Skin cancer and protection against ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun were two of many topics discussed at the World Congress of Dermatology in Milan recently.
One point that was touched on, was the fact that while many moisturisers and make-up products contain Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which protects against ultraviolet light type B (UVB), not all of them protect against ultraviolet light type A (UVA). A useful way to distinguish between UVB and UVA is to remember ‘B for burning’ and ‘A for aging’, however both are associated with skin cancer.
For good UV protection, it is vital to check the creams you use are broad spectrum, meaning that it protects against both UVA and UVB damage.
Everyday UV exposure
We should be aware that UV damage is cumulative and builds up over our lifetime. It often occurs without us even realising it, while we engage in everyday activities that we may not count as sun exposure, for example:
- Going to the washing line,
- Walking the dog,
- Taking a child for a stroll in the push-chair,
- Dropping children to school,
- Standing at the school gates,
- Driving to work, or
- Sitting beside a sunny window.
We may not consciously think of UV protection for these activities, so it is easy to clock-up the effects of UV damage, adding to our cumulative risk of skin cancer and skin aging. For example, when the UV index is 3 or above, we need to protect our skin.
In Ireland, particularly from April – September, the UV index is usually 3 or above, even when it is cloudy!
UV damage which causes skin cancer builds up over our lifetime. It can occur during activities we do not count as sun exposure e.g. hanging out the washing, dropping children to school & driving to work.
Why choose a moisturiser or make-up with SPF?
Most people choose a moisturiser or make-up with SPF to protect their skin from burning and/or photo-aging. Photo-aging occurs as a result of UV exposure over a lifetime, leading to the formation of wrinkles, sagging skin and dark pigmented spots.
Moisturisers are primarily designed to deliver ingredients that hydrate and lubricate the skin, and make it supple.
Foundation/make-up is applied to create a uniform smooth complexion.
However, sunscreens are specifically manufactured to protect the skin, forming a shield to filter the harmful effects from overexposure to the sun’s UV rays, mainly UVA and UVB.
Does your moisturiser or foundation protect against UVB & UVA rays?
For good UV protection, a product should be ‘broad spectrum’ i.e. it should protect against both UVA and UVB. Most moisturisers and cosmetics only contain SPF, which provides protection against UVB.
SPF is rated on a scale from 2-50+; the higher the factor, the greater the level of protection against UVB. SPF 15 filters approximately 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters approximately 97% and SPF 50 filters approximately 98%. No sunscreen can provide 100% UV protection.
UVA penetrates more deeply in to the skin and causes damage to the collagen, resulting in signs of aging, but can also cause damage to cells resulting in skin cancer. Remember UVA can pass through glass, so if you are working in an office by the window, or driving for a living you may need to consider using broad spectrum sunscreen. A broad spectrum cream will indicate the SPF, and have a UVA logo or the star rating.
Most moisturisers and cosmetics only contain only SPF, which only provides protection against UVB. UVA penetrates more deeply in to the skin and causes damage to the collagen, resulting in the signs of aging.
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. Ideally we need to apply about 5mls (around a teaspoon) to the face and neck and ears to get the correct sun SPF (i.e. the number indicated on the product). When using a moisturiser, we probably do not apply enough to get the correct SPF either!
To achieve better protection against UV damage, use a broad spectrum sunscreen in conjunction with your moisturiser and foundation.
Remember, whether at home or abroad this summer, occasional, intense sun exposure and sunburn increases skin cancer risk. More about melanoma and skin cancer here.
We want everyone in Ireland to learn to Protect & Inspect their skin! Download our short guide, written with hospital-based dermatologists, to checking your skin.