New sunscreens: protection from damaging rays

provided by the American Dermatological Association
unscreens are being customized to meet a variety of needs. The industry is continually coming out with new products, "improved" versions of old favorites and product extensions. Significant improvements include less irritation and improved performance.

Speaking at the American Academy of Dermatology's 55th Annual Meeting, Patricia Engasser, MD, reported on "New Sunscreen and Tanning Formulations: Do They Offer Better Protection?" Dr. Engasser, Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Stanford Medical School, Stanford, California, said, "The most important factor in choosing sunscreen is its ability to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet light) that can contribute to premature wrinkling, sunburn and skin cancer."

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that, regardless of skin type, consumers should choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 and use it year round. Sunscreens are rated or classified by an SPF that can range from 2 to 60. These numbers refer to the product's ability to screen or block the sunburn rays.

An absorbing subject

There are advantages and disadvantages to the ingredients that make up different sunscreen formulations. Consumers need to understand these differences before making a purchase.

Cinnamates (octyl methoxcinnamate and cinoxate) are one of the two commonly used chemical UVB blockers that are added to cosmetics. Benzophenones (oxybenzone and dioxybenzone) are a type of chemical UVA blocker sometimes added to cosmetics. They are nonstaining and used widely in Europe. They do not bind with the skin. Benzophenones (oxybenzone and dioxybenzone) are a type of chemical UVA blocker sometimes added to makeup.

If a sunscreen user develops an allergy to a sunscreening chemical, useful alternatives are the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide blocks, although zinc oxide does not have Category I status at present. Micronized titanium dioxide has become a useful "new" ingredient. Research has shown that these materials, which were once considered simple blockers, absorb light in the ultraviolet range.

In September 1996 the FDA proposed adding Avonbenzone, a UVA screen to the Category I approval list.

Still unsettled is the method of testing to be used for verifying UVA protection. Consumers should be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with a designated SPF number. SPFs 30, for example, absorbs 97 percent of sunburning rays, while an SPF of 15 indicated 93 percent absorption. However, these are under ideal circumstances. Consumers frequently do not recieve the full protection because they do not apply a sufficiently thick, uniform film of sunscreen.

Save your skin

There are typically one million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States, including 40,300 new cases of melanoma projected for 1997. The American Academy of Dermatology has made a commitment to promote new education legislation at national and local levels to communicate safe sun messages. The aim is to change Americans' attitudes and behaviors about sun exposure.

"To combat this epidemic, our challenge is to make the public aware of the early signs of skin cancer, the hazards of sun exposure and the dangers of indoor tanning," said Roger Ceilley, MD, AAD President. "No one expects people to stay out of the sun completely, but a few simple sun safety measures can do much to safeguard millions of people. Skin cancer can be prevented. The challenge lies in changing attitudes and behaviors that place individuals at increased risk."