Sun protection, particularly the daily use of sunscreen, is the best anti-aging skin care advice—that’s no surprise. But what is alarming is the number of people who are clueless when it comes to sunscreen and how why it’s such a critical component of anti-aging skin care solutions. For instance, you may have heard all about SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and even seen it on labels, but do you know what it means, and what it does? If not, you’re apparently not the only one.
Researchers at Northwestern University conducted a survey about consumers’ ability to navigate through sunscreen shopping and the use of sun protection for anti-aging skin care. The findings, which were recently published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, revealed that less than half (43%) of respondents said they understood the meaning of SPF and a small seven percent of participants surveyed knew what labels to keep an eye out for if they wanted to look for a sunscreen that really does protect against premature skin aging.
On the plus side, 80% of participants purchased sunscreen in 2013, with the top three influencing factors for their purchase being SPF value, formulations for sensitive skin, and resistance to water and sweat. However, nearly half of the respondents said they bought the highest SPF value they could find, and according to the researchers, this overreliance on SPF (especially when many people don’t know what it really means) is concerning, because they assume that they’re 100% protected, which is untrue.
As part of the study, the researchers also wanted to evaluate consumers’ knowledge about terminology commonly seen on sunscreen labels and how it related back to anti-aging skin care. Participants were shown the front and back label of a sunscreen bottle with SPF 30 and then asked a series of questions. The results showed that the majority could use some help:
• 62% were unable to identify the terminology that relates to protecting against skin cancer
• 77% were unable to identify how effectively the sunscreen could protect against sunburn
• Only seven percent could properly identify how effectively the sunscreen could work for anti-aging skin care by protecting against premature skin aging
The Solution for Anti-Aging Skin Care
These numbers show that the general consumer needs to be better educated about not only the effects of UV rays on anti-aging skin care, but also about how to read sunscreen labels in order to evaluate the good from the bad.
The solution for the purpose of anti-aging skin care solutions may be as simple as coming up with a new way for sunscreen manufacturers to label their products. In the second part of this study, participants were shown a different sunscreen label that separated the level of UVA and UVB protection—the label showed a star rating out of four for its level of UVA protection, and then an SPF value to represent its UVB protection. This revised labeling system significantly improved the response—almost 80% of participants could correctly determine the level of UVA protection, and almost 90% were successful in determining UVB protection.
However, more important than adjusting labeling practices is educating everyday consumers about how to purchase the right sunscreen in order to really put together the best anti-aging skin care routine. Here are a few things to keep in mind when sunscreen shopping:
• UVA vs. UVB rays: UVA and UVB are the two main types of radiation from the sun. (There’s a third type, UVC, but all of it gets filtered in the atmosphere before it gets to the Earth’s surface.) UVB rays are what cause sunburns—they’re medium-wavelength rays that can only penetrate the superficial layers of the skin. Although its effects are relatively short-term (sunburns and tans eventually dissipate), these changes can eventually lead to premature skin aging and increase your risk for skin cancer. UVA rays, on the other hand, make up the majority (95%) of UV rays. Because they’re longer wavelengths, UVA can penetrate the deeper layers of your skin, causing visible wrinkles and skin aging. The risk of skin cancer was traditionally associated with just UVB rays, but recent research has shown that UVA can contribute to its development as well.
• The meaning of SPF: As this study shows, a lot of people are still unsure about what SPF really is. SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and is a measure of protection from UVB rays. SPF essentially has to do with how much sun exposure it would take to induce sunburn. Without sunscreen, a person’s skin can turn turning red within 10 minutes of sun exposure. But with SPF 15, it would take 15 times longer for their skin to redden, so 150 minutes. SPF 30 would delay the redness by 30 times, so that 10 minutes to get sunburned becomes 300 minutes. However, keep in mind that this isn’t a 100% guarantee of protection. Sunscreen can often get rubbed or washed off or dissipate without you even realizing it, so it’s important to reapply every two hours.
• Higher isn’t always better: Many people assume that the higher the SPF value is, the more protected they’ll be. While that might seem logical, it’s not that simple. An SPF of 30 is able to block out almost 97% of UVB rays, but according to anti-aging skin care experts, no sunscreen can block out 100% of UVB rays, no matter how high the SPF value is. There’s also the issue that wearing a higher SPF value can create a false sense of security, misleading people into thinking they can spend longer stretches of time in the sun without taking other preventative measures, like wearing a hat. Just because you’re not getting sunburnt as fast, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Remember, you’re still exposing your skin to the harmful UVA rays. For the best anti-aging skin care solutions, stick to SPF 30, and again, keep reapplying!
• Broad Spectrum: Most people rely solely on the SPF factor of a sunscreen as a means for evaluating its effectiveness. But SPF only protects against UVB rays, so what about the UVA rays that make up 95% of UV radiation that penetrates the Earth’s surface? This is why you need a sunscreen that’s labelled as “broad-spectrum”—this means that it protects against both types of UV light. This may also be labelled as “multi-spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection.”
• Water-resistant vs. waterproof: Contrary to popular belief, these two terms don’t mean the same thing. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a sunscreen is “water-resistant” if it’s able to maintain its SPF value after 40 minutes of exposure to water, but if it’s “waterproof,” it means that it can maintain its SPF value after 80 minutes of water exposure. When deciding between the two options for your own sun and anti-aging skin care routine, go with waterproof.