Sunscreen, sun beds and the myth of the safe tan.


Sun beds banned!!

This week the decision to ban commercial sun-beds was passed in 4 states of Australia and will become effective on December 31st. This seems like a LONG overdue ruling but a very welcome one in my opinion. 

Why the ban?

Or why in a country like Australia with so much sun would there ever be the need for anyone to bother with sun beds.

Well, there lies the problem. For a very long time, sun beds were viewed as a safe way to get a tan. Most of us now know this is SO very far from the truth. There is no such thing as a safe tan and certainly not one gained from a sun bed. 


What happens when you lie on a sun-bed?

When you lie on a sun bed you experience something far worse than going out in the sun without sunscreen protection.
A few facts for you. 
  • Sun beds emanate UVA light.
  • UVA light whether from a sun bed or from the sun, does not burn the skin. You cannot feel UVA light. 
  • UVA is a much longer wavelength than UVB.
  • As a long wavelength, the reach of UVA is right down to the  basal and dermal layers of the skin.
  • Because UVA penetrates directly into the basal and dermal layer of your skin there is long term DNA damage occurring in the skin, including the risk of skin cancers including melanoma. (the deadliest skin cancer)
  • Basal cell carcinoma’s are formed in the basal layer of the skin. The layer is at the base of the epidermis. 
  • Sun beds have never given anyone a ‘SAFE’ tan.


What happens when you lie in the sun?

When you venture out into the sun you will be exposed to UVA and UVB wavelengths. The amount of exposure you receive will be dependant on the time of year, the amount of time you spend outdoors and the type of sunscreen you choose to wear. 
A few more facts.. 
  • Every day, no matter the weather forecast UVA will reach the earth and if you do not protect your skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen, will cause long term damage. 
  • UVA is divided into two wave ranges UVA 1 and UVA 2. Which are measured in nanometers. 
  • UVA1 has a wavelength of 340 – 400 nanometers.
  • UVA2 has a wavelength of 320 – 340 nanometers.
  • On very warm sunny days UVB, being a shorter wavelength will reach your skin and burn the surface of your skin.
  • On a medium to hot day, most skins will begin to burn between 10 to 20 minutes depending on your natural skin colour. 
  • When you skin is exposed to the sun, the melanin in the skin is stimulated to create a tan. A tan thickens the skin to protect it from further assault from the sun. However, a tan WILL NOT protect your skin from the risks of skin cancers.
  • As a long length wavelength, UVA can penetrate through cloud and glass. 
  • Without broad spectrum sunscreen protection you are at risk of UVA damage everyday of the year, no matter how dull it may look outside. 
  • The immunity of your skin is compromised every time your skin is burnt by the sun.


What is a broad spectrum sunscreen?

Most modern sunscreens are broad spectrum, which means your skin is protected not just from the burning of UVB rays but also protects your skin from the deeper and more ageing effect of UVA 1 and 2.  


Which sunscreen ingredients to look for.

Probably the best way to assure yourself of adequate broad spectrum protection is to look for sunscreens that have been approved by the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) which applies to products in Australia and New Zealand or the FDA which is the United States Food and Drug Administration and for many EU Member States across Europe and the UK it is the European Medicines Agency. 


Sunscreen Ingredients. Chemical/synthetic (organic) versus Physical (inorganic) filters.

Physical blockers (inorganic) sunscreens will filter or shatter the UV light rays of the sun and if you are looking for something considered more ‘natural’ then either Zinc or Titanium Dioxide are your best options. However, Titanium Dioxide alone will not provide you with broad spectrum protection as it will only protect up to about 340 nanometers or UVA2, whereas Zinc protects the skin from the entire spectrum, UVA 1&2 as well as UVB, which is why it is by far the most effective and safest way to protect your skin from the sun. 
Chemical/synthetic (organic) filters on the other hand, are designed to absorb UV light. Ingredients such as Oxybenzone, Homosolate,Octylmethoxycinnamate, Avobenzone (also known as Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane), Octocrylene and Bemotrizinol (Tinosorb) are the most commonly used. Not all of these chemical sunscreen ingredients will block the full broad spectrum and will usually be seen in combination with other ingredients to assure full protection. 


It’s in your makeup. Is this enough?

NO. Most makeup formulations will have some degree of sun protection, but an SPF rating is not an indication of broad spectrum. It’s a very good idea to ask before you buy, if your makeup formulation is broad spectrum, as many rely on titanium dioxide which is NOT a broad spectrum sun filter and although may protect your skin from burning will not protect the deeper layers of your skin.


Which sunscreen ingredients should you choose

This will come down to your own personal preference. If you worry about synthetic ingredients on your skin, then opt for a zinc formulation, but if you really don’t like the slightly thicker feeling of zinc on your skin then you’ll opt for a chemical filter. However, these days the sophistication of micronised zinc provides some very food zinc formulations that feel amazing on the skin, making it easy to wear them all year round. 


Wondering what your skin really looks like?

A few months back a short film was made by film maker Thomas Leveritt. It’s been viewed over 14 million times. Which is amazing in itself, but if you have yet to see it, then you’ll find it below. There is no trickery in this film and many cosmetic doctors, dermatolgists and good beauty salons will have some kind of device which can show you the level of your UV damage.


Sure, it’s a frightening sight, but sometimes that’s what it takes as New Yorker, Thomas Leveritt says “Put on some damn sunscreen already!!” 


It’s not just about summer sun

The images in this film did not just happen during the summer months, although it is when your skin it is at the most risk. Sun damage is something that accumulates over a lifetime. No matter where you live and what time of year it is.
As for those sun beds. I have always shuddered at the thought of anyone lying under one of them and I am very relieved that is some states of Australia and in other parts of the world they are being banned at last!! Now, onto the next crusade..


See you next time,

The Beauty Issue