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by Dr.Pei-Chi Lin

There is more to sun protection than SPF and PA alone Spectrum, duration, and reparability are the three critical factors

Consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of sun protection in recent years, but despite having better knowledge at choosing sunscreens, most people still judge a product solely by its SPF and PA ratings. Meanwhile, other important indicators such as spectrum, duration, and reparability are often neglected, which still makes the wearer susceptible to sun burn, tanning, and irritating spots. Only under the protection of the right sunscreen can people truly avoid sun burn and tanning, and prevent elastic fibers and collagen from losing elasticity under UV exposure and causing aging problems such as loose skin and wrinkles.

Director Pei-Chi Lin, reputable specialist in aesthetic medicine and sun protection, highlights 3 main principles: spectrum, duration, and reparability

 Pei-Chi Lin, dermatologist with extensive clinical experience and consultant for cosmetic and medical publications, says: "SPF and PA ratings alone do not tell the full story about sun protection; even two sunscreens of identical ratings can produce drastically different results! Choosing a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum and long-lasting protection with good reparability are now the keys to preventing sun burn and tanning." 

UV ray can be distinguished between UVA, UVB, and UVC; the majority of UVC is absorbed at the ozone layer and seldom reaches the Earth's surface, therefore poses no concern in this regard. UVA and UVB, on the other hand, can be distinguished by wavelength between UVA2 and UVB of short wavelength and UVA1 of long wavelength. Radiation of longer wavelength not only is more difficult to block, it also tends to be 10-100 times the strength of shorter wavelength! While most sunscreens offer good protection against short wavelengths (UVB and UVA2), their effect dwindles as wavelength increases, taking a sharp dive at a particular wavelength (i.e. the critical wavelength). This critical wavelength defines the spectrum of a sunscreen's protection. Generally speaking, it is recommended to choose sunscreens that conform with U.S. standards, offering broad-spectrum protection at the critical wavelength of 370nm and higher to fully protect skin against damage from UV rays of long and short wavelengths.

Ordinary sunscreens offer protection for two hours only!! Do not neglect the duration of protection

Aside from spectrum, duration is one other aspect of protection that is commonly overlooked. Ordinary sunscreen tends to lose protection substantially after two hours for two main reasons: one, the sunscreen undergoes a structural breakdown after absorbing UV ray; and two, electric charge attracts sunscreen powders (such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide), causing them to form clusters that result in uneven distribution and degraded performance. These are the two main problems that have to be overcome in order to deliver long-lasting sun protection. To prevent structural breakdown, the industry commonly uses new sunscreen formulas based on Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol and Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, which have a different chemical structure compared to conventional sunscreens that slows the breakdown after absorbing UV, and therefore provides longer lasting protection. As for the uneven clustering of sunscreen powders, the industry is now capable of separating powders that are easily attracted to each other using innovative encasing technologies (see Figure 1 below), or producing them with different compounds and structures to prevent clustering and stay evenly distributed for long periods of time (see Figure 2 below), and thereby extend protection of sunscreen.

(Figure 1: Hive distribution technology: through a process called emulsification, titanium dioxide molecules are encased separately for more even distribution and lower chance of clustering)

(Figure 2: Webbed reflection technology: this solution combines zinc oxide and titanium dioxide of different shapes; the zinc oxide first creates a web-like structure over the skin so that titanium dioxide can be spread over the web more evenly with lower chance of clustering)

The industry has yet to develop standardized labeling for the duration of sunscreen protection, and therefore relies on tests conducted by the academia. From the test results shown below, it is apparent that most sunscreens start to lose protection drastically after 2 hours. However, there are still several high-performance sunscreens that offer protection for extended periods of time, and some late entrants can even sustain protection for up to 8 hours! 

Sun Protection Test Results

Sunscreen does not protect against 100% of damages! After sun repair is the final piece of the puzzle

Although sunscreens do delay sun burn and tanning, there is still the possibility of skin being damaged by heat and radiation once exposed to UV ray. It is important to note that wearing sunscreens is not just about blocking the sun; repairing damage, fighting free radicals, and keeping skin hydrated are just as important. When choosing sunscreen, we should also pay attention to the presence of effective repairing properties, in addition to spectrum and duration. Aside from macromolecular and small molecule hyaluronic acids that are commonly added for hydration, new ingredients are also making their ways into sunscreens in recent years, such as cica extract for fast repair, inflammation control, and enhancement of skin protective barrier, and extracts of a resilient plant called glycoin that can stay dry for years and quickly revive with moisture. Both of which are powerful ingredients for skin repair! Only when "protection and repair" are done at the same time can we ensure the state of health of our skin under the sun. When choosing your next sunscreen, be sure to look for more than just SPF and PA ratings alone, and pick products that offer broad-spectrum and long-lasting protection verified by studies, and multiple reparative ingredients to truly prevent against sun burn, tanning, and UV-induced aging.