Sun, Sun Go Away

Your sunscreen may not be as effective as you think: Experts discuss how to protect your skin

Experts discuss how to protect your skin from cancer

Austin Photo Set: News_Jennifer Walden_sunscreen_August 2011
Experts discuss what you need to know about skin protection and sunscreen.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, has increased nearly 2 percent each year from 2000 to 2009 in spite of a well-documented increase in sunscreen sales in recent years. 

To combat this rise, the FDA has recently cracked down on regulations for sunscreen labeling rules. Here are some key changes you need to be aware of when it comes to buying sunscreen:

Broad spectrum designation. Only sunscreens that pass the FDA's broad spectrum test, which measures a product's ultraviolet A (UVA) protection relative to its ultraviolet B (UVB) protection, are allowed to use the term "broad spectrum" on their front labels. Use of the term "broad spectrum protection" now means that the sunscreen has been proven to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. 

SPFs below 15. Any product that's below SPF 15 must carry a warning label stating that it does not protect against skin cancer. 

Waterproof. Sunscreen products are no longer allowed to claim they're "waterproof," only water-resistant. The terms "sweatproof" and "sunblock" are also off limits as well. Sunscreens that use the term "water-resistance" must indicate on the front label whether the sunscreen is effective for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes while engaging in swimming or sweating, based on prior testing.

Beyond SPF 50. Companies are allowed to sell SPFs beyond 50, however, the FDA is currently evaluating whether these products should remain on the market, since it's unclear whether sunscreens with higher SPFs are actually that much more effective than SPF 50. 

Reapplication. Sunscreen manufacturers are not allowed to claim their products provide protection for more than two hours after application, or that they provide instant protection right after application, without seeking prior approval from the FDA. 

Though we are becoming a much more cancer-aware society, many of us are overlooking key steps in protecting ourselves from harmful rays. So before you run out and soak up the Austin sun this summer, make sure you are protecting your skin in the most effective, efficient ways possible. To provide you with some insight on how to protect yourself from skin cancer, skin damage and premature aging, we reached out to three skin care experts to ask questions about skin protection and how to embrace effective habits and products that deter skin cancer. 

Peter Thomas Roth, founder of the famed Peter Thomas Roth skincare line.
CultureMap: Tell me a bit about what made you decide to incorporate sunscreen into your skincare line?

Peter Thomas Roth: All skincare routines stop and end with sun care. It is the single most important step in your skincare routine. Sunscreen should be correctly applied 365 days a year and is the first line of defense against sunburn, premature skin aging and skin cancer. Peter Thomas Roth sunscreens are fully compliant with the new FDA sunscreen monograph, protect from UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays, help prevent early skin aging and decrease the risk of skin cancer.  

CM: Are there any other steps you recommend people take in protecting their skin besides sunscreen? Hats, sunnies, UV-protective clothing?

PTR: My family has been using rash guards long before they were common. The more protection the better. When my kids were young, they never left for day camp without a hat and a rash guard. They always carried a sunscreen in their backpack, but realistically, kids will not reapply as often as needed. I have also preached that we have to be shade magnets. Whether you're walking on the side of the street or waiting for the bus, find a shady space to wait. If you sit on the beach, use an umbrella and cover up with a beach towel.  

CM: What are a few of the products you recommend for first-time users of Peter Thomas Roth sunscreens? What are the staples people should have?

PTR: Everyone should have two sunscreens, one they keep at home and one for their bag. A great multi-tasking product for someone who is new to the line is the Max Sheer All Day Moisture Defense Lotion with SPF 30. It is a lightweight moisturizer with broad spectrum SPF 30 protection. Any of the Peter Thomas Roth Instant Minerals are ideal for on-the-go sunscreen since they are in a convenient pocket size applicator. They are translucent, brush-on powders for immediate, anytime UVA/UVB protection.  

Holly Thaggard, CEO and Founder of SuperGoop!.
CultureMap: What was the inspiration behind Supergoop!?

Holly Thaggard: When I was in my late twenties, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with melanoma. He was my age, so it really scared me. After learning that skin cancer is not only the most common cancer in the United States but also primarily preventable, I launched Supergoop! to create a line of skincare products with a focus on healthy ingredients and UV protection.

CM: How have you seen people's views about sun protection and skin cancer change over the past decade? When I was growing up, it seemed that tanning was all the rage. I feel like people are more prone to protect themselves now.

HT: You make a great point. In the '70s and '80s, we were told that there wasn’t anything wrong with a “healthy tan” and that we should only be concerned with the damaging effects of UVB rays. Well, now we know that’s not the case, and people understand the need for broad-spectrum UV protection. The next step is making sure people understand the importance of antioxidants and continuous, year-round protection. The belief that sunscreen is only for the summer, or hot and sunny days, is a dangerous one. The sun can do damage to your skin year-round, and that’s a big part of why Supergoop! is working hard on our education initiatives in addition to our suite of products. 

CM: What made you decide to create so many different types of sunscreen products for Supergoop!? 

HT: Different parts of the body, especially parts of the face, require different attention and protection. For example, the delicate area around the eyes absorbs sun differently than your lips and the rest of your body. People feel differently about how they want to apply SPF — under or over makeup, for example — and so it’s important to me that Supergoop! offers a full suite of SPF-infused skin care. I also feel strongly about convenience, so our collection includes formulas like our SPF 30+ Everyday UV Face and Body Moisturizer, which offer single SPF solutions for the entire family.  

CM: What is your daily sunscreen routine like? Do you wear primer, hats, long sleeves or UV resistant clothing? Tell me a bit about what you do to protect yourself every day.

HT: First, I start with my Clarisonic Skin Care System for a comprehensive cleanse. After that, I alternate between using Supergoop! SPF 40 Antioxidant-Infused Sunscreen Day Cream and SPF 30 Anti-Aging City Sunscreen Serum. I add Supergoop! SPF 37 Advanced Anti-Aging Eye Cream to protect the vulnerable area around my eyes and then layer on our SPF 30 Daily Correct CC Cream to correct any discoloration. 

I love Cover Clothing because the cut of the designs are so stylish plus they have built-in sun protection. While I’d love to find a nice wide-brimmed, floppy hat that looks good on me, I usually pull out one of the many white baseball caps I have collected from my travels. All of these steps happen before I leave my house, but most importantly, my daily routine continues throughout the day. SPF reapplication is extremely important. 

Dr. Carlos Gomez-Meade, D.O., Board Certified Dermatologist and Fellowship Trained Mohs Surgeon at Vitalogy Skincare in Austin.
CultureMap: There are a few changes that have happened at the FDA regarding sunscreen labeling. Tell me a bit about what you've seen change.

Carlos Gomez-Meade: They are trying to pinpoint the differences between the specific coverages that are available as far as over the counter products. They're making sure the terminology is more accurate and less misleading. For example, there is a lot more specific naming as far as what's covered for UVB protection vs. UVA protection. Also, SPF numbers are being discussed as well. For example, an SPF of 15 covers about 95 percent of UVB, and depending on whether it's broad spectrum, UVA as well. An SPF of 30 covers about 97 percent, and an SPF of 50 covers about 98 percent.

A lot of the numbering for the protective factors has gone into the 100s, and so they're trying to revise the nomenclature and rename it into something such as SPF 50+ as opposed to a specific number beyond 50. They're trying to re-identify UVA measures since UVA and UVB are different protective factors, and they both have a role as far as sun damage, photoaging and skin cancer. 

CM: I've seen a lot of SPFs that are lower than SPF 15. Do you urge people not to look to those as effective sunscreens?

CGM: The new minimum recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology is SPF 30. It used to be SPF 15, but it recently changed to SPF 30. I actually recommend my patients use SPF 50; the reason being is that most people apply about half as much as you should really be applying. For example, let's say you apply half of thirty, then you're only getting about SPF 15 protection. 

CM: I assume that companies don't aim to trick consumers into buying something that won't provide them with the necessary protection, but what are some things people need to be aware of when buying sunscreen?

CGM: It should say broad spectrum coverage, or broad coverage, which typically means it covers UVA and UVB. Some people choose to go down the route of water-resistant sunscreen, and I do encourage it, but that doesn't mean it's waterproof. Water-resistant means if your skin gets wet, it's still on your skin, but you'll have to reapply it after about 20 to 30 minutes after you get in the water. Sweat breaks down sunscreen as well. Those are the main issues. I also recommend non-pore clogging, also called noncomedogenic, which means it won't make you break out.

Really though, It's a matter of finding which sunscreen works best for you. I always tell my patients the best sunscreen is one you're going to use. Go through a few and eventually you'll find the one that works for you. 

CM: Other than sunscreen, what are some tips that people need to follow in protecting their skin?

CGM: The main thing is don't go out in the sun just to get sun. In general, wear long-sleeve clothing. There is some UV clothing out there, and those typically are best if you're going to be outside for a while. They range from sports clothing to button-down shirts. Wearing a broad-brim hat works. There are even hats that have SPF in them and sun protective factors. The big one is no tanning beds. Tanning beds are a real danger when it comes to skin cancer. They increase your chances for skin cancer about 75 percent for melanoma, and it only goes up after every tanning bed session. There are a lot of myths out there, such as healthy sun exposure, which doesn't exist. 

CM: Something I worry about is developing skin cancer and never seeing the warning signs. What are some things people need to be on the lookout for when it comes to skin cancer?

CGM: Skin cancer has many phases and varieties. If you look at a dermatologist textbook, there are pages and pages on just skin cancers alone. There are different types and different levels. The more common ones are called squamous cells and basal cells. Basal cells are the most common we come across, squamous cells are the second most common. A lot of times they present a sore that doesn't heal, or something that's scaly. People can pick it off, but it comes right back.

Melanoma has the screening test [ABCDE]. Melanoma we usually has asymmetry, A, or a pigment area on your skin that has asymmetry. B is for border irregularity, like jagged borders and not completely round. C is color variation, which means you have a little black, brown, blue, or red, maybe some white. D is for diameter, which means its greater than 6 mm. E is for evolving, or something that's changing. That one tends to be the most accurate and common, believe it or not. People know their bodies very well, and they can tell when a spot is growing or changing. 

CM: What can you do to catch these things early?

CGM: I always encourage patients get their skin checked by a dermatologist. Primary doctors can do initial screenings, but the more thorough screening is usually more accurate, and you'll get that from a dermatologist. In dermatology we have to do a three-year residency after medical school. It takes that long to know all the different scenarios of skin cancer and other things that occur with skin. I encourage getting your skin exam done with a dermatologist about twice a year, and that's if you have never had a history of skin cancer. If you have had a history with skin cancer, it should definitely be more frequent.