Dear Paula's Choice Research Team - Sun Care

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
How often do I need to reapply SPF? I spend most of the day sitting in an office by a window, and only go out once or twice for a walk, often when it's cloudy or raining.

—Jessica, via Facebook

Dear Jessica,
Windows block the sun’s burning rays—known as UVB—but not the UVA rays. You’ll want to apply a sunscreen rated at least SPF 30 and, if possible, take steps to control how much daylight is getting in. For example, if the window you sit by has blinds, adjust them to minimize direct exposure to daylight.

If you’re applying a broad-spectrum product rated SPF 30 or greater, and assuming you’re not perspiring heavily, there is no need to reapply it throughout the day in the scenario you presented.

However, you can take steps to build greater sun protection by layering products with SPF ratings. Along with your daytime moisturizer with SPF 30, you can apply a foundation with sunscreen, and then set that with a pressed powder rated SPF 15 or greater. The powder can also be used to touch up your SPF during the day, without the need to wash off the rest of your makeup and start anew.

Check out our top-rated moisturizers and foundations with sunscreen.
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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
What level of SPF is safe for use around the eye area? I just purchased a tube of eye cream by Clinique that I really like and it has an SPF of 20. I’m also using a Paula’s Choice moisturizer with SPF 30 all over my face, including the eye area. I apply both during the day only and, so far, I haven’t experienced any problems. Is it okay to continue with what I’m doing?

—Barbara

Dear Barbara,
What you’re doing is just fine and there’s no reason not to continue. Doubling (or even tripling) up on sun protection around the eyes is a good thing, especially if the SPF-rated products you’re using contain the mineral actives titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Both of these are very gentle and, as such, well-suited for use in the sensitive eye area.

If you want to increase your eye-area sun protection even further, finish with a foundation rated SPF 15 or greater. You can also apply a concealer with sunscreen, such as L’Oreal Visible Lift Serum Absolute Advanced Age-Reversing Concealer SPF 20 or bareMinerals SPF 20 Concealer.

Finally, anytime the sun is shining, make sure you wear sunglasses outdoors. They not only will protect your eyes from UV light (unprotected exposure is a leading cause of cataracts), but also will serve as an additional measure of protection for the delicate skin around your eyes. Plus, a great pair of sunglasses can be so chic! It’s win-win!

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I'm 60 years old and recently switched from your Resist line to the Skin Balancing line to address my combination skin and tendency for red cheeks. Love it, love it! I now want to tackle my brown spots and discolorations from sun damage. I see you have both AHA and BHA exfoliant products, but I'm confused which would work better for my combination skin. Help!

—Linda

Dear Linda,
Both AHA and BHA exfoliants can help improve skin tone, texture, and dark spots, although neither AHA nor BHA exfoliants are likely to significantly improve dark spots on their own.

The best solution is to use an AHA or BHA exfoliant (it doesn't matter which) in combination with a skin-lightening product, or to use a skin lightener that also exfoliates. The Paula’s Choice line has two options: a skin-lightening lotion with 7% AHA and a skin-lightening gel with 2% BHA. Both are good for combination skin, although you may want to go for the lotion since your Skin Balancing routine already includes a BHA exfoliant.

The skin-lightening product should be applied after cleansing, toning, and exfoliating, but before applying serum and/or moisturizer. Apply your BHA exfoliant as usual, then apply the skin-lightening product with built-in exfoliant to the dark spots. Apply once or twice daily and be sure to protect your skin every day with a product rated SPF 15 or greater.

Boost the effectiveness of any skin-lightening product with a few drops of my new Resist C15 Super Booster; I’ve been applying this to a dark spot on my temple and have been thrilled with the results!

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I play a lot of golf in low light and on hazy days, so I often have to take my sunglasses off, exposing my eyelids and the skin around my eyes to the sun's rays. Is there a sunscreen that's safe to use around the eyes?

—Jill

Dear Jill,
I, too, need to be careful about sunscreen use around my eyes. Sunscreen ingredients such as avobenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate are great for sun protection, but can cause stinging around the eyes for some people, and can result in painful irritation if the sunscreen gets into the eye, such as when you sweat.

To avoid this type of irritation, make sure the SPF product you use around your eyes contains only titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. These mineral-based sunscreens are as gentle as it gets, provide broad-spectrum protection, and are ideal for those people whose eye areas cannot tolerate other types of sunscreen actives. I apply Paula's Choice Barely There Sheer Matte Tint SPF 30 around my eyes followed by a dusting of Healthy Finish Pressed Powder SPF 15.

You can also apply a daytime moisturizer with sunscreen around your eyes, such as Clinique Super City Block or a Paula’s Choice customer favorite, Resist Cellular Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 25. Either one of these products, or a mineral-based tinted moisturizer with sunscreen, can be applied all over your face.

You can also consider using a concealer with sunscreen around your eyes. This can do double-duty if you already use a concealer to camouflage undereye darkness. I like Mally Beauty Cancellation Concealer SPF 25, which is available online.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I work from home, so most days I do not leave the house. Does this mean I don't need to wear sunscreen daily? How much protection do windows offer, and how much difference does it make if direct sunlight is avoided; for instance, being a few feet from the window rather than sitting next to it while the sun shines directly in?

—Christine

Dear Christine,
Great questions! The simple answer is that if you can see daylight, you need sunscreen. Many people think sun damage only occurs when the sun is shining or if we can "see" it filtering in through the windows. The truth is that it's the sun's UV light that causes all sorts of problems for skin—and that UV light is present all day long, even on overcast or cloudy days.

Although working inside your home all day will shield your skin better than, say, if you had a job landscaping, you still need to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 15 or greater to all areas of exposed skin.

While most modern windows block the UVB rays that cause sunburn, unless your windows are specially treated, the glass will allow UVA radiation to pass right through. UVA rays are present all day long, penetrate deeply into the skin (though you won't feel this happening), and cause skin damage that leads to wrinkles, sagging, and crepey texture.

To answer your other question about how close you sit to the window, sitting right next to a window exposes skin to more UVA rays than sitting a good distance away would. And, of course, because windows block UVB rays, sitting indoors next to a window is less damaging to your skin than sitting in direct sunlight outdoors.

Bottom line: For the health and appearance of your skin, get in the habit of applying sunscreen every day. Your skin, and your overall health, will reap numerous benefits down the road.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
What is all the fuss about the new Heliocare products? Can a pill really help your body limit the effects of sun exposure? I am guessing not, but it's worth looking in to.

—Christine, via email

Dear Christine,
Heliocare Natural Anti-Aging Supplement ($62) is just one of many supplements you can take to make your skin "stronger" in the presence of sunlight. Heliocare contains an extract from a tropical fern known as Polypodium leucotomos and claims to offer "UV protection from the inside out." Some research has shown that oral supplementation can slightly reduce the risk of sunburn and hyperpigmentation (dark spots) on skin exposed to UV light. That's intriguing, but the product's benefit in that regard isn't unique or really all that special because there are several antioxidant plant extracts that can help skin defend itself against damage caused by UV light.

Most antioxidants—whether supplements or, preferably, consumed via healthy, fresh foods—can limit, to some extent, the amount of skin damage caused by sun exposure. Perhaps the most well-known antioxidant capable of this protection is vitamin C. Research has shown that the skin of mice exposed to UV light experienced significantly less DNA damage when their skin was coated with vitamin C as compared to the skin of mice exposed without the vitamin C.

Regardless of the benefits, no one is suggesting that you stop using sunscreen and rely solely on Heliocare, a healthy diet, or other supplements to thwart sun damage. Think of these options as add-ons to smart sun habits, which include daily sunscreen use, sunglasses, seeking shade when possible, and wearing protective clothing.

One more comment about Heliocare: Research has shown that this supplement can cause stomach upset and, according to Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, "information about potential side effects is very limited due to the lack of clinical studies." If you decide to try Heliocare, proceed with caution and definitely consult your physician.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I have been very proactive when it comes to using a sunscreen every day. I always look for an SPF rating when buying new products. Right now I have a moisturizer, make-up primer, foundation, and powder that ALL include sunscreen. I use them together (layered) every day. I'm not sure if this is overkill or not. Can too much sunscreen be a bad thing? I know I don't actually need this much sun protection, but are there any downsides to using this many products with sun protection? I just want to make sure I'm not doing more harm than good.

—Teresa, via email search

Dear Teresa,
Congratulations on being so sun-smart! Most dermatologists would suggest more sunscreen is better (they love recommending SPF 45s and up), but when it comes to sunscreen it depends on how your skin is doing. When using multiple sunscreens you are definitely getting more protection, but the SPF numbers aren't something you can add up—that is, two SPF 15s don't necessarily add up to an SPF 30. On the other hand, you are definitely getting more than an SPF 15 and longer protection can be a good thing, depending on how much daylight there is.

If you aren't experiencing any irritation, there is nothing wrong with layering sun protection. Even if some irritation from the active ingredients is taking place without you seeing or feeling it, this potential situation outweighs going with lesser sun protection and risking DNA damage. Personally, I layer my foundation and pressed powder that are rated SPF 20 and SPF 15, respectively. There is no research showing that too much sunscreen is a bad thing. I'd also suggest keeping your powder with sunscreen because this is a great carry-along way to touch up your sun protection as the day progresses.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I am thrilled that your products are available in Europe now-thank you! I have purchased the Essential Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 15. I noticed that, per European Union regulations, there is a warning for the oxybenzone active sunscreen in this product. I read a little about this ingredient on the Internet and I must say I am a bit worried now. Is it safe? Does oxybenzone interfere with your hormones?

—Diana, via email search

Dear Diana,
I am pleased to hear that you are as excited as we are about the launch of Paula's Choice in the European Union. In terms of your concern about oxybenzone, there is nothing for you to be worried about, as far as the research goes, for many reasons.

From what I can tell, there has been some alarmist and false information floating around on the Internet about many sunscreen ingredients. However, most of these risk-related comments are either not supported by published research or the only research performed was in animal or in vitro studies. As for real use on humans, the research is quite reassuring. The most current research I've seen about oxybenzone (as well as other sunscreen ingredients) comes from the Therapeutics Research Unit at the University of Queensland Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, and was published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology (July-August 2005, pages 170-174). This extensive study noted that "The penetration and retention of five commonly used sunscreen agents (avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, oxybenzone and padimate O) in human skin was too low to cause any significant toxicity to the underlying human keratinocytes [skin]." And the researchers surmised that penetration beyond the skin cells was undetectable.

It seems that all sunscreen ingredients (both organic and inorganic), when subject to vitro research (controlled laboratory conditions in petri dishes), show a potential for some problems; however, these problems do not seem to arise in actual usage. Research is ongoing and I am following it closely. For now, the benefits of using sunscreen far outweigh any potential risk from sunscreen ingredients.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
If I hadn't read your book The Beauty Bible, I would undoubtedly be battling melanoma right now. And if your book hadn't been so lucid, well-written, and researched, I probably would have abandoned it by page 20. I was an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Connoisseur magazines for many years, as well as a writer for The New Yorker, The Times, etc. As a result, I'm quick to hurl poorly written books across the room for my dogs to chew on, unless I have to write a book review on them, in which case I grind my teeth and suffer through them. Because of your admirable bravery (you're not afraid to take on the giants) and especially the passion you convey with so much information, I was energized, got my act together, and went to a new dermatologist (the two I saw previously over the last 15 years barely looked at me). She closely examined my face, patiently listened to my questions and comments (prompted by your book), and calmly told me I had a precancerous condition on my face and neck. She also did a full body check (an examination which neither I nor my physician had ever done), biopsied a suspicious freckle without freaking me out, and slapped big tubes of sunscreen and antioxidant-loaded moisturizers in my hand. I later learned that the biopsy was positive for a melanocyte nevus, that I should do frequent self-exams, and come in for checkups every three to six months. I felt I'd dodged a bullet, and I can't thank you enough.

—Diane, via email search

Dear Diane,
Your words were not just affirming but also heartwarming, and your supportive comments combined with your years of experience are a powerful statement for my readers. Thank you so much for taking the time to write, it is greatly appreciated.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I have been a fan of your newsletter and products for several years now. However, I have a question concerning sunscreen products with an SPF of 15. Why do the amounts of active ingredients vary so much from product to product? For instance, Paula's Choice Essential Non-Greasy Sunscreen has 7.5% octinoxate, 5% octisalate, 2% oxybenzone, and 2% avobenzone for a grand total of 16.5% active sunscreen ingredients. On the other hand, Purpose Intensive Daily Moisturizer SPF 15 has 7.5% octinoxate and 3% avobenzone for a total of 10.5% active sunscreen ingredients. And Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 has 10% octocrylene and 3% avobenzone for a total of 13% actives.

I realize that the FDA monitors all SPF products but I can't help wonder if one product will provide better SPF 15 protection than another due to a the higher percentage of active ingredients. Also, if a person has sensitive, acne-prone skin (which I do), would it make sense to use the product with the lowest percentage of active ingredients as long as it is an SPF 15?

—Karen, via email

Dear Karen,
You sound like the consummate researcher. In the past, I had the exact same question, and the answer is an interesting one. Your initial reaction that more sunscreen ingredients provide more protection is generally correct. Overall, the goal with any sunscreen formulation is to get it through the rigorous testing mandated by the FDA, and still have it maintain the SPF number you want to place on your label. Companies have different goals in this regard. Some use the least amount of active ingredients they can to achieve the SPF on their label, while others use a larger amount to go over and beyond the SPF on their label to ensure they exceed the SPF testing. For example, some sunscreen products exceed their SPF testing. The decision to place SPF 15 on the label when it really ends up being is an SPF 16 or 17 (or higher) is intended to reduce consumer confusion when it comes to comparing sunscreen products.

The other factors in a sunscreen formulation affecting the SPF are the inactive ingredients. Products with identical percentages of active ingredients can have a range of SPFs depending on what other ingredients are used in the base! Some ingredients help keep a formulation more stable. Knowing how to use the same amount or less of sunscreen active ingredients and still obtain a high SPF number in a functional, cosmetically elegant base is the crowning talent of cosmetics chemists, revealing their skill and knowledge of cosmetic formulations.

Someone with acne-prone skin need not be concerned with choosing a sunscreen with the lowest amount of active ingredients. A percentage point here or there, up or down, is not necessarily going to affect your skin's overall reaction to the sunscreen ingredients, which may be to a specific ingredient or a specific mixture. What is important is to avoid sunscreen ingredients in any percentage that you suspect have caused breakouts in the past. As a general rule, however, choosing a sunscreen with a lower percentage of active ingredients is no guarantee that you will minimize breakouts.


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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I have a quick question about sunblocks. I read that the American and European SPF numbers are different and that you have to halve an American SPF number to work out its European equivalent. Does this mean that your daily moisturizer has the equivalent of a sun protection factor 8 in it?


—Melissa, via e-mail

Dear Melissa,
Your quick question doesn't exactly have a quick answer! First, just to be clear, the word "sunblock" is no longer acceptable to describe a sunscreen product. According to the FDA there are no ingredients that "block" the sun, only ingredients that filter or screen out the sun's damaging rays. Therefore the FDA believes that the term sunblock was misleading to consumers.

In regard to SPFs, there has been a great deal of global agreement about how they relate to cosmetic formulations and over-the-counter products during the past several years. As a result SPF numbers around the world are actually quite similar, with only small, almost insignificant differences. While this has been true for more than a decade now, there are still Web sites stating that there are dissimilarities. Why the confusion? It appears to be based on some outdated information.

According to Ken Klein, President of Cosmetech and a contributing author to the book Sunscreens: Development, Evaluation, and Regulatory Aspects, Second Edition (Marcel Decker, 1997), originally when the FDA published its first monograph on sunscreens back in August of 1978, the application rate was 2 milligrams of sunscreen per centimeter of application [on skin]. When the Germans came out with their DIN standard (Deutsches Institut fuer Normung German Institute for Standardization) for sunscreen measurement the application was 1.5 milligrams of sunscreen per centimeter of application. At the time, the German benchmark was accepted by COLIPA (The European Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association—the European version of the US Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, CTFA). If you do the math that would mean the SPF 15 in the US would be about SPF 10 to 12 in Europe. However, about 15 years ago the Europeans switched over to the US standard.

What are the slight differences that still exist? In the U.S., you can measure sun exposure with either direct sunlight or a solar simulator (xenon). However, the Europeans may also use a mercury vapor sun source. That added testing nuance can potentially cause some variations between SPFs within the European Union countries, but exactly how much difference isn't clear (Source: Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, & Photomedicine, December 2001, pages 278-283). It is important to point out that the EU is working on creating a more standardized approach to SPF testing.

The other difference, according to the FDA Federal Register (May 21, 1999, Volume 64, Number 98) is this: "Canada, Australia, and the European Union have no concentration minimums for active ingredients when used in combination." In the U.S., this means that even though almost all active sunscreen ingredients are the same ones used everywhere else (with just a couple of exceptions), there are "concentration minimums" and The FDA controls how much and in what combinations you can use any active sunscreen ingredient. Either way, it is the testing to determine the SPF number that counts. SPF numbers worldwide tell you how long you can stay in the sun without having your skin turn pink. For the most part that means an SPF 15 is an SPF 15, whether it is made in Sydney, Toronto, Paris, or Chicago.

And there's one other important issue, again according to the FDA: a generally accepted method for determining a UVA protection factor is lacking. For a long time no uniform standard existed. In Australia, the local regulatory authorities developed a photometric process for estimating the reduction of the UVA radiation, which delivers a reproducible, reliable measurement. This standard (Australian standard AS 2604:93), which is the only one of its kind in the world, requires that sun protection products absorb at least 90% [UVA]. No such governmentally regulated method for rating UVA exists, either in the U.S. or Europe.

There is an independent UVA star rating system used by a chain of pharmacies in the United Kingdom called Boots. Boots uses a ratio method that only compares the relative absorption of UVB versus UVA and does not provide a qualitative or quantitative measure of coverage for the entire UVA spectrum. Because it only compares UVA to UVB as a relative amount, the star rating of UVA is truly arbitrary and therefore unreliable. Many regulatory boards around the world, including the FDA are struggling to develop a UVA rating system but for now none is accepted worldwide like the SPF number on products.

The bottom line is that the SPF 15 in my products or anyone else's is, for all intents and purposes, the same as it would be anywhere in the world. In terms of UVA protection, which is not represented by the SPF number, you still need to check the active ingredient label for titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (also called Parsol 1789 and butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane) to be sure you are getting sufficient UVA protection. Outside of the U.S. Tinosorb and Mexoryl SX (also called ecamsule) may also be used. Mexoryl SX has FDA approval for use in one sunscreen sold in the U.S.: Anthelios SX SPF 15 by L'Oreal-owned La Roche-Posay.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I have a question about sun-care products. I used to use Peter Thomas Roth's Ultra Lite Oil Free Sunblock. I thought it was unique because it was the only one I had ever seen which contained both avobenzone and titanium dioxide. Then I noticed that the formula had been changed and it no longer contained both ingredients, just the avobenzone. I asked their customer service person about it and she told me that it is "illegal" to combine these two sunblock ingredients in one product.

Is this true, and if so, what is the reason? I frequently layer products containing these ingredients and I would like to know if there is any reason why I shouldn't.

—Sun Concerned, via e-mail

Dear Concerned,
The FDA's The Federal Register, May 21, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 98) states that for sunscreens, the "final rule includes monograph conditions for zinc oxide as a sunscreen active ingredient at concentrations up to 25 percent when used alone or in combination with any monograph sunscreen active ingredient except avobenzone," though the FDA is still considering whether or not to change that restriction. However, there doesn't appear to be any stipulation about titanium dioxide used in conjunction with avobenzone (please refer to www.fda.gov for more specific information).

Let me point out that avobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and Mexoryl SX (Mexoryl SX is a UVA-absorbing ingredient not approved for use by the FDA) are all used in varying combinations outside of the United States. It is actually quite typical to find all four of these ingredients in sunscreens just over the border in Canada as well as Europe. This is especially true for L'Oreal products, most likely due to the fact that L'Oreal owns the patent on Mexoryl SX. Although the FDA doesn't yet allow avobenzone and zinc oxide to be mixed, given that no one else in the world seems to have a problem with combining them, and given that there is no safety warning for the FDA's own restriction, there is no reason to be afraid of this combination, either from products you buy outside of the United States or from layering other products.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I have light olive skin (I am Hispanic). The last thing I want to do is to tan my skin. I like to have my skin as light as possible. I use Neutrogena's UVB/UVA Sunblock SPF 45 every day. I apply it religiously 20 minutes before I go out in the sun every time. But no matter what I do, my skin becomes red and then tans deeply. What can I do?! By the end of the summer my skin looks like charcoal. Please give me advice.

—Oriana, via e-mail

Dear Oriana,
There can be many reasons why you are still getting color. The most likely cause is the fact that even the best of sunscreens still let some sun exposure through. A high SPF, like SPF 45, is not about better or deeper protection, but just longer protection-45 times longer than it would normally take you to get a slight burn. For your skin type that means you could stay in the sun for up to 18 hours without getting a burn. But the possibility of you being somewhere in the world that has that much daylight is remote.

High SPF numbers give the false impression of providing enhanced protection when that is not the case. A well-formulated sunscreen with an SPF 30 to an SPF 45 still only protects your skin from about 97 to 98 percent of the sun's rays. That means 2 to 3 percent of the sun's rays are still getting through and that can trigger melanin production (the skin's tanning response). This is especially true for those with darker skin tones or for those who have a lot of previous sun damage, as that means hypermelanin production is more likely to take place.

One more issue. While the Neutrogena product you are using is a good one (it's avobenzone-based), there are those who feel that a pure titanium dioxide or and/or zinc oxide-based sunscreen offers better coverage. They may be right and it would be worth it for you to experiment and see if that helps. Be aware, though, that while you would be getting potentially better or more "blocking" protection, these types of sunscreen can show up somewhat whitish on skin, so blend them in very well.

It is also important to make sure you are applying the sunscreen liberally, and here are some other steps to take in order to obtain optimum sun protection:

  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours if you are spending extensive time in the sun and are swimming, exercising, or perspiring heavily.
  • It always helps to wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves when you're outside or at the beach.
  • Try to avoid spending more than a few minutes out in the sun when it is at its most intense (between 11 AM and 2 PM).
  • Seek shade whenever possible for "sun breaks" on long days outdoors.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I recently received a sample for an intriguing product called Chelsea Girl Wash Away The Sun SPF 15-2 in 1 Cleanser and Sunscreen. It is a body wash that is supposed to provide sunscreen protection, thereby making additional sunscreen lotion unnecessary. This would be great since it gets so hot and humid in the summer, I could just shower and go. Following is the information on the label: Defend your skin against premature aging, sun damage and the environment with this oil-free 2 in 1 cleanser and sunscreen. Patented technology allows this cleanser to attach to the protein layers of the skin forming a protective broad-spectrum SPF 15. Clinically tested and proven to be safe and effective for daily use on all skin types. Directions: Apply daily to wet skin, work into rich lather, then rinse and pat dry.

—Laura, via e-mail

Dear Laura,
I agree that it would be great if you could apply a sunscreen by just washing it on. While I don't doubt the SPF or application claim, this product does not contain avobenzone, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide, so it would leave your skin exposed and unprotected from a large portion of the sun's silent UVA rays. UVA rays are considered by many to be as damaging, if not more so, than the sun's UVB rays (UVB rays trigger sunburn while UVA rays are responsible for long-term sun damage to the skin).

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I have recently come across a sunblock that claims to offer 100% protection from both UVA and UVB rays. While its active ingredient is zinc oxide (which I know to be an excellent broad-spectrum sun protector) and its Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is 30+, I cannot help but be suspicious about its claim to protect from absolutely 100% of the sun's rays. To add to my doubts, the company will not divulge to me the exact concentration of zinc oxide in the product, which would allow me to assess this claim; after all, it could just be a minuscule amount, and I have learned from you that a 2% or more concentration is preferable. (By the way, I politely expressed my concerns to the company about their claim and the fact that they decline to divulge an important piece of information about the product, and have only received the one-sentence reply: "As clearly stated on our Web site, [our product] provides 100% protection against UVA and UVB"--which is just a regurgitation, not an explanation, of their claim!

Is their claim a bogus one or can a sunblock really offer 100% broad-spectrum protection?

—Anna, via e-mail

Dear Anna,
I suspect their claim is completely bogus. Even a pure zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreen, unless it was applied like a white blanket over the face, could not provide 100% protection. Second, the formula for the product you are referring to appears to contain about 1% to 2% zinc oxide. That isn't bad, but it's also not enough to be a blanket, so the 100% promise is at best misleading. Even the best of sunscreens with a pure titanium dioxide and zinc oxide content can still only provide about 96% to 98% protection.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I recently came across an article in an overseas magazine. It said that the worst skin-care mistake women can make is thinking that they don't need to wear a sunscreen at night. According to the article, the fluorescent lights in our apartments and UV lights in the nightclubs emit strong UV rays, while the microwave, TV, and heater produce infra-red rays. Apparently if we stay near these light or heat sources for a long time, our skin will try to protect itself by producing extra melanin, resulting in uneven skin tone and freckles. To avoid this happening, the magazine suggested wearing sunscreen 24 hours a day. What do you think, Paula? I have indeed seen some sunscreens that claim to block UVA, UVB, and infra-red rays. What damage does infra-red do to our skin, and do you recommend wearing sunscreen at night?

—Cindy, via e-mail

Dear Cindy,
Fluorescent lights absolutely do put out about 320 to 400 nanometers of UV emission, which is about the same range of UVB and UVA emission from the sun, and in full office light that could technically be a problem for the same reason it is a problem from the sun. However, the amount of energy present is so small that it isn't a problem under office or grocery store-type lighting conditions. Even more to the point, the notion that the amount of fluorescent light being emitted in dimly lit evening spots (assuming they even use fluorescent light, versus incandescent lighting) could damage skin is just bizarre. Further, there is no research establishing infra-red rays as being a problem for skin cells.

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Category: Sun Care

Dear Paula,
I just purchased some sunblocks containing the three different key ingredients you repeatedly mention: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and Parsol 1789. I have one further problem that you have never mentioned before: how do I interpret the percentages of each? One product contained 7.5% titanium dioxide, another, 8%; another contained 50 mg/g of zinc oxide, another contained 100 mg/g of zinc oxide. Furthermore, another sunblock contained only 4.5% zinc oxide but was in a waterproof base with an SPF of 45, but strangely, another contained 7.5% zinc oxide (a higher concentration) in a non-waterproof base but had a lower SPF of 30. What does that mean? How does a waterproof SPF 45 with a lower concentration of zinc oxide differ from a non-waterproof SPF 30 with a higher concentration of zinc oxide? Which one will give me more protection? How confusing! In addition, another product contained 1.25% Parsol 1789. Is this percentage sufficient? How do I go about reading and interpreting these labels?

—Anna, via e-mail

Dear Anna,
There is no way you can interpret these labels (and nor can I or anyone else) because there are no official standards set for adequate UVA protection the way there are for UVB SPF numbers (there are exact standards for UVB protection in regard to which ingredients can be used and how much of each). Instead, the issue of UVA protection is theoretical, with no set standards. However, according to what research has turned up so far, it is assumed that a 2% or greater concentration of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, and avobenzone (also called Parsol 1789 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane) will net you excellent UVA protection. There is also the notion that more means better for the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and while I think that can make sense (though it's absolutely not proven), the white look of the application and the heavy feel don't work for everyone.<

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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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