Twelve years ago, I went to interview a prominent dermatologist about the latest sun protection science. This doctor is one of the top skin cancer doctors in the country and she kindly sat down with me for an indepth interview. During the course of our conversation, she explained the importance of thoroughly checking your body for moles and sun spots once a month. She asked if she could demonstrate on me so I took off my shirt and she explained how to look for moles with irregular edges. I remember clearly when she stopped at my left shoulder.
“Dave, I don’t like the look of this mole. It needs to come out now.” I froze and then quickly agreed. She froze the skin and proceeded to cut out the entire spot. “I see this type of mole and growth daily,” she said. “It’s why I’m so passionate about getting everyone to wear broad spectrum sunscreen daily. It saves lives.” She stitched me up and sent the sample to be tested for skin cancer.
“The single most important sun protection tip I can give is to find a broad spectrum sunscreen you like and wear it daily. That is the only tip that matters. If you do this, not only will you protect your skin, you’ll look younger, longer.” The latest statistics support her theory. Less than half of us wear sunscreen. That number plummets to less than 10 percent for teen boys. But scientists have proven that over 80% of the signs of skin aging are due to UV damage.
Dr. Tom Meyer spends much of his working day studying sun protection at the Coppertone Solar Research Centre in the United States. He regularly travels across the U.S. and Canada educating journalists on the importance of protecting skin. “Sunlight damages skin,” he tells me. “UV rays create free radicals which are a huge burden on skin. By wearing a UVA/UVB sun block, you ease the burden skin faces. It functions better and doesn’t have to fend off internal aggressors.”
When it comes to wearing sunscreen on summer vacation, apply double what you normally would. You should see the product on your skin and it should take a little bit to absorb. Research indicates that we apply less than half of what we should. That means an SPF 30 is only giving you SPF 15 at most. If in doubt, apply more. When applying lotion or spray products to your face, rub into your hands, then apply to your face.
It was actually Pharmacist Benjamin Green who invented sunscreen in 1944 as protection for military staff. It wasn’t until 1972 when Coppertone invented the SPF system in the United States. As of today, there still isn’t a widely recognized system for measuring UVA protection in North America.
The most common sunscreen you’ll find in stores is chemical in formulation. Chemical sunscreens, the kind that get absorbed into the skin absorb UVA rays and release them as heat. No one ingredient is a magic bullet. Scientists need a combination of ingredients such as Avobenzone (parsol 1789), Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Homosalate, and Octisalate to provide even protection across the UVA and UVB spectrum.
I always say on Cityline that the most powerful anti-aging product you can buy is a good broad spectrum sunscreen. Experiment with a few different brands and find a texture you like. I particularly like the clear sport sprays for my body and mineral for my face. Find one that you like and that you’ll wear daily. You will look better for it over the long term.
Chemical filters – These chemical filters such as Parsol 1789, Mexoryl XL and Octocrylene work like sponges. They have the ability to absorb light and protect the deepest layers of the skin. Unfortunately, they have a limited lifespan (about 2 to 3 hours) and need to be reapplied.
UVA rays – This type of long length UV ray makes up 95% of the rays that reach the earth. Think “A” for aging. UVA rays accelerate aging, pigmentation and potentially cause cancer.
UVB rays – Think “B” for burns. UVB rays comprise 5% of the rays that reach the earth and are shorter in length. These are the main cause of sunburns and are primarily responsible for tanning and can cause skin cancer.
SPF – Sun Protection Factor – This is the time it takes for skin to sunburn on protected skin. Most doctors recommend SPF 30 which means you can stay out in the sun 30 times longer than it would take for your unprotected skin to burn. It is important to note that SPF only protects against UVB rays. It doesn’t protect against UVA rays.
Mineral filters – These physical blocks such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide sit on top of the skin and reflect light back into the atmosphere. They work like a mirror. They are derived from finely milled rock and are an extremely effective way to block both UV rays. Mineral filters are particularly good for those with sensitive skin.
Broad Spectrum – Only buy sunscreens that say “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB on the package. That means the formula protects you from both types of UV rays. If it just says SPF, return it to the shelf.
Melanoma – This is a type of dangerous skin cancer. At the current rate, 1 in 62 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime.