While the language that surrounds it may be off-putting and (sometimes deliberately?) confusing, suncare is actually very easy to understand once broken down.
SPF, UVA, UVB, UVC (yes it’s a thing), oxy-this, benzo-that… The world of sun care isn’t one that’s easy to navigate. But with concerns for both human health and the impact on the environment, it’s never been more pertinent to find our way through the maze. GLAMOUR Beauty Editor Lottie Winter calls upon the industry experts to clear up any confusion…
There are two types of UV light that are relevant to us in terms of suncare (UVC doesn’t reach the Earth’s surface, so let’s just forget about it for now). There’s UVA, which is able to penetrate into the skin, reaching the deeper dermis and causes cellular damage and collagen loss.
Then there’s UVB, which is only able to reach the top layer of the skin known as the epidermis, and causes the skin to burn. It’s important that a sunscreen is able to protect you from both types of UV rays.
Then there are two types of UV filters, which are able to protect us from UVA and UVB. First up, there are mineral filters, including zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which sit on the surface of the skin and act as a physical barrier against UVB rays. Then there are chemical filters, which are able to protect against UVA.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH SPF?
Sun protection factor, or SPF, only refers to UVB protection. The higher the level of UVB protection (so, the higher the level of mineral filters), the higher the SPF.
So, which factor should you go for?
“Physical mineral filters are designed to provide a barrier on the skin surface. This means that they will ultimately be wiped and washed away or be sweated off within a few hours,” says skincare biochemist Nausheen Qureshi. “This means that no matter what the factor, you’ll still need to reapply every few hours.”
Wearing SPF50 can discourage people from reapplying as regularly as they assume they’re protected for longer, as well as often being more expensive to buy. “I think SPF30 is the optimum – it’s easier to blend and contains fewer actives than SPF50,” says Nausheen.
HOW DO YOU TELL IF IT’S GOT UVA PROTECTION?
The SPF won’t provide any indication if your sun cream provides UVA protection. To decipher that, you’ll need to look for a “UVA” label, which sometimes has a circle around it. “If it has a circle around it, it means that it meets the European standards of protection against cancer,” explains Jean-Christophe Samyn, managing director of Caudalie UK. “Mineral sun creams won’t have this because they do not provide adequate UVA protection.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE OCEAN
There’s been a huge focus on the ingredients used in sun creams that have caused damage to marine life. Hawaii famously banned the sale of sun creams that contain two of the biggest offenders, Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, and many brands have excluded the ingredients from their formulas.
“There’s really no need to use Oxybenzone and Octinoxate in sun screens anymore – they are very old school,” explains Nausheen.
Many companies are focusing on mineral filters in an attempt to steer away from chemical. But this is exceptionally misleading and, potentially, nothing more than an unfounded marketing ploy. “If you look an unbiased evidence and impartial studies, the evidence shows that UVB protection in the form of mineral filters is just as, if not more, damaging to reefs,” says Nausheen.
What we do know is that sunscreen is having a negative impact on marine lift in some locations. “It seems to be accumulating more in certain bodies of water, which may be due to a number of factors like tidal patterns and stagnant water. What we don’t yet know if the full extent of the problem, nor the best solution.”
To eliminate important UVA filters that safeguard against skin cancer in an attempt to solve a problem that we do not yet fully understand would be premature and harmful to human health.
ARE UV FILTERS HORMONE DISRUPTERS?
There’s a scaremongering story knocking about that certain UV filters, especially chemical filters, are potentially disrupting our hormones or are carcinogenic. This is largely based around a study in the 1980s, which tested nanoparticles of a now outdated UV filter on mice. The study suggested the mice were inhaling the nanoparticles and becoming carcinogenic to them. “Not only do we not use these ingredients anymore, but this study been disregarded as being irrelevant to human health as mice have a totally different metabolic pathway to humans and their lungs are formed differently,” says Nausheen.
One thing we know for sure is carcinogenic to humans is sun damage. So yeah, you do the math.
FINDING A SAFE SCREEN
Luckily, there are ocean-friendly, human-friendly chemical filters.
Caudalie’s new range of sun care products called upon the Skindeep database of Environmental working Group, which grades cosmetic ingredients according to how dangerous they are to health (1-10). The range uses a combination of four UV filters, isoamyl methoxycinnamate (1), butyl methoxy dibenzoylmethane (2), ethylhexyl triazone (1) and bis-ethylhexyoxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine (1), to provide broad spectrum protection that isn’t dangerous to the environment or to health.
And according to Nausheen, there’s even a gold standard. “Uvinul A Plus is one of the best UVA filters and is made by German ingredient supplier called BASF.”
But as we know, UVA will only get you so far. You need the UVB filters in the form of mineral filters. “The best sun cream will be a combination of ocean and human-friendly chemical filters, combined with a mineral filter of SPF 30,” says Nausheen. Well, it’s not so complicated when you put it like that, is it?