Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blast from the past: Sunscreens

Since my week isn't getting any less busy and I won't have time to write any really original posts, do any experimenting in the workshop, or enjoy some research, I thought I'd do a week of blast from the past posts, those posts that you might not have seen because they're so far back on the blog! Today's selection? Sunscreens! What they are, why we use them, and why we shouldn't make our own! 

WHAT DOES SPF MEAN? (Originally found here...)

What is sun protection factor or SPF? How is it defined? SPF is defined as...
the dose of UV radiation required to produce 1 minimal erythema dose (MED) on protected skin after the application of 2 mg/cm2 of produce divided by the UV radiation to produce 1 MED on unprotected skin.
In other words, it's how much of this stuff you need to use to protect your skin from a dose of radiation that would affect unprotected skin. The higher the number, the more protection you should get. (Sort of...see the post below on sunscreens!) 

"Water resistant" sun screen must maintain its SPF after immersion in water for 40 minutes. "Very water resistant" sunscreen must maintain its SPF after immersion in water for 80 minutes.

Broad spectrum or full coverage sunscreen will protect against both UVB and UVA rays.

So why do we care about sunscreen? Because it is one of the key things you can do every single day to slow down the photo-aging process (join me tomorrow for that topic...)

And please don't make your own. There are so many factors that go into making sunscreen and we can't test it to make sure it is effective! (If you are interested in learning more, this is a great PDF on the topic. So much to think about!)

WHAT EXACTLY IS SUNSCREEN? (Original found here)

Yep, it's that time of year again (at least in the Northern Hemisphere)! It's time to buy buckets of sunscreen and make sure Mr. Sun doesn't make us all red and unhappy! We definitely need to be wearing sunscreen!

There are two types of sunscreen ingredients - physical blockers and chemical blockers. The physical blockers are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, both of which work by preventing the sun's rays from reaching our skin by reflecting and dispersing them. The chemical sunscreens work by absorbing ultra-violet rays and keep them from penetrating the skin. They are great at blocking about 95% of the UVB rays, but very little UVA. The degree of absorption depends on the type and concentration of chemical sunscreen. Ideally, you'd have a combination of the two in your sunscreen.

To get maximum sunscreen-age, apply it about 15 to 30 minutes before going into the sun so it can penetrate the keratinous layer of your skin. Re-apply it regularly every 2 to 4 hours, and especially if you've been swimming or sweating a lot.

The physical sunscreens are unlikely to cause a reaction on our skin - any reaction you might have is thanks to the other ingredients in the sunscreen - so if you have sensitive skin, stick with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and be okay with looking a little ghostly (I like this on my face, not so much on my legs!) These sunscreens might feel a little draggy, but it's a small price to pay to avoid sunburns!

If you're out in the sun - meaning, if you ever go outside - don't forget to protect your nose and lips. Your nose gets the most sun exposure, so sunscreen it well. And our lips can be protected with as little as your lipstick on a cloudy day, or with a water resistant sunscreen or lip balm during a sunny day.

Don't forget to get a good pair of UV blocking sunglasses. They'll protect your retinas and they'll make you squint less - and less squinting means fewer wrinkles, so you're looking good as well as feeling good!

How does SPF work? It's all about you! Let's say you burn after 10 minutes in the sun. SPF 15 will get you 150 minutes in the sun. SPF 30 will get you 300 minutes in the sun. But you have to re-apply after about 2 hours with a non-water resistant sunscreen anyway, so what's the point if you take 20 minutes to burn and you have to re-apply it after about 120 minutes? Because SPF 15 will block out about 93% of the UV rays, and SPF 30 will block out about 97%. For very fair skinned people, going from SPF 30 to 50 might get them another 1% coverage. Might not be a big deal for someone who has dark skin, but if you're like my husband (more below), that 1% could mean the difference between a slight reddening of his skin and a burn.

So how do we make our own? We don't.

As you may or may not know, my husband has vitiligo, a condition that leaves him without melanin in big patches in his skin and hair. (This is what they say Michael Jackson had, the condition that was making him white. As Raymond is already quite fair skinned, you don't notice it much.) So we buy sunscreen by the bucketload in the summer to ensure he isn't at risk for burning, which can happen in a few minutes for him. If I could make sunscreen that I could guarantee would work for him, I'd make it. But there are so many factors that go into ensuring a sunscreen works, I don't feel confident that it will prevent him from agonizing pain.

If you're considering making your own sunscreen, there is a lot of chemistry to know. You have to worry not only about the pH of a sunscreen but the emulsification of our lotion when making a sunscreen. As well, how do you know how effective your chosen sunscreen might be? Only by going into the sun and seeing if it works, and anecdotal evidence is not data - it might have been a cloudier than normal day, you might have been under a tree, you might have really sun resistant skin that doesn't burn for 30 minutes or more! If you have a fair skinned friend, she might burn in 10 minutes, and the product that works well for you might mean sunburn for her! 

There are so many scary things out there on the 'net about sunscreen, and I won't give them any validity by putting them into this post. The way I see it? Sunscreens block out the sun's rays. Sun makes me burn. Anything that prevents unnecessary pain today and wrinkling tomorrow works for me. (Click here for a post on pigmented skin through sun exposure and here for a post on photo-aging.)

Yes, I know anecdotes aren't data and this last paragraph is my opinion, but I really haven't found any valid studies showing that sunscreen causes more harm than good. 

If you're worried about sunscreens, then don't use them. Or choose sunscreens containing only certain ingredients, but not others. I hope I've shown you why we shouldn't make our own...

If you want to try a zinc oxide cream - very nice if you've had a little too much fun in the sun - may I suggest this recipe from Voyageur? I've used it for soothing various problems and I like it! I did tweak mine to include 10% aloe vera - good for post sun exposure - and added 2% hydrolyzed protein to the heated water phase and 2% panthenol to the cool down phase. Feel free to switch the stearic acid for cetyl alcohol for a slightly less thick but more glide-y product. And switch the oils if you wish

Want to know more about the ingredients in sunscreen? Then click here for zinc oxide and click here for titanium dioxide. And click here for a post on micronized ingredients (it's kinda long with lots of studies and links, so I thought it wiser to link to it than copy it here!). 


Nedeia said...

I have recently seen someone in my country selling a combo of oils and butters (shea, sea buckthorn and another, forgot which one), mixed with ZnO, claiming that this protects from UVA and UVB, and having a SFP of 30!! Just shake well before use ...

this makes me scream. she is a nurse and she is convincing people that this will provide an SPF of 30. Ans I am sure as hell that she did NOT test it in any lab, to prove that. My guess is thhat *MAYBE* she has used something like 30% ZnO (I have read on a website that this will provide something like SPF20) and maybe she is adding to this the SPF10 claimed to be hidden in Shea butter, sea buckthorn and the other oil.

in a world that is so easy fooled by chain mails (boo, all chemical sunscreens are BAD and cause you cancer and you will die), everyone is raving about this product. Ok, if you want to put it on your skin... but sell it and claim it has an SPF of 30?

I have tried once to make a sunblock stick, with ZnO at 20%. I have had an incredible hard time making sure that all the ZnO is properly dispersed, and I could still see white blobs of ZnO even after crshing them with a spatula for minutes and minutes. The sunblock worked like a charm, but I had to make my skin white for that (I have tested it on skin patches)

but that is it, no claims... grr...

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan - A few questions:

1. What does this mean? (from the power point)
UVA/UVB absorbance
Formulation Issues
- Use dispersant to reduce agglomeration (?)
- Use suspending agent (?)
- Avoid materials sensitive to polyvalent
materials (?)
Fatty acids (like Cetyl Alc?)
Carbomers (Like the gels Ulterz?)

2. If you use zinc though it will filter out the rays. I used to use it as a lifeguard - but that was really white. Not sure I want to walk around that way - lol. They say 1% is 1 spf...?

3. I know some oils have natural sunscreens - like Sesame, Shea, Rice Bran, plus some of the extracts. I assume if you have these in a regular lotion, it would offer a mild sunscreen vs. not using such ingredients, let alone adding some zinc. Plus with Zinc Oxide - you can't get more than 20SPF from what I have heard. Aubrey organics has one like this but it would have been tested I am sure.

4. I dont burn easily, so I am lucky - but there is still sun damage to consider. I only really use screens when I am frolicking in the sun - and then its a combo of zinc products and usually Coppertone - love the smell. So now I am trying to formulate my regular lotions with a mild protection for just walking around before/after work - or doing a few things in the garden vs. a pure sunscreen all the time - except on the face, maybe arms. What do you think?

Making a sunscreen that you can be sure of - I see could be very involved and of course we want to avoid chemicals. I really don't want to be using copper tone daily.

Thanks for your thoughts on this (when u have a chance)


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Seeta. Welcome to the blog! The point of the post was this - We don't make sunscreens at home. There are oils that have the potential to have a sun protection factor, but there is no way to test that the oil we have purchased has an SPF, so you can't trust it.

We can't say this much zinc equals this much protection because there are just too many variables that can nullify sun protection, so any chart that tells us that this much provides this much protection is giving you a false sense of security. And we can't make any of our products with any form of protection because there are so many things nullify sun protection. I have an entire textbook on formulating sunscreen, and it really isn't as simple as putting something into our lotion - there are many many things that can go wrong, and the consequences can be severe.

Chemicals are things composed of elements. Since everything in the world is composed of elements, everything in the world is a chemical. I think what you mean is "toxic chemicals" and I don't think there are any more of those in tested and approved sunscreens than one would find in something we would make at home.

You cannot make a sunscreen about which you can be sure at home, which is why we don't make sunscreens at home!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Susan....

I most definitely trust your experience on this as I know you would make a sunscreen that was safe if you felt you could, given the complexity. The power point is very involved and most definitely beyond my chemistry abilities.

I guess it can't hurt to use sun protective oils, extracts and zinc in our regular summer lotions- but in no way can we know if it is really protecting us the way we need protection out there.

I will keep all my sunscreens! :-)

Cheers Seeta