Here comes the sun - so protect your skin

We’re buying more sunscreen yet skin cancer is on the increase, making positive strategies for a safer summer evermore urgent

Sunshine. It’s a cruel irony that one of life’s greatest pleasures comes attached with such tight strings. Too much sun accelerates lines and wrinkles and at worst causes skin cancer. Skin cancer rates show no signs of abating and, according to the British Skin Foundation, there are 100,000 new diagnosed cases and 2,500 deaths each year in the UK. That’s seven people a day. 

But sunscreen sales are going up. 2013 saw a 3 per cent rise in sales, as reported by Euromonitor last August. People are going for higher sun protection factor (SPF) levels with SPF 30 to 50 gaining ground. So, what’s the problem? 

The recommended amount of sunscreen is a teaspoon per limb, another for the face, another for the front and not forgetting the back

The simple answer is most people still don’t use sunscreen properly. Dermatologist Professor John Hawk says: “In actual use they frequently only give a sixth to a third or less of the SPF stated on the bottle.” At best this translates to just under SPF 7 for those using SPF 20. 

The recommended amount is a teaspoon per limb, another for the face, another for the front and not forgetting the back, to match the amount that manufacturers use when testing – 2mg per square centimetre.  Application should be 20 minutes before exposure, repeated every two hours and after swimming. 

“Sunscreens must be considered the last line of protection, not the first,” says Professor Hawk, pointing to the need to alter behaviour in the sun, rather than rely on sunscreen. Loose, tight-weave clothing, a hat and avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm are all recommended by dermatologists. 

How frequently do you get sunburnt

Marco Lens, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and skin cancer expert, adds: “Ultraviolet or UV light causes a cascade of chemical reactions in skin cells that lead to DNA damage, promoting premature skin ageing and development of skin cancer.”

Sunscreen remains a vital step in protecting skin from UV. Yet of all the products along the beauty aisles, sunscreen labels are hard to navigate. Dr Christopher Flower, director-general of industry body, the Cosmetics, Toiletries & Perfume Association (CTPA), aims to demystify product labelling for the consumer. 

His drill for sunscreen is simple. First look for the SPF number which is the indication of the protection of the skin from UVB, the rays that burn. SPF 15 remains the recommended minimum, increasing to 30 and up to 50+ depending on climate and skin type. Next, look for the circled UVA symbol to show there’s protection against UVA, the ageing rays, and confirms a product is broad spectrum. Many sunscreens also carry the Boots UVA star rating. 

It’s worth knowing about the constituent parts of a sunscreen, especially for those with skin sensitivity. There are the organic sunscreens, such as oxybenzone or avobenzone, which absorb UV rays. Then there are the mineral pigments, titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin reflecting rays away. The latter cause least sensitivity while the organic sunscreens may irritate, “particularly if people have a slight tendency to eczema”, says Professor Hawk. 

Titanium dioxide is usually used in its nano form. It is a more effective UV filter in this form, which also improves the cosmetic finish, and lessens its white look and sticky feel. The safety of nano titanium dioxide is based on sound research. Ultrasun uses nano titanium dioxide. Abi Cleeve, the company’s managing director, says:  “Ultrasun’s use of nanos is at a size that is independently recognised – the Ökotest – as unable to pass into the bloodstream, but small enough to leave a great result on the skin.” Ultrasun SPF 50+ Face combines it with antioxidants and ectoin, a natural enzyme that protects micro-organisms from UV and lasts on the skin for up to two days. 

UV rays and their effect on skin

Antioxidants are another useful ingredient. Their protective, reparative benefits are well documented and are increasingly being added to sunscreen formulas. “There are many clinical studies that have shown adding antioxidants to sun protection formulations can help prevent formation of free radicals, and thus reduce possible UV damage,” says surgeon and skin cancer specialist Mr Lens. 

He has developed this idea with a new antioxidant serum, Zelens Intense Defense, that blocks three different free radicals associated with UV damage and photo-ageing. It is designed to be used under sunscreen. Skinceuticals was a pioneer in this field and beauty insiders wear its high potency anti-ageing antioxidant serums under sunscreen. Sarah Chapman Skinesis Sun Insurance SPF 30 is a facial sunscreen with antioxidants. 

This year, water resistance has improved thanks to a technology by Shiseido that harnesses water and perspiration on the skin. Its Expert Sun Ageing Protection line contains an ionic mineral sensor in which negative ions bond with positive ions in water and sweat. The result is a more water-repellent layer against UV. 

In addition to UVA and UVB rays, there’s high-energy visible light (HEV) to consider. Research has shown that it generates ageing free radicals in the skin during sun exposure. American dermatologist Dr Zein Obagi has introduced fractionated melanin, a purified form found in fish and plants, to his sunscreens. It is a purified form of the naturally occurring molecule. Applied to the skin, it absorbs the potentially damaging visible light wavelengths, but not the beneficial red ones. ZO Skin Health Oclipse Smart Tone Broad-Spectrum sunscreens arrive in July with a tinted face lotion and a spray for the body, both SPF 50. 

And so, the future?  Think wearable technology. French electronics company Netatmo has launched JUNE, a bracelet with an inbuilt UV tracking device that measures the wearer’s sun exposure. It sends personalised notifications advising on when to apply sunscreen and at what strength. Then there’s the future of the sunscreen supplement. A new study by Oregon State University has isolated a chemical produced by the zebrafish that blocks UV rays, so their question is why not use it in pill form?  After all, who ever heard of a sunburnt fish? 

HOW BRANDS ARE HELPING YOU TO HELP YOURSELF

PREVENTION IS BEST

If diagnosed early enough, 90 per cent of melanoma cases can be treated effectively. Ipsos market research found that people are more likely to encourage a loved one to check their skin than do so themselves. So La Roche-Posay’s Skinchecker campaign aims to encourage mole-checking with a video of two dalmations and their pups. 

SUN SAVVY

As this year’s official brand for the British Association of Dermatologists, La Roche-Posay’s video links to the Be Sun Aware website where you can find expert advice on moles and sun care, as well as more on the association’s Mole & Sun Advice Roadshow. 

Underestimating the British sun

APPLICATION KNOW-HOW

A recent Nivea survey highlighted the areas or “sun terraces” we most often forget to protect. Top of the list were ears, back of neck, shoulders and soles of feet. It also found that only 30 per cent would apply sun protection if out in the UK. In response, Nivea’s Take Care Out There YouTube campaign aims to encourage better sunscreen use with a video showing the invisible effect of UV on the skin with a UV camera. 

FUND RAISE

Every year seven people in the UK die each day from skin cancer. The lack of a real cure has inspired the British Skin Foundation’s It Takes Seven Skin Cancer Appeal (#ittakes7). It encourages people to fundraise in teams of seven for research into skin cancer.