Sunscreens and Lycopene Re-Visited for Summer

Once again the FDA has given in to sunscreen manufacturers by announcing on Friday that it will delay the implementation of new sunscreen rules originally set to take effect this June.

The agency is once again kow-towing to the industries request for more time to clarify the extent of protection that their brands offer against skin cancer and skin aging.

Is it possible that this delaying tactic is due to the fact that sunscreen manufacturers realize that there is no way to make this skin protecting guarantee not to mention the expense in doing the proper UVA/UVB testing and re-packaging of their products?

What exactly is involved in measuring the protection against the sun’s harmful UVA rays? It is well established that UV radiation causes alterations in the skins immune system whose effects may be responsible for skin cancer and skin aging. Recent studies have shown that UVA (320-400 nm) and UVB (290-320 nm) are, in fact, immune-suppressive. As a result sunscreens, which mainly offer protection from UVB rays, may be less effective in preventing the possible risks for skin cancer.

There is a continuing need to measure and communicate the reliability of UVA protection offered by commercial sunscreens. Presently, there are three ways to measure UVA protection. In vivo (testing done on human volunteers), in vitro (done using a laboratory model mimicking human results), and new form of testing called ex vivo (that may be a happy medium between the two).

The in vivo persistent-pigment-darkening method requires human volunteers and uses a machine that measures the increase in darkening of pigment in human skin. This is an expensive approach requiring many volunteers to provide a suitable cohort of subjects to make this test significantly reliable considering the variability of human skin. The European Cosmetics Trade Association (COLIPA) has developed an in vitro method for measuring UVA protection in a standardized, reproducible manner. The method is based on in vitro UV substrate spectrophotometry and combines this data with the results obtained from in vivo absorbance data of the PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening ) testing done on human volunteers. This results in an in vitro UVA protection factor (UVAPF) which is correlated with an in vivo measure and eliminates the variability seen in human skin. This new method can be used to provide a reliable in vitro metric to describe and label UVA efficacy in sunscreen products.

The COLIPA methodology and their results were published in the International Journal of Cosmetics in February of 2010. Why is it that the Sunscreen Manufacturers need more time to provide data about their products? Could it be that they do not offer the protection they have been telling us about for years with bogus claims about UVA/UVB SPF protection with sunscreens with numbers as SPF 100! Could this be more about marketing than really protecting the public health? You be the judge. It is important to remember that not only is a claim about a product important but also the impression that claim makes on the consumer. For example, when you compare a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 to one with an SPF30 it is assumed, and logically so, that the product with the SPF 30 offers double the protection of a sunscreen with an SPF of 15. In fact, there is only about a 3% difference in skin protection. Again, I ask, why does the FDA’s new regulations allow sunscreens to carry SPF ratings as high as SPF 75 when the offer very little increased protection compared to products with an SPF of 30? Again, I leave this judgment to you.

What I do know is that there are things you can do to protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation. Studies published in 2010 and 2011 at the Center of Applied Cutaneous Physiology, Department of Dermatology, in Berlin show that repeated exposure to UV radiation produced the formation of free-radicals in human skin and that creams containing lycopene (a powerful form of beta-carotene) provided protection for human skin when exposed to IR irradiation when compared to unprotected skin.

It only makes sense that that the combination of a good sunscreen with the daily application of a cream rich in antioxidants, such as Lycopene, offer the best protection you can hope achieve in protecting your skin form damaging effects of daily exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.

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