Four factors that will make you rethink sunscreens in 2018

Regulatory inconsistency and consumer compliance were among key topics discussed during 'The Sunscreen Review Roundtable' at the SCC's 71st Annual Scientific Meeting in New York

1. New understanding of wavelength and its effects

Sunlight is energy from the sun reaching earth as electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths from 250nm at the UV end of the spectrum to 1,000nm at the infrared (IR) end. Light has many benefits including enhancing mood, producing vitamin D and (not least) enabling us to see where we’re going.

But sunlight has a problem: its energy damages our skin if we are exposed to too much. Even defining too much is a problem as it depends on many factors including the type of skin you have, the amount of natural protection built up over time and cultural aspects such as inherent melanin levels.

Established thinking suggests that UVB in the 320-290nm range is the real bad boy. UVB damages the top layers of skin including stratum corneum and the epidermis where most skin cancers develop.

UVB damage causes sunburn in the short term and can develop melanomas in the longer term. We can tell if a sunscreen is effective at blocking UVB, as it will prevent the obvious sunburn and, by extension, also prevent the cell damage that cause mutation and melanoma.

Modern sunscreens block UVB rays almost entirely and when applied properly sunburn is much reduced to the point of being eliminated. So job done? No... nowhere near.

UVA is emerging as a big problem that current sunscreens are not coping with. Melanoma rates in the US alone are still climbing with almost 5 million new episodes diagnosed a year. Current sunscreens are not effective and the damage it causes just doesn’t present in the same way that sunburn does.

Damage often takes years to manifest so whether its the beach, the back garden or a sunbed the problem hides. There are many cases of young girls, who with their parents written approval, used sunbeds to get a striking school prom tan and then found melanomas developing in their early 20s.  Are they going to sue their parents? Either way, it won’t help.

It’s not just UVA that’s causing a problem . . .

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