Sun Protection: Know Your (UV) A, B, and C’s

Article by Cristal Orpilla, R.N.

FACT: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

NYC has taken quite a beating from the sun the past few days, and it’s no doubt that sun protection is now more important than ever-  to preserve youth, prevent the aging process of the skin, and more importantly, to protect against the development of skin cancer. There are many brands today offering higher SPF’s and promising “across the board sun protection.” Read on to learn about SPF and what to look for when choosing sunscreen.


Is Higher SPF Better?


In the past,  I was under the false belief that the higher the SPF, the better protected I was from the sun and from getting burned. I would often peruse the aisles of the Rite Aid searching for SPF 60;  when SPF 80 came out I went for that.  I would constantly look for the next SPF up for an “upgrade”.   Technically, SPF (sun protection factor) is, as defined by  Dr. Leslie Baumann, as the level of sun exposure needed to produce minimal redness in protected skin, divided by the amount of energy needed to cause the same redness on unprotected skin.  What does that mean?  If, for example, I apply sunscreen with an SPF 15, I could stay out in the sun 15 times longer than if i didn’t put on any sunscreen.  So really, SPF applies to how long you could stay outside without getting sunburned.


What Should We Be Careful Of?


Another thing I had learned was that SPF protection was based traditionally only on ultraviolet B (UVB) ray protection.  There are various types of UV rays–  UVA long, UVA short, UVB, and UVC.  UVC rays are scientifically thought to not affect the skin directly because they are completely absorbed by the ozone layer, so they don’t even reach us.  UVA (long and short) and UVB rays are the ones to worry about.  UVB rays affect the epidermis (the top layers of skin), and is primarily the culprit for sunburns and redness.  UVA rays, though they may be filtered out by glass,  still affect the skin because they are known to be the contributing factor in skin damage.  UVA rays come in both short and long waves. UVA rays penetrate the skin on a deeper level, thus causing the most DNA damage.  This damage affects not only the skin’s appearance (wrinkling, cellular aging)  but also affects it on a cellular level (DNA damage and skin cancers).


What Can Help Protect the Skin?


So what do we look for in sunscreens to protect our skin from harmful rays? Since beginning work in dermatology, I’ve come to know of compounds today  found in sunscreens that give the skin much more protection than it did before… Kind of like adding a stronger  suit of armor. Here some of these new compounds:


Helioplex–  a proprietary molecule that allows the combination sun protectants of  Avobenzone (parsol 1789) and Oxybenzone, to be more photostable.  Traditionally,  these break down a little bit when exposed to the sun, so you were technically not being protected as much as you thought you were.  Helioplex is the proprietary compound that helps to extend the sun protection abilities of Avobenzone and Oxybenzone,  not a new SPF ingredient.  Helioplex is advertised in many Neutrogena brand products.


Mexoryl–  a new sunscreen agent that blocks UVA short waves.  It is also more photostable than Avobenzone and Oxybenzone, and does not degrade when exposed to the sun.  It’s found in the new La Roche Posay Anthelios lines and some brands of L’Oreal sunscreens.


Cinnamates–  Most commonly Oxymethoxycinnamate (OMC).  This compound has gained recent popularity because when applied on the skin, it doesn’t wash off with cleansing,  and are found in many waterproof formulations.  Most recently,  these compounds have been combined in soaps and facial washes for  1-step cleansing and protection-  you kill two birds with one stone!! It is important to note, however, that if prolonged sun exposure is expected,  that it would be wise to use this in combination with a traditional sunscreen of SPF 30 or above. Found in products such as  Freeze 24/7 Ice Shield, Godiva Skincare UV Wash, St. Ives Elements  Protective Cleanser


With such new suncare technologies available,  being a sun goddess is possible as long as you  (re)apply the golden rule of healthy skin : use SPF products religiously. Go ahead and soak up the sun!



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Online Editor, Beauty Writer at Beauty-Goodies
As a New York City-based registered nurse with backgrounds in pharmacology, medical research, medical spa aesthetics, and cosmetic dermatology, Cristal became interested in the ways people go about achieving beauty. When she's not working full-time at Cornell Medical Center or performing aesthetic treatments at a midtown NYC medical spa, she daylights as a beauty writer, and has a penchant for scoring sample sale treasures, bellydancing, playing dress-up, and of course, chatting about beauty goodies.

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