sion.”

So the sun can be your friend and not your en­emy – just make sure you’re SPF savvy… and wear a hat.

‘Wait 20-30 min­utes af­ter ap­ply­ing your sun­screen be­fore go­ing out­side, so the UV fil­ters can soak in’

Pale and in­ter­est­ing: Anne Hath­away…

Cate Blanchett…

and Kris­ten Ste­wart

UVA rays are there con­stantly – come rain or shine

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