Sunscreen is crucial, despite what one rogue study indicates

Earlier this year, a member posted the following comment about sunscreen usage:

“…I'm extremely concerned about ongoing research being done on sunscreen. It seems that at times you may be better off not using it at all; since it has been stated that it causes free radicals…”

At the time this thread was posted on the Non-Hair Discussion Board, I refrained from making any comment, even though other “old-timers” here know how passionate I am in advocating sunscreen usage. However, there are a couple of facts about the research that the member referenced that I feel need to be addressed.

Here’s some background to put this in context for you: when UV rays hit your skin, something called “reactive oxygen species” or “free radicals” are created. Free radicals are molecules that cause damage at a cellular level and are responsible for degenerative diseases and aging.

Researchers at the University of California at Riverside tested three of the most common UV-filtering products on the market. Their findings showed that when these products penetrate the skin, the level of free radicals present increases above the level caused by UV radiation alone. ("Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin," Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Volume 41, Issue 8, 15 October 2006, Pages 1205-1212)

The first thing you need to know about this is that it was ONE study only; versus hundreds and hundreds of studies that prove that sunscreen works—when used as directed—to protect us from the harmful effects of UVA/UVB radiation. This single study is getting one heck of a lot of press for something that has not been duplicated or vetted through a double-blind, peer-reviewed, generally accepted scientific method.

The second essential fact about this study is that it was conducted on ARTIFICIAL skin! Artificial skin has been increasingly used in testing cosmetics and skin care products due to the European Union ban on animal-testing. It is made in a Petri dish using skin tissue collected during plastic surgery. One major US producer of artificial skin has sent their product back to the drawing board as tests conducted on it were producing too many false positive results. In all my reading, I discovered that “quirky” results that can’t be replicated on actual people are a common occurrence in such tests.

For those two reasons alone, I’m going to take the results of that one study with a HUGE grain of salt!

However, if you feel it’s prudent to forgo sunscreen, here’s what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones:

Staying out of the sun when it’s at its strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is your best defense. Use umbrellas, and pop-up tents at the beach, and wear sunglasses and lightweight long-sleeved/legged clothing in shades of blue (which absorbs sunlight better than white).

Choose stable versions of sunscreen. Look for products containing zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or Mexoryl. Make sure it says “broad spectrum” on the label.

Use sunscreen properly—put enough on and reapply often. For an adult, the proper amount for the body is a shot glass full (1.5 ounces), plus a teaspoon for the face.

Higher SPF is not necessarily better; SPF 30 blocks 96% of the sun’s rays, SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%. You’ll still have to reapply every few hours and the SPF 100 is going to cost WAY more than the SPF 30!

Antioxidants improve the efficacy of sunscreen; so apply your own antioxidants before putting it on, or buy sunscreen that has antioxidants in it already—like Coppertone Nutrashield.

The jury is still out on that one study—while we wait for more information, don’t give up your sunscreen!

(Visit Coppertone.com for a coupon for Nutrashield.)