Human skin and the sun’s ultraviolet rays don’t play well together. That’s more of concern in sunny Texas where most days the sun is out at some time. Whether we’re out at Lake Brownwood, down on the Gulf, or just out playing golf or working in the yard, our skin gets bombarded by the UV rays of the sun. And since we have so much warm weather, it’s not like our skin gets much of a break as does the skin of people with long, cold winters.
At Creative Image Laser Solutions, Dr. Butka treats skin cancer and actinic keratoses just about every day. Of course, the best treatment is to protect yourself in the first place. In our hot summer days, telling people to wear more clothing isn’t very realistic. But sunscreen is. Today, everyone knows the dangers of the sun and usually consider applying sunscreen as an important accessory for our outdoor activities.
Younger people may think it’s always been that way. But if you’re in your upper 50s or 60s now, you probably remember when the first sunscreens were introduced. The first true sunscreen was called Glacier Cream and later became Piz Buin (which still makes sunscreen lotions today), and it was developed in 1946 by a Swiss chemist. But when Coppertone (the name says it all) came on the market in the 50s, sunscreen lotion began to grow. Of course, it’s estimated now that the early Glacier Cream and Coppertone products had an SPF of 2! Not much protection there.
Today’s sunscreens form a far more effective barrier against the sun. Now they’re waterproof (for awhile) with effective SPFs of 50 (it’s thought that any SPF over that number doesn’t provide any more protection).
Since Dr. Butka sees the effects of too much sun on our patients every day, here’s a little primer on how your sunscreen blocks the sun from damaging your skin.
Inorganic versus organic
Sunscreens come in a variety of delivery options: sprays, lotions, gels, or waxes, and are made of a mix of chemicals. There are “inorganic” and “organic” sunscreens. But don’t confuse those categories with food you’ll find at Albertson’s. Inorganic chemicals in sunscreen can reflect or scatter the light away from the skin. Organic (carbon-based) chemicals can absorb UV rays so that your skin doesn’t.
Some of the early inorganic chemicals included minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and they acted as physical sunblocks. To be effective, they had to be covering the skin. That’s why you saw many people with white noses on area beaches back in the 80s and 90s. The minerals reflected the sun’s UV rays back off the skin just as white paint reflects light. Today’s inorganic particles are much smaller, so users don’t have to look as if they’re covered with white frosting.
Organic chemicals used in sunscreens have names such as avobenzone and oxybenzone. These chemicals don’t reflect or deflect the the UV rays; they absorb them. They do this with chemical bonds. As the bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat. This is why these sunscreens have an effective time limit at which point the user would need to reapply.
What is SPF?
The sun rains down two types of ultraviolet rays onto your skin, UVA, and UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburns. Originally, because the reddened skin from sunburns was so obvious, UVB rays were all anyone worried about. UVB rays affect the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer.
More recently, various research studies have brought the effects of UVA rays into the focus. UVA rays penetrate the epidermis into the dermis, the skin’s second layer. It’s thought that UVA rays damage the skin longer term with premature wrinkling, age spots, and other issues. UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, though, so they’re not as obvious. But growing amounts of research point to possible links between UVA rays and the development of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The damage you can’t see can be far worse than the sunburn you can see and feel.
SPF is how you can judge the protection level of a sunscreen. It stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it refers to how well the sunscreen protects the user against UVB rays. Obviously, SPF came before UVA rays were understood. Now, any sunscreen worth a thing is labeled “broad spectrum,” and it protects against both UVB and UVA rays.
It’s recommended to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF between 15 and 50. In our intense Texas sun, anything less than SPF 15 should be avoided altogether. A sunscreen with SPF 15 protects against about 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. No sunscreen provides a 100 percent block.
Now you’re a sunscreen pro. When you’re on the Gulf or the links, don’t forget to wear your sunscreen of choice. And, thanks to all the sun we receive here, don’t forget to come to Creative Image Laser to have your skin checked. Call us at 325-641-1927 for an appointment.