sunscreen lotions. also known as sunblock, or suntan lotion. Is it a must-have?
With today’s media & peer pressure, it seems like a taboo if we don’t use sunscreen before we step out. Sun has been made a villain. The way it is projected, sun seems to drown us in all kinds of skin issues. Really? In that case what did we do years back? did our parents & grandparents use this sunscreen protection? do we realize that in those days we never had these many skin diseases or so many dermatologists. Are we using sunscreens just because our friends in west use it? Like everything else are we getting influenced or is it fear of missing out ? Or is there anything really valuable to this sunscreen? Is it a must-have?
Pl join in me in the journey of understanding this.
To understand this topic better, we need to be familiar with Dr.Thomas B Fitzpatrick(1919-2003). a very important personality in the discussion of Sun Protection for skin. He was a very influential American dermatologist. He was an early researcher into the then-rare cancer – malignant melanoma.
He investigated the role of sunlight and especially sunburn in the development of melanoma. In 1975, he devised a scale in his name – Fitzpatrick scale of skin phototypes, which described the commontanning behaviour of various skin types.
Earlier to his scale.. there were 36 categories of skin types in Von Luschan scale. Von Luschan scale was used for racial classifications. Huh? Whaaat?
Here’s the scale. It’s interesting to know these. recall the emoji scales of colors in messaging apps & also fairness color checker scale cards that comes with some fairness creams? The basics for these are Mr.Luschan & Dr. Fitzpatrick
|Fitzpatrick Scale||Von Luschan categories||Looks||Features|
|Type 1||0–6||Very light or white,palest; freckles||always burns, never tans|
|Type 2||7–13||Light skinned, pale||usually burns, tans minimally|
|Type 3||14–20||Light intermediate||sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly|
|Type 4||21 - 27||moderate brown||burns minimally, always tans well|
|Type 5||28–34||dark brown||very rarely burns, tans very easily|
|Type 6||35-36||deeply pigmented dark brown to darkest brown or black||never burns|
Dr.Fitzpatrick worked with other researchers and with industry to develop and test some of the first modern sunscreens in 1975. Why? Because he was a developer of PUVA therapy for the treatment of psoriasis, vitiligo and other skin disorders.PUVA means psoralen and Ultraviolet A.
Psoralens are materials that make the skin more sensitive to UV light. They are photosensitizing agents found in plants naturally and are also manufactured synthetically. Psoralens are taken as pills (systemically) or can be applied directly to the skin by soaking the skin in a solution that contains the psoralens. These psoralens allow UVA energy to be effective at lower doses.
The cells that manufacture skin colour is melanocytes. Melanocytes have sensors that detect UV light and trigger the manufacture of brown skin color. This brown color protects the body from the harmful effects of UV light. It can also be connected to the skin's immune response.
And, PUVA therapy helps to increase the sensitivity of melanocytes so that it can manufacture brown skin color
If needed, pl read the last few paragraphs again to understand better why first sunscreens were developed. In simple words, sunscreens were made to help the paler skin become darker to escape melanoma.
We Indians have been blessed with good strong brown skin. Our skin is inbuilt with sunscreens. But, at one end while trying to look paler (read fairer) we are forcefully making our skin weaker & other end using sunscreens to make it stronger. Why? What are we actually trying to do? Why aren’t we questioning? Why aren’t we understanding the basics on who should use what?
a PUVA therapy that was supposed to be treatment of skin disorder have become a must-have daily care routine today. Isn’t this weird?
I am assuming & honestly hoping that you got the message. Great then. Let’s still continue
This blog definitely sounds like movies like interstellar & inception. It’s clear but not so clear. I can’t be more obvious. I will have to leave it to you to read more on this & take a decision if you need to use sunscreen in your daily care routine.
Can’t end this piece without explaining UV – ultra violet. You know V in VIBGYOR – the rainbow. The light beyond violet is ultra violet. Ultraviolet rays are invisible to most humansand broadly range from 10–400 nanometers. In this range, there’s UVA, UVB, UVC, NUV, MUV, FUV,H Lymen alpha, VUV and EUV
Generally Sunscreens claim to protect us from UVB than UVA. Why? A quick note is that UVA is very harmful & dangerous for pale & weak skin. And UVB is the one that causes redness & burn in pale & weak skin. There are sunscreens that claim to give a broad spectrum protection from both UVA & UVB. However, we need to dig more on this. Will continue on this series once I have enough information to share
Ok.. now what does the popular SPF mean? Sun Protection Factor. This SPF rating term was introduced in 1974. You can now relate this with timeline when Fitzpatrick scale was introduced.
SPF is a measure of sunburn-producing UV rays that reach the skin.
What this means is SPF 15 means that only 1⁄15 of the burning radiation will reach the skin, assuming 2mg of sunscreen (approx. 30 ml) is applied evenly per square centimetre of skin. We should also know that the effect of this thick coat is only for max 2 hours. Even if you use SPF150, you should apply a fresh thick coat every 2 hours. By the way, there’s no evidence even SPF 50 is more effective than SPF30.
Finally what does these sunscreens have in them to protect us from UVA & UVB? They have a heavy carrier oil to resist being washed off. in mineral based sunscreens, Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two minerals that are used in these creams. These absorb the UV rays from the sun, rather than allowing your skin to take those rays in.
still there are a lot of chemical based sunscreens that are used today. a lot of the ingredients in the chemical sunscreens are now known to cause damage to the skin and the environment. One of those ingredients is oxybenzone, which remains a key ingredient in most chemical sunscreens. wish we read the ingredient labels & wish we understood them
Oxybenzone isn’t just toxic to the environment, it can also harm humans. Research shows that when pregnant women are exposed to oxybenzone, it can lead to a birth defect called Hirshsprung’s disease (HSCR).
Another problem with oxybenzone is that it reacts to chlorine, which is commonly used for pool sanitation and at water treatment plants to remove toxins from the water. Chlorine and oxybenzone react to form traces of chloroform, which has a higher genotoxicity than oxybenzone alone. And we choose to wear sunscreen especially when we are in the pool. Oxybenzone has been found in urine and breast milk of people who use chemical sunscreens. Whoa.. what are we doing?
And we Indians, By applying approx. 30 ml of thick layer of sunscreen on our skin, we are saying no to required production of vitamin D3. We need vitamin D to help us in bone health, prevent colorectal cancers, breast cancers, prostate cancers and more.
Ok..were there traditional sunscreens to protect us from scorching sun? Yes. Yes. Our own umbrellas, cool shadows of trees, saree pallu covering heads, scarves, jasmine & rice bran pastes, our own sandal paste, sesame, coconut oils. Even till date, sun-protecting powder called burak or borak, made from water weeds, rice and spices are used by Sama-Bajau women from Maiga Island, Semporna, Malaysia
I sincerely hope this journey of mine to understand the sunscreen lotions has triggered a quest in you to know the products & use them on your skin consciously. In the land where we worship surya, we also have the wisdom to absorb the benefits of surya & keep away from those that our body doesn’t need. When a sunflower knows to turn heads at the right time, will our body not know how to protect itself? Yes. our body that is so sophisticated and the best automated system knows & indicates, but only if were mindful enough to know & act accordingly
As always, Wishing you health & happiness in abundance – Krithika Prasad
References: discussions with my mentors & doctors from Ayurveda, Siddha & Naturopathy