Shining a Light on Sunscreen
The Food and Drug administration’s (FDA) new regulations for over-the-counter sunscreens taking effect this summer mark a major change in the suncare industry. Under the new rules, only sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays can be labeled as broad spectrum; only sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging; and products cannot be labeled waterproof, sweatproof, or sunblock, because such claims are false. Sunscreen and water resistant are the preferred terms. This policy is fortuitous timing, as experts say sunscreens are in need of a makeover. “More than 80 percent of sunscreens provide inadequate protection from the sun’s harmful rays or contain ingredients with safety concerns, according to a recent analysis by the Environmental Working Group of 785 sunscreens of SPF 15 or higher,” says dermatologist Susan Stuart, M.D.
While everything from drugstore formulations to boutique brands must adhere to the FDA’s mandate, the high-end skincare world is often steps ahead of government policy. For these manufacturers, part of the challenge is developing forward-thinking technologies through limited, often antiquated FDA regulations. Chris Birchby, founder and CEO of COOLA, believes the FDA needs to approve more active ingredients and study the ones that are in development. For example, there are currently only 18 FDA-approved active ingredients in sunscreen that provide protection, while more progressive countries like Japan and the European Union nations have closer to 30. “They know UVAs are the really damaging, cancer-causing rays,” says Bryan Johns, CEO of Innovative Skincare. “Those deep rays are the bad ones…it takes 15 to 20 years for sun damage to appear.” According to him, it’s challenging to have to follow four or five different regulatory agencies—one label for Asia, Australia, European Union, and the U.S.—that each have different laws. “I’d like to see a globally harmonized method for measuring UVA and UVB protection,” says Johns.
In an effort to bring safer and more effective suncare to consumers, companies are introducing innovative new formulations that address issues beyond FDA basics. One area under the microscope is counteracting free radical damage triggered by exposure to UV rays. This is important, because it can alter DNA and cause hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and skin cancer. For its latest Extreme Protect SPF 30, Innovative Skincare’s new brand, iS, applied a trademarked Extremozyme technology to its latest version of Extreme Protect SPF 30. This technology is based on the company’s study of extremophiles—organisms that survive in the planet’s most extreme areas of pressure, cold, and heat—to develop a formula that halts the formation of thymine dimmers in the epidermis, which are formed when nuclear DNA within cells experience free radical damage. “We’ve gone far beyond being able to protect the skin with antioxidants and SPF to protecting DNA itself,” Johns says. “We are now scientifically able to achieve entirely new levels of protection.” Also to up the ante on photoprotection against UV rays and free radicals, Dermalogica’s UV Smart Booster Technology uses encapsulated essential antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, that are released when exposed to UV rays.
The plant kingdom is also offering up advances in active ingredients that enhance SPF. The FDA still won’t allow companies to claim 100 percent natural products to be labeled as sunscreen, so the addition of a chemical active is required. However, Birchby says the industry’s discoveries may, in time, change legislation. “As more ingredients are researched and come to market, there’s going to be a real change in sunscreen, as it can become more natural and get away from chemical actives,” he says. To that end, COOLA’s new mineral line, called Plant UV, includes patented plant stem cell ingredients that can provide broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection—natural phyto-protectors, or plant-based sun protectors, have been shown to enhance SPF. Algae, beeswax, plankton, and sesame seed oil contain small amounts of natural SPF value. “We put natural phyto-protectors in products so we can keep active levels low and give better protection,” says Birchby.
Dermalogica’s oleosome technology found in its reformulated products, Solar Defense Booster SPF50 and Oil Free Matte SPF30, uses the oil capsules found naturally in safflower seeds. “Cosmetic scientists have learned that these spherical structures can be loaded with active substances, such as sunscreens, providing both a means of delivery, as well as a stabilized environment for actives that may break down under normal conditions,” says Diana Howard, Ph.D., vice president of research and development and global education for Dermalogica. Beyond acting as a delivery capsule for sunscreens and actives, the oleosomes also act as natural emulsifying agents that allow a reduction in the amount of emulsifier used in a formula, which can interfere with chemical sunscreen activity. “The end result is that we get a boost to SPF activity with a lower concentration of sunscreen actives and emulsifiers,” says Howard.
Improving the Look of Sunscreen
Sunscreens are also becoming inherently more wearable. “One of the reasons people don’t use sunscreen is because it’s miserable to put on,” says Robert Friedman, M.D., a clinical professor at NYU School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology and a co-founder of MD SolarSciences. This particularly comes into play with some mineral sunscreens, which Birchby says, “leave you with a more opaque whiter look on the skin.” To avoid the chalky look of some mineral sunscreens, COOLA uses encapsulated titanium and zinc particles (physical blockers that reflect the sun) to achieve an equal dispersal system that ultimately reflects sunlight. MD SolarSciences develops natural mineral-based sunscreens with ingredients that feel silky on the skin and stand the least chance of causing an allergic reaction but also don’t harm the environment. For example, sunscreens worn by swimmers can leech into the water, and over time, kill algae, coral, and other marine life. Some products now utilize micronized ingredients that yield a more aesthetically pleasing application, such as Jane Iredale—The Skin Care Makeup Powder-Me SPF. “There are several reasons why Jane Iredale minerals don’t leave an opaque white chalky look on the skin, primarily because we do not use any fillers like talc or FD&C dyes,” says Tricia Campbell, director of education. “Our micronized minerals are concentrated pigments, which have the ability to refract and reflect light. Fillers do not have this ability; they absorb light, which creates that grey, white chalky cast to the skin. According to her, too much zinc oxide in a product can create a similar result. “Finding the right balance in the product formulation is the key to reaping the protective benefits of zinc oxide without it being visible on the skin,” says Campbell.
As guidelines change and new innovations come to market, education at the spa level is essential to guide consumers on the most effective sunscreens as well as proper use on how much and how often to apply. “One of the most common misconceptions is that the higher the sunscreen number, the greater the protection,” says Stuart. Experts say SPFs higher than the target range of about 20 to 50 only provide a small percentage of extra protection and may be loaded with even more active chemical ingredients. It is important to note that many spa-goers undergoing treatments involving lasers and peels will experience skin with a heightened sensitivity to UV light. Concluding facials and other skincare treatments with an application of sunscreen is another way to stress the importance of suncare to your clientele. When it comes to influencing the industry, “estheticians and spa directors give us feedback, and we can quickly adjust and create a newer and better product,” says Birchby. “We have the world’s best focus group.”—Brooke Showell