A Cosmetic Chemist Breaks Down The Truth Behind Sunscreen

A Cosmetic Chemist Breaks Down The Truth Behind Sunscreen featured image

We recently spoke with Kao Brands cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos, just in time for summer, and got the answers to some of our biggest questions about protecting our skin from the sun this season.

Does a SPF higher than 30 really add any skin-saving benefits?
An SPF of 30 blocks about 97 percent of UVB energy, while an SPF of 70 blocks about 99 percent. So there isn’t a huge benefit to high SPF values, which may come at a greater cost and higher risk of irritancy. However, high SPF may be beneficial for those with high sun sensitivity or history of skin cancer.

What about UVA protection?

UVA rays cause deeper damage and accelerate skin aging. The FDA monograph that governs sunscreen formulation in the U.S. has yet to finalize UVA test methodology and labeling requirements so it can be difficult to judge the level of UVA protection in a sunscreen. Some ingredients that provide good UVA protection are avobenzone, ecamsule and zinc oxide.

Do SPFs work the same for all people?
Yes, the mechanisms by which sunscreens work don’t change. However, darker skin tones have more innate protection, but this should not preclude one from using sunscreens to protect from cumulative damage.

Are mineral sunscreens natural?
No, the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide used in any personal-care products are synthetic. Naturally occurring forms have various metal contaminants that make them potentially unsafe for use in cosmetics and sunscreens.

Does SPF clothing really work?
Clothing can offer substantial UV protection but only to the areas that are covered. Fabrics can be rated with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value, which unlike SPF, measures both UVA and UVB protection. The density of weave, color and treatment with UV filters are factors that influence UPF. The higher the UPF the greater the amount of UV rays that are blocked. A UPF of 50 means that 1 out of 50 units, or only 2 percent of UV, passes through the fabric. It is also important to keep in mind that how the fabric is treated can affect its ability to block UV. Wetting and stretching can decrease UPF value of a fabric.

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