Sunscreen the Good the Bad and the Ugly

Ask any dermatologist, and they will tell you the same thing:  There is no such thing as a safe suntan. However, if you are planning to spend the day outside, it’s crucial that you have protection from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

That is why, rather than telling you which sunscreen is the best for your needs, we decided to offer you a further understanding of a few characteristics of sunscreens as a whole.

That’s why we included in this article

  • Classifications of sunscreens.
  • The protection offered by sunscreen.
  • How to figure out the required level of sun protection.
  • Effectiveness of sunscreen.
  • The benefits provided by sunscreen.

And some of the risks involved with sunscreen, among other concerns.

Also known as sun cream or sunblock, sunscreen comes in several different forms, including:

  • Lotion
  • Spray
  • Gel
  • Or other topical products.

Sunscreen reflects some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which helps protect you against sunburn. This protection is especially crucial for people with fair skin. If used often and reapplied whenever you come out of the water and after sweating, sunscreen will also slow or even temporarily prevent the development of wrinkles and sagging skin.


Depending on how they’re used, sunscreens can fall under the classification of:

Physical sunscreens – Creams that reflect the sunlight.

Chemical sunscreens – Those that absorb the UV rays.

Cancer Prevention

The American Cancer Society, along with other medical organizations, recommend using sunscreen because it helps prevent squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is an uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells that come from the squamous cells. These cells are made up of most of the skin’s upper layers (the epidermis).

SCCs usually look like scaly red patches, open sores, large growths with a depression in the center, or even warts. They may also be crusty or bleed. If allowed to grow untreated, they may become disfiguring or sometimes even deadly.

Many sunscreens don’t block UVA (Long-wave, blacklight, which isn’t absorbed by the ozone layer) radiation, which doesn’t usually cause sunburn, can increase the rate of melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and photodermatitis (also known as sun poisoning, is an allergic reaction to the sun).

These skin conditions can be prevented with the constant use of a broad-spectrum of sunscreens including, UVA and UVB sunscreens.

Measurement of Protection

Sunscreens usually come labeled and rated with a sun protection factor (SPF). Introduced in 1974, the SPF is a measurement of the fraction of sunburn producing UV rays that will reach your skin.

For example, a sunscreen with an SPF 15 means that 1/15th of the burning radiation reaches the skin through the recommended thickness of sunscreen. Other rating systems indicate the degree of protection from non-burning UVA radiation.

The SPF measurement is based on the assumption that the sunscreen is applied evenly with a thickness of 2 milligrams per square centimeter.

The Effectiveness of Your Sunscreen

You can determine your sunscreen’s effectiveness by multiplying the SPF factor by the length of time it takes you to burn without sunscreen, so if a person develops a sunburn within 10 minutes while not wearing sunscreen.  Someone who is in the same situation and intensity of sunlight will avoid sunburn for 150 minutes if they have a sunscreen that is SPF 15.

It’s important to state, even if you’re wearing a sunscreen with a higher SPF, you won’t be able to last any longer in the sun just because you have a higher SPF factor. You will also still need to reapply the sunscreen as directed, usually every two hours.

Sweating and swimming will wash the sunscreen off quickly. Even though some sunscreens claim to be water-proof, it’s still a good idea to reapply it just the same. If nothing else, it’s a good idea to reapply your sunscreen every time you finish swimming.

Benefits of Using Sunscreen Regularly

A study conducted in 2013 concluded that the daily dedicated application of sunscreen could slow or temporarily prevent the development of wrinkles and sagging skin.

The study involved 900 Caucasian people in Australia. The requirements were that they apply several different types of sunscreen every day for four and a half years.

The results proved that the people who did this had noticeably more resilient and smoother skin than those required to continue their usual practices.

Minimizing damage from UV rays is especially crucial for children, individuals with fair skin, and people who have sun sensitivity because of medical reasons.

Potential Risks

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia updated a review, in 2009, of sunscreen safety studies and concluded: “The potential for titanium dioxide (Ti02) and zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles in sunscreens to cause adverse effects depend primarily upon the ability of the nanoparticles to reach viable skin cells. To date, the current weight of evidence suggests that Ti02 and ZnO nanoparticles don’t reach viable skin cells.”

Sunscreen Ingredients

In many countries, the ingredients in sunscreens usually undergo extensive review by government regulators. The components which present significant safety concerns (including PABA) are typically removed from products sold to consumers.

PABA, or p-Aminobenzoic acid, is an organic compound that is effective in blocking UV radiation helps maintain a consistent skin tone and soft texture.

Oxybenzone – This is used to enhance the penetration of the sunscreen. In other words, it’s a chemical that helps the other chemical ingredients to penetrate the skin. It does this by creating a chemical reaction when it’s exposed to the UV rays of the sun.

However, when Oxybenzone is absorbed into your skin, it can cause an allergic reaction similar to eczema. This reaction can spread beyond the exposed area and last long after you come out of the sun.

Experts also believe that Oxybenzone can disrupt the body’s hormones. For example, it’s thought that it mimics, blocks, and alters hormone levels, which can throw off your endocrine system.

Octinoxate – This is one of the most common ingredients that’s found in sunscreens that contain SPF. Octinoxate also helps other ingredients absorb into the skin and, even though allergic reactions aren’t common, the disruption of your body’s hormones is.

The chemical’s effects on estrogen can be harmful to humans and wildlife as well. Even though sunscreen is designed to protect the skin from aging caused by the sun, Octinoxate is thought to cause premature aging because it produces certain free radicals that can damage skin cells.

Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate) – Similar to Vitamin A, Retinyl Palmitate is an antioxidant. Retinyl Palmitates function in sunscreen is to improve the product’s performance in slowing the aging process caused by exposure to UV rays.

However, the combination of retinol (vitamin A) and palmitic acid, found in such tropical plants as palm trees and coconuts, can cause serious side effects.

When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, retinol compounds break down to produce destructive free radicals that are toxic to cells, cause damage to DNA, and may lead to cancer.

Studies conducted by the FDA, have shown that retinyl palmitate may speed the development of malignant cells and skin tumors when applied to the skin before exposure to the sun.

Homosalate – Is an ingredient that is also UV-absorbing, which also helps the sunscreen to penetrate the skin. After homosalate absorbs into the skin, it accumulates in our body much faster than we can get rid of it. The accumulation makes it toxic and disrupts hormones.

Octocrylene – This chemical absorbs the sun’s rays and produces oxygen radicals when exposed to UV light. These oxygen radicals can damage cells and cause mutations. This chemical can also be toxic to the environment.

Paraben Preservatives – These are associated with both acute and chronic side effects, parabens can cause allergic reactions, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Hormone Disruption

Many of the ingredients in sunscreen that work as chemical filters appear to be endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors can interfere with endocrine (hormones) and can cancerous tumors, congenital disabilities, and other developmental disorders.

Recent studies by the CDC found that adolescent boys with higher levels of Oxybenzone had significantly lower total levels of testosterone. However, the CDC stated that further, more in-depth studies are needed to conclude the overall effects of Oxybenzone. However, this is an issue that cannot be ignored when considering sunscreen applications for male children.

For the most part, sunscreen is a better alternative to going out into the sun’s harmful rays without any protection. Even so, you still need to consider what type of protection is right for you or your children for the most effective protection.

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