Sunburn, Sunscreens & Skin Cancer
NEW EU COMMISSION SPF REGULATIONS
Commission recommendation on sunscreen products was adopted in September 2006 and that legislation with addendums is being enforced throughout the EU and the FDA in the United States.
The new legislation due to be implemented in this country in 2013 is going to be a very good thing for South Africans as it will make companies comply with the regulations if they want to sell their products. Responsible companies, if they have not done so already, will want to comply, by removing any false claims knowing their products are saving skins and ultimately saving lives. The consumer needs to be made aware that they should look for products not just with SPF but the product must state UVA and UVB and should be Colipa tested. Colipa is the extra critical UVA testing and it is then going to be displayed on the boxes. Hopefully now with the Consumer Protection Act in South Africa legislation will be quickly enforced, complied with and companies will be forced to prove the sun protection their product contains. It will be impossible for above SPF 50 to be claimed without sufficient data to prove it.
Warning: Sunscreens with very high SPFs (50 or higher) are becoming more popular offering the promise of longer protection, but in real life, they don't work any better than a SPF 15 to 30 sunscreen. That is why the new legislation is recommending that there should not be sunscreen products over SPF 50. A product with an SPF of 15 blocks about 93 percent of the sun's UVB rays, an SPF 50 protects against about 98 percent. A major problem is that high-SPF products also tempt one to stay out in the sun longer, which increases the risk of skin damage. High-SPF products also contain greater amounts of sun-blocking ingredients, chemicals, than low SPF sunscreens. These ingredients may pose health risks. It is better to use a sunscreen with SPF of 15 to 30 and reapply more often. In 2007, the FDA published regulations that would prohibit companies from labelling sunscreens with an SPF higher than “SPF 50+” stating that higher values would be “inherently misleading,” given that “there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful.
In real life, people apply one-fifth the amount of sunscreen used in the laboratory SPF tests (Autier 2003, Azurdia 2001, Reich 2009). This means that someone who applies one-fourth as much sunscreen as in the SPF test gets just SPF 2.3 protection from an SPF 30 product. SPF 100 becomes just SPF 3.2. The fact that people use less sunscreen than recommended is not an argument for using even higher SPF products to compensate. Higher SPF products produce small increases in real-world SPF. But even this small change allows sunbathers to stay in the sun longer – and absorb more overall radiation – before a sunburn sends them indoors. In the process, the substantially greater amounts of sunscreen chemicals in higher SPF products can penetrate the skin and lead to much higher internal exposures to potentially hazardous compounds. The user is left with a burn and a significantly higher “body burden” of sunscreen chemicals.
What’s wrong with high SPF? Theoretically, applying SPF 100 sunscreen allows beachgoers to bare their skin to sunshine a hundred times longer before causing the skin to burn. One would therefore assume that someone who would normally redden in 30 minutes could remain in the sun for 50 hours before a burn would appear. But for high-SPF sunscreens, theory and reality are two different things. Studies have found that users of high-SPF sunscreens have similar or even higher exposures to harmful UV rays than people relying on lower SPF products as they trust the product too much, stay in the sun longer with a single application and get burned when the product’s chemicals break down, wash off or rub off on clothes and towels. Armed with a false sense of security, they extend their time in the sun well past the point when users of low-SPF products would. As a result, they get the same number of sunburns as unprotected sunbathers and absorb more damaging UVA radiation, which many high-SPF products do not effectively block. High-SPF products contain greater amounts of sun-blocking chemicals than low-SPF sunscreens. These ingredients may pose health risks when they penetrate through the skin, where they have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption. If studies supported a reduction in skin damage and skin cancer risk from high-SPF products, the additional exposures might be justified. But they don’t, so choosing sunscreens with lower amounts of active ingredients – SPF 30 instead of SPF 70, for example – is prudent.
The following are the very latest FDA regulations:-
FDA PROPOSED REGULATIONS, DATA REQUESTS, AND A DRAFT GUIDANCE
In addition to the final regulations, in June 2011 FDA proposed a regulation that would require sunscreen products that have SPF values higher than 50 to be labelled as “SPF 50+.” FDA does not have adequate data demonstrating that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide additional protection compared to products with SPF values of 50.
- NO MORE SPF 100: Often, people grab whatever sunscreen is labelled with the highest SPF and assume it's the best protection out there. It was that misleading fact that sparked the FDA to make "SPF 50+" the highest rating allowed on a product. Why? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an SPF 15 product blocks 93 percent of UV rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, and SPF 50 blocks 98%, but once you go up to SPF 100 that number stays at 98%. However, the FDA will allow an SPF of higher than 50 if the company can prove that a product provides more protection than SPF 50. So far, none have been able to do so.
- NO MORE "WATERPROOF, SWEATPROOF, AND SUNBLOCK": These terms are too misleading, says the FDA. The name Sunblock is banned because no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. All products will be called sunscreens from here on out. Waterproof and Sweatproof will be banned because they imply all day protection. Sunscreens are however, permitted to claim they are Water-resistant.
- CLEAR DEFINITION OF "BROAD-SPECTRUM": SPF technically applies only to UVB rays, which cause sunburn, not UVA rays, which cause cancer and ageing. "Broad-spectrum" sunscreens theoretically protect against both, but up until now they have never had to prove it. That's changing. In order to bear the label, any sunscreen labelled SPF 15 or higher must meet wavelength tests to show that it protects against UVA rays. Sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 won't even be allowed to bear the "broad-spectrum" label.
With the consumer in mind strict regulations regarding labelling are now coming into place and the deadline to comply regarding labelling is 2013. By then claims such as "sunblock" or "100% protection" or "all day prevention" cannot be used any more. EU Regulations state the following: Despite frequent claims like "sunblocker" and "total protection", no sunscreen products can provide for a full protection against UV radiation.
Standardised verbal descriptors ("low" - "medium" - "high" and "very high" protection) should be used alongside traditional SPF (sun protection factor indicators) to provide guidance for the choice of the appropriate sunscreen product.
RégimA has already complied with the new regulations and the extra Colipa testing. External packaging (boxes) must comply and state whether low, medium, high and they must state whether they conform to EU regulations and Colipa.
Most people wrongly focus solely on the SPF factor within a product when deciding what would be the best choice of skin protection. SPF means “sun protection factor” and refers only to protection against UVB radiation, which causes burning, inflammation and damage of the skin which is all visible to the naked eye. It has nothing to do with UVA radiation that penetrates deep into the skin, accelerates skin ageing and may later cause skin cancer. This UVA burning is not visible. The SPF statement is only a measure of how well the sunscreen deflects UVB rays. Also consider that SPF ratings are calculated under perfect laboratory conditions with the volunteer applying the correct amount of product. Other ingredients within sunscreens are very important natural protectors eg. Laminaria algae, Vitamin C.
Since the introduction of sunscreens and sunblocks skin cancer rates began to climb and not fall. For example, melanoma rates doubled from 6 to 13 per 100,000 people since 1973. Skin cancer diagnoses surpass all other cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
- UVA penetrates your skin more deeply and causes the most free radical damage. UVA rays are thought to be more responsible for wrinkling or premature ageing of the skin.
- UVB, which only penetrates the outer skin layer, is the primary cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancer. UVB rays are also the ones that help your skin produce vitamin D.
- UVA rays are quite constant during all the hours of daylight throughout the entire year. By comparison, UVB waves are lower in morning and evening and most intense at midday.
HOW TO USE A SUN CARE PRODUCT?
- Apply generous amounts of a sunscreen, which must contain UVA & UVB protection, to dry skin 30 minutes before you go outdoors.
- Use sunscreen on all skin surfaces that will be exposed to sun — especially your face, ears, hands, arms and lips. If you don't have much hair on your head, apply sunscreen to the top of your head or wear a hat.
- Coat your skin well and leave a residue on the skin.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, more often if perspiring.
- Reapply sunscreen immediately after swimming, as it may be rubbed off with a towel.
- Remember that sand, water and snow reflect sunlight and make it even more important to use sunscreen.
- Since UVA rays penetrate glass and clouds, use sunscreen even when it's cloudy or you're indoors but in rooms with lots of windows.
- Do not use total block out as this will prevent Vitamin D synthesis, which is critical to health and helps prevent life threatening cancers.
There are two rules to applying sunscreen that are easy to remember:
1: DIVIDE YOUR BODY INTO ELEVEN ZONES
2: APPLY 1 OR 2 FINGERS OF SUNSCREEN PER ZONE
Use sunscreen all year-round, but don't let any product lull you into a false sense of security about exposure to the sun.
LOOK FOR THE EU REGULATION COLIPA SYMBOL:
CONFUSING RESEARCH FINDINGS, SUN, SKIN CANCER AND VITAMIN D
Ideally a sunscreen should be applied half an hour prior to sun exposure. One must always apply a decent layer to all exposed areas and DO NOT rub into the skin until the cream is dispersed.
It is not just the sunscreens within a product that protect from burning, it is a combination of natural, powerful, active ingredients, certain algae and plants, Vitamin C, polyphenols etc.
Some plants have natural defences against the damaging rays of the sun. For example, certain algae that thrive in the sea make their own sunscreen. Scientists have isolated the proteins that these plants produce when sunlight gets too intense. The protein acts as a solar deflector by funnelling light down to where photosynthesis takes place. Excess light which could interfere with photosynthesis is shunned by a yellow-orange pigment produced by the algae.
Sunlight in moderation is good for us but overexposure to sunlight has the same effect on our skin as superficial thermal burns. Sunlight can improve acne and provide a major source of Vitamin D.
We are now used to warnings about the damage that the sun can do and statistics on skin cancer cases are worrying. There has been a two-thirds increase in skin cancer since 1990.
Recently there have been some confusing findings in research on our skin and the effects of the sun. The link between the harmful effects of exposure to ultraviolet rays and skin cancer are being questioned. A researcher from the University of Manchester, England, has supported other research findings from Harvard University, USA, to say that totally blocking the sun with sunblock creams can interfere with Vitamin D production and fighting some forms of cancer.
SUN EXPOSURE MIGHT HELP FIGHT CANCER?
So the very thing that causes skin cancers has a role in fighting cancer. Part of the reason is that our sources of vitamin D are small if you factor out the sun. Vitamin D is found in only a few types of food, things like sardines. Most diets are not rich in sardines so the sun is the main vitamin source. Sunscreen stops UV rays damaging skin but stops the production of Vitamin D too.
SUN DAMAGE WARNING EXAGGERATED?
No. Do not rip off your shirt, forget the sunscreen and ignore the traditional warnings. The research, while recognizing the positive role of the sun in contributing to our health and fighting cancer, says we do need brief exposure. The definition of brief is a very short period of sunlight. The British research defines the short period of tan time without sunscreen as 10 to 15 minutes at noon! I do not need to tell you about the weather in England to tell you that equivalents in places with very strong sunlight might factor down to a very short time indeed.
With skin cancers of all kinds increasing at an alarming rate and the deadliest form, malignant melanoma, threatening to surpass all other malignancies as the number one cancer in America within twenty years, it is imperative we investigate all treatment strategies, prevention and most important the causes without delay.
Conventional thinking to protect yourself against skin cancer is to cover up and apply sunscreen. The use of sunscreens became popularized in the 1960s and was touted as our best protection against the damaging rays of the sun. With a strong and unrelenting advertising campaign, sunscreens were soon incorporated into American culture (and soon thereafter around the world). Dermatologists soon began to endorse their use and the new era of skin cancer protection via sunscreens was heralded in.
Oddly enough, since their introduction, skin cancer rates began to climb and not fall. For example, melanoma rates doubled from 6 to 13 per 100,000 people since 1973. Proponents of sunscreen believe that many stay in the sun too long without reapplying, thus increasing their risks of getting skin cancer; while others point out that many people fail to apply the sunscreen in "hidden" areas such as behind the ears, thus increasing skin cancer risk with increased exposure. Then there are those who state that sunscreen has never been proven to prevent skin cancer and point to the lack of any controlled studies. There is also the school of thought that states a blocking agent can save the skin from sun damage and possibly skin cancer, and it is not sunscreen per se but what is in the sunscreen. It is that question that is the most disturbing.
With the exception of a very few, sunscreens are a combination of chemicals designed to protect the skin from UVB rays. SPF or sun protection factor is the ratio of the amount of UV it takes to produce redness on sunscreen applied skin. It is then compared to unprotected skin for 24 hours to see how much UV radiation it takes to have a similar effect. So if it takes 10 minutes for your skin to redden a bit, an SPF of, let's say 8, should allow you to stay in the sun eight times longer or eighty minutes before you start to redden.
Sunscreen alone is not the best protection against skin cancer. Studies are lacking proving they prevent basal cell cancers and melanoma. Yet most public health officials and dermatologists persist in insisting that sunscreen use or abstinence from the sun is our best protection. Today skin cancer rates climb to record high levels as sunscreen sales go through the roof. While some point to the sunbathing habits and a 20-year lag time between diagnosis, sunbathing too was popular in the 1920s and 30's. It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s particularly, when skin cancer rates of all kinds began to spiral upward.
Natural sunlight is necessary for good health. Without it our planet would cease to exist. Time in the sun is a question of balance. Daily moderate exposure enables the body to produce Vitamin D and synthesize melanin (our body's natural sunscreen). Overexposure to the sun causes photo-damage to the skin, actinic keratoses (sun spots), a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma. It is also immunosuppressive and accelerates skin aging. Underexposure is dangerous as well, as one becomes "light deficient." Light deficiency induces Vitamin D deficiency, thus accelerating melanoma and other life-threatening growth risks.
A study published in CANCER (March 2002: 94:1867-75) - Rates of thirteen types of cancer were found to be higher in New England where people may not be synthesizing Vitamin D at all due to lack of sunlight in the wintertime. Deaths from cancers of the rectum, stomach, uterus, bladder and others were nearly double of that of people in the southwest of the USA. Dietary patterns were compared and little difference was noted. Most sunscreens are designed to block UVB rays. Vitamin D is synthesized from UVB. In light of this report and others, along with epidemiological studies linking lack of sun exposure to sub-optimal Vitamin D levels, it may be time to re-evaluate our notions of sun exposure and its effect on our health.
GET SOME SUN - VITAMIN D PROTECTS AGAINST MANY CANCERS
Dangerously low Vitamin D levels may increase the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer. The solution? Catch some rays.
RégimA holds the view that it is overexposure to the sun and burning that cause the damage. Sunlight provides the main source of Vitamin D. Our views are based on the scientific studies conducted at Harvard and Manchester Universities stating that high sun blocking creams can interfere with Vitamin D production and the fighting of certain cancers including breast, ovarian, uterine, colon, prostate etc. The studies conducted have shown that sunlight appears to be a key element in preventing some of these most dangerous cancers. Vitamin D3 in particular is a potent anti-cancer nutrient/hormone, as well as maintaining normal blood calcium levels, essential for strong bones.
VITAMIN D3 – “The Sunshine Vitamin”
Research suggests that up to 85% of people could be deficient in Vitamin D without knowing it, leaving them with less than optimal health. Nearly every organ in the body, as well as the bones, contains receptors for Vitamin D and every cell and tissue requires Vitamin D for its well-being! Our skin, the largest organ of the body, makes Vitamin D from sunlight, and also contains receptors for the more active, circulating form of Vitamin D.
The skin naturally produces Vitamin D from direct exposure to bright sunshine. Unfortunately, because of the fear of skin cancer, this has created a fear of sunshine. It is not the sun that one should be frightened of but the burn from over exposure. Many people avoid the sun or apply sunscreens that block the beneficial wavelengths that produce Vitamin D in your skin. Also, between the ages of 20-70 your skin loses about 75% of its ability to produce Vitamin D3 and with ageing, the skin begins to atrophy and age prematurely.
Having too little Vitamin D may not have any outwardly obvious signs, yet Vitamin D3 specifically impacts on an incredible array of support for systems and functions in the body.
Click here to see our section on Vitamin D3 for more information