Dr Des and the importance of sunscreen
To prepare for the launch of Environ’s new RAD Shield® Mineral Sunscreen in August, Dr Des Fernandes talks about the importance of sun protection for the darker Fitzpatrick skin types.
Dr Des, there seems to be a common misconception that if you have a darker skin type, you don’t need to protect it from the sun. Where do you think this stems from?
I think this common error comes from the observation that people with darker skin seem to show far less signs of photo-ageing with wrinkles and sagging skin, and these signs are often more than 10 years later than on people with lighter skin. In addition, I think that pale skinned people thought that darker skinned people were adapted to the heavier sunlight and didn’t need to protect their skin.
What adverse effects does the sun have on unprotected darker Fitzpatrick skin types? The most important problem faced by many people with darker skin is the development of pigmented marks, especially on the face. Less common, but very serious, is when darker skin types develop skin cancers which often go unrecognised, until they are in an advanced stage. Even the simple basal cell carcinoma can present as a horrible pigmented cancer in darker skinned people that is difficult to treat. Darker skin types can also get squamous cell carcinomas, but what we really worry about is the development of melanomas on the soles of the feet, or nails, or even in the eyes. These cases often present at a very advanced stage and our chances of saving them is rather low. One surprising discovery was that while melanin protects us from UV damage, when melanin itself is damaged by UV light, it becomes quite a potent destructive agent against DNA and promotes the development of cancer, especially melanoma. So while melanoma is uncommon in darker skins, when it does happen, it is much more deadly than on paler skin.
What should be the minimum recommended SPF for darker skin types?
You need to know the basic SPF value of your skin. If you are a Fitzpatrick type I, the SPF value is just one and only a little higher for Type II, which is about SPF 3. The average type IV walks around with a natural SPF of about 4. Type V skin is more resistant and may be about SPF 6 to 8 , while type VI can range from about 8 to an absolute maximum of 14 for a really dark skinned person from Central Africa.
Research in laboratories has shown that in pale skins, SPF 2 dropped the risk of skin cancer by 50% and SPF 15 totally prevented the development of skin cancer. Dark skinned people in South Africa have a range of about SPF 4 to about 10. Research shows that SPF 15 totally blocks the development of skin cancer, so contrary to other clinicians, I believe that dark skinned people are made absolutely safe by using an SPF of 15 and protected from the ravages of ageing and cancers (rare as they might be). BUT, we are only talking about UVB rays that are only about 5% of the UV rays we encounter. Ninety-five-percent of the UV rays we encounter are UVA, and SPF doesn’t give any indication of how well the product protects against UVA. In fact, the higher the SPF, the less ‘room’ there is in the formulation to devote to UVA blockers. UVA penetrates deeper and even in the darkest skin, the natural sun-blocker, melanin, is not totally protective and about one third of the UVA rays still penetrate right into the deeper layer of the skin. They wreak damage by creating free radicals. Therefore, in a sunscreen you not only need SPF 15, but also a strong UVA protection and you have the free radical scavengers created by the UVA rays to deal with too. In addition, those UVA rays damage melanin and create a free radical in melanin, so one needs the free radical scavengers to minimise the damage to melanin.
Darker skins also absorb more Infra-Red (IR) rays and, as a result, increase heat in the skin. So, for darker skins, we need to cover the SPF and we need to concentrate on UVA and also protect from IR.
I believe that the new RAD Shield® Mineral Sunscreen is specifically formulated for oily skins and is also ideal for darker skin types. Please comment.
We needed a sunscreen that can be safely applied on the skin and that does not migrate too much. That can cause stinging in the eyes, so the one plan suited two objectives.
What are the new technologies behind the RAD Shield® Mineral Sunscreen?
First of all, the minerals have to micronised ultra fine and then they need to be coated to prevent interactions with other chemicals. This is especially true for zinc oxide. That is why almost all mineral-only sunscreens do not contain antioxidants. Because the zinc oxide is well coated, we could introduce vitamin E and carotenoid antioxidants into the product. These special colourless carotenoids have an advantage in also dealing with blue light (to protect from pigmentation problems), but also to reduce IR problems. In this case, we were also able to introduce a specific new IR ‘blocker’ that reduces the effects.
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