Is Your Sunscreen Giving You Enough UVA Protection?

   UVA rays is what causes ageing and skin cancer, yet many sunscreens don't provide any protection against it. Here I explain how to find out how much UVA protection a product offers.

   Basically, the sunlight that reaches the skin is made up of UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays burn the skin and the UVA rays age, tan the skin and cause cancer. UVB light is strongest at midday during summer, UVA rays are present equally all day, all year, and can penetrate clouds and glass. Tanning booths use mainly UVA light, that is why they are more harmful than tanning outdoors.
   The SPF label on the packaging only refers to the protection against UVB rays. In the EU a UVA symbol with a circle around it means that the product provides UVA protection that is at least one third of that of the UVB protection; however it is not specified whether the product protects from both UVA1 and UVA2. Some products are labelled as "full-spectrum protection". The UVA logo means that the product offers UVA protection that is at least one-third of its SPF. The "broad spectrum" label means that the product offers some UVA protection, but it can often be misleading.

   Japanese and Korean brands use the PA+, PA+++, PA+++ and PA++++to indicate how much UVA protection a product offers.This label says nothing about the UVB protection.

   Often  UVA protection is not mentioned on the label at all. If you are serious about protecting your skin from sun damage, you need to know whether your product protects you from the UVA rays. It's actually not that hard to find out, you just need to peek into the ingredient list.
    There are only a couple of sunscreen ingredients that protect the skin from UVA rays: Zinc oxide reflects the full range of UVA rays (UVA1 and UVA2) as well as UVB rays. It's the only true full-spectrum sunscreen ingredient, all the rest provide protection against only a part of the UV spectrum and need to be mixed and matched. Titanium oxide only protects from UVA2 and all UVB rays. Both the above mineral (physical) filters. Out of chemical filters, Avobenzone offers only UVA1 protection, while Dioxybenzone, Mexoryl XL, Meradimate (Menthyl Anthranilate), Trolamine Salicylate offer only UVA2 protection, and Trolamine Salicylate and ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) offer UVA2 and UVB protection. Bizoctrisole (Tinosorb M) which is both physical and chemical protects against the full range of UVA and UVB, however it is almost always nano-sized.

   So as you see, zinc oxide is the only ingredient that reflects the whole range of UVA and UVB rays. It is anti-bacterial (good for acne) and doesn't cause allergies. It is effective immediately and doesn't need to be reapplied if it's not rubbed off. It would be the magical wonder ingredient, however it is notoriously white, so it is usually mixed with other anti-UV ingredients. The more zinc oxide you have in a product, the better UVA protection you get. 15% is really good, but most products contain 5-7%. Out of chemical filters Avobenzone is the most commonly used; with concentrations of up to 3%.

  Finally I'd like to say that from what I have read there is still not enough research and studies about sunscreen ingredients and in a decade many of the "facts" of today will be replaced by completely different information. Our generation is in a way the sunscreen guinea pig.

   Do you have a favourite sunscreen that provides good protection against UVA? Do share!

Photo credit: Andreas Moller

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