Choosing the Right Sunscreen
Choosing and buying safe, effective sunscreen is not as easy as one might hope. Several factors come into play when making decisions, including the effectiveness and safety of ingredients, and the type of coverage they provide. Today I’ll talk a bit about the importance of true broad-spectrum protection. Recently, the FDA implemented new rules that require manufacturers to back up claims about the products they sell. This summer marks the first burning season since the new regulations went into effect. Among other things, the rule changes are supposed to clarify the definition of “broad spectrum” protection.
Ultraviolet light is divided into UVA and UVB rays (there’re also UVC rays, but they don’t penetrate the atmosphere, so we’ll ignore them). With slightly different wavelengths, these rays differ in their ability to infiltrate deep into skin and damage underlying tissues. Most sunscreens provide protection against UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburn-type damage. Scientists used to think UVA radiation didn’t do much harm, but that’s all changed. We now know that UVA radiation is also dangerous, because it indirectly damages DNA.
UVA penetrates deep to create damaging free radicals beneath the skin. These charged particles then damage skin cell DNA, which increases the risk of skin cancer. UVA rays are therefore classified as carcinogenic. So newer sunscreens should ideally provide broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunscreens labeled SPF 15 or higher, which offer “broad spectrum” protection against both UVA and UVB rays.