Sunshine is Good for You

Sunshine is good for you. This phrase is both scientific and medically accurate. In recent times this statement has become challenging. An examination as to why this statement has become controversial in the context of the cosmetics industry is surprising.

Essentially the public has been led to believe that a statistical rise in skin cancer is as a direct result of exposure to sun rays. To overcome the entrenched idea that sunshine is good for you the rise has been theoretically attached to depletion of the ozone layer allowing more damaging rays to reach the earth surface and more recently, climate change.

We have to be sure that whilst theories come and go the fact remains that sunshine is good for us. This is hardly surprising as it can be extrapolated that as all vegetation is light dependent and animal life vegetation dependent that we are in essence a result of light action. We are biologically built to use and deal with sunshine. Pundits will exclaim only that whilst this must hold true it cannot be so true in today’s climate.

As a result of engendered fear the cosmetic industry Sun Care sector has exploded. In addition sun exposure has been implicated in the ageing process. This is presented as some ‘scientific’ discovery but every field working peasant or desert dweller has known since the dawn of time this has been self evident. A new term was added to emphasise the ageing aspect of over exposure to the sun ‘premature ageing’.  Again a study of any field worker shows this to have been self evident and not new.

Scientific advances have demonstrated only the mechanisms that bring changes to our skin by time, food and light. Understanding better the mechanisms of our biological systems and cellular structures and our DNA has inevitably led to concerns about lifestyle and foods. Scientists have now confirmed that certain foods are good for us, others bad. This was already mostly known but without the knowledge of why.

With the advent of the Industrial revolution and consequentially over time more travel facilities ‘holidays’ by the seaside become a common trend. People began to sit on the beach in large numbers. Photographic studies reveal that they tried to protect themselves from the sun. Parasols, costumes even paper hats and handkerchiefs were employed to stop burning. It was not considered desirable, genteel or fashionable in Europe until the 1920’s to have a bronzed skin. Asia still subscribes to the idea that white is beautiful.

It is generally assumed that what we are told by science is the truth. Most of us do not read true science papers but rather absorb our information via news media or advertisements. Science like any other ‘industry’ is driven by money. Someone pays money to a scientist for a purpose. There is very little true pure blue sky research. This hold true for scientists in private or public corporations as much as in academic research.

It is interesting as to when the world decided to turn brown and go for beach sun bathing. It appears Coco Chanel was the culprit. As a fashion icon and mixing with the decadent, artistic White Russian set of France she set a trend that bronze was now chic. This of course coincided with the Health and Beauty movements encouraging outdoor pursuits. It was healthy to spend time outdoors in the sun it did you good! Shorter skirts and more exposure as well as browned make up powders all created generations of sun worshipers.

One has to question whether there has been an increase in skin cancer or an increase in diagnosis and treatment. It is irrefutable that one is related to the other. Moles and other skin blemishes have always been a concern and to ‘be watched if they went black or changed’. This information has been handed down for generations.

The Cosmetics industry was quick to react to the increasing demand for browning. Sun tan oils soon appeared. People fried on the beach with lotions and creams. Naturally as people got badly burned depending upon their genetics, ignorance or stupidity a culture of sun care began to be developed. Sun tan products became normal. Cheap holidays to Butlins and Pontins led onto cheap holidays in the Costa del Something with consequent burning and sun damage in hotter climes. It became male macho to cook without sun care products. This was a European phenomenon from the USSR to France. The USA too lost its Southern Belle looks as Hollywood took up the challenge of Southern California trying to make American girls look the same North to South.

It is most likely that those young people of the WW2 and their offspring (baby boomers) were the most sun exposed generation. Recent times have returned us to a normal cautionary view that has become exaggerated by commercial greed and exploitation of statistic curves.

The first recorded Sun Product was called Glacier Cream developed by a chemist Franz Greiter and first marketed in 1938. This product formed the foundation for the Piz Buin company. In the early ‘60’s Greiter went on to propose a system of Sun Protection Factor measurements. The concept called for a 2mg product application over a 2cm2 area of skin. This instantly shows that such regular coverage is most unlikely in a ‘real’ situation. So at best the measurement holds good in a laboratory setting but not for real life.

The SPF is a measurement of the time that a person can be exposed to sunshine with as compared to without, sun care products, before burning.  So a person who would burn after 10mins without a sun care product could reasonably expect to have protection from burning for 100mins with an SPF of 10.

Real life will allow for other important features which will influence results. Most important is the genetic skin type and the colour of the skin. Most products are oil based which the skin absorbs so losing surface protection. Other peripheral factors are activities that induce sweat, bathing etc.

The SPF system only measures UV-B rays (ultraviolet rays that cause burning). The UV-A rays which cause damage deep within the cellular structure are not covered by this system.

Any product that in effect makes a sun care or protective claim and specifically an SPF claim in the USA, must use filters which are approved by the Federal Drugs Authority. Monographs were devised prior to 1978 when the approved list was developed. The list provided for the only 22 ingredients that could be used in sun care products now re-classified as Over The Counter drugs.  These include the common octyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), benzophenone 3 (oxybenzone), octyl salicylate (octisalate), octocrylene, menthyl anthranilate (meradimate), and homo-salate. Other organic or chemical sunscreens include PABA; Padimate O (octyl dimethyl paba); cinnamates (cinoxate); and a water-soluble UVB sun filter, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid.  Since 1978, only zinc oxide and avobenzone have been approved as new sun filters.

In the US, UVB sunscreen protection is measured primarily as an SPF value. Internationally, the most widely accepted method for calculating in vivo UVA protection is persistent pigment darkening (PPD). PPD values are determined by measuring pigmentation over time after irradiation with a UVA light. PPD is the official assessment method for Japan. In the EU, the BOOTS star rating system is used, especially in the UK based on the UVA/UVB protection ratio. The higher the number, the greater the protection, which is expressed on a 0-5 star scale. Thus, five stars is considered ultra protection.

An important reminder is that an SPF 30 does not offer double the protection of 15.  Consumers fail mostly to realise this. An SPF 15 blocks approximately 93 per cent of UVB rays, while an SPF 30 blocks 97 per cent. Even higher SPFs like 40 or 50, therefore, may block only one or two per cent more UVB radiation. This may be desirable for those with especially sensitive skin or a previous history of skin cancer but has questionable additional benefits for normal people.

Why are people on the beach in the first place? It is hot and often crowded. Today people mostly apply sun care products and are more used to using umbrellas and shades for the hired bed or beach towel. Most are there to laze, read and to be seen or admired. Many are still there to be sun bronzed. Some are there to feel the air on their bodies. All of this can be done without excessive sun exposure; so why use a sun care product?

At this point let us remember what skin is. It is not just a covering it is an organ that is constantly renewing itself. It has its own built in sun defence programme. People are designed to coexist with light energy or sun shine.

The natural sun defence system of the human bio system is the production of melanin; the process of turning brown. Melanin is a pigment found in the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Specialised cells, melanocytes, found in the basal stratum of the epidermis express the genes or genetic codes responsible for colour. Most humans have similar numbers of melanocytes, it the more frequent expression or lack of it that gives different skin colours.

There are three types of melanin Eumalanin being the commonest and most widely responsible for skin and hair colouring. Pheomelanin has some redder pigmentation and is found not only in red hair but the colouring associated with genitalia and nipples. Pheomelanin may itself become carcinogenic when exposed to UV light.

The synthesis of melanin in the organism begins with Tyrosinase a copper containing enzyme. Melanocytes transfer the melanin to melanososmes which hold the pigment close to the cell nucleus so protecting the cell DNA from mutation or cancers. Brown and black is a protective screen from cancer causing radiation. Freckles and moles mostly found on pale skins are irregular depositions of melanin.

Another consequence of UV radiation is DNA damage. Regardless of how strong an SPF product and UVA protection may be, the DNA of both the nucleus and mitochondria are damaged. Normal individuals have endonuclease, a DNA repair enzyme, to hasten repair of normal cell function. It typically takes several days for repair to be completed.

Why are people so scared of the sun that they find it necessary to include sun screens in everything from lipstick to daycream? Probably it is due to the publicity suggesting that you need a sunscreen. No one doubts the rise of skin cancer but the question is do sunscreens cause cancer by protecting against only UVB radiation? They allow more UVA into the skin. No scientific studies prove the connection, although despite an unprecedented use of sunscreens, skin-cancer cases continue to grow.

One of the two true UVA sun filters, avobenzone, has been examined for its photostability.  Avobenzone is a powerful free radical generator. This should be of considerable concern to those who are using sun care products to stop ageing. Avobenzone is easily absorbed through the epidermis and is a chemical that absorbs ultraviolet radiation energy. Since it cannot destroy this energy, it has to convert the light energy into chemical energy, which is normally released as free radicals. While it blocks long-wave UVA, it does not effectively block UVB or short-wave UV radiation, and is usually combined with other sunscreen chemicals to produce a “broad-spectrum” product. In sunlight, avobenzone degrades and becomes ineffective within about 1 hour.

Worldwide, the greatest rise in melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical sunscreens have been heavily promoted.  The rise in melanoma has been exceptionally high in Queensland, Australia  where the medical establishment has vigorously promoted the use of sunscreens. Queensland now has more incidences of melanoma per capita than any other place on Earth.

Dr. M Berwick of the New York of the Sloane Kettering Cancer Centre  said, “After examining the available epidemiological data and conducting our own large case-control population-based study, we have found no relationship between sunscreen use at any age and the development of melanoma skin cancer.” Although sunscreens do prevent sunburn, Dr. Berwick concluded that sunburn itself is not the direct cause of cancer. Dr. Berwick objected to the universal blanket advice about using sunscreens during all time spent outdoors.

No doubt she would be or is criticised for her statistical research as showing unpleasant photos to generate more funding is far more exciting than statistical analysis!

As there is no doubt that heavy sunscreen use areas show no drop in skin cancer rates but rather the oppositre the only conclusion to be drawn is that using sunscreens encourages people to stay in the sun too long which is precisely where we came in.

Vitamin D a natural body hormone has been shown to kill cancer cells. This anti cancer activity is not fully understood but has been demonstrated both in vitro and vivo. The connection is so strong that the Canadian Cancer society has recommended that all Canadians during the low sunshine winter take vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D in its various forms has many functions:-

  • Vitamin D regulates the calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood.
  • It promotes bone formation and mineralization and is essential in the development of strong bones.
  • It inhibits parathyroid hormone secretion from the parathyroid gland.
  • Vitamin D affects the immune system by promoting immunosuppression, and anti-tumor activity.

Vitamin D deficiency mostly results from inadequate sunlight exposure. Deficiency results in impaired bone mineralization, and leads to bone softening diseases, rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, and possibly contributes to osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency may also be linked to many forms of cancer.

Vitamin D production in the skin depends upon the quantity and quality of UVB light reaching into the epidermis. The sun filter melanin affects the production of vitamin D. It follows that dark skinned people are even more likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency in winter in low sunlight areas than those with a pale skin.

Relatively few foods contain vitamin D. The main natural sources are oily fish such as salmon and mackerel or cod liver oil. Shiitake mushrooms are a vegetal source.

Due to the use of sunscreens there has been an un disputed rise in deficiency diseases. Since the 1930’s synthetic vitamin D has been added to cereals and in some countries milk. Resultantly rickets virtually disapeared now a rise is attributed to the over zealous use of sunscreens.

Making a product different.

Sensible skin care companies do not enter this sector leaving the sector to the specialist brands and companies; those who can afford the risk and research.

Companies that specialise in ‘Natural, ingredients are disadvantaged by the regulations that require only specific ingredients to be used in support of claims. This is a charter for the specialist companies to make money. It is in the commercial interest of these companies to promote scare stories about cancer and to hi-jack green issues like global warming to make the consumer more likely to buy the product. As we have seen this is not an intelligent approach.

If a position is to be taken by ‘Natural’ companies it is either:-

  1. Bite the bullet and use approved sun screens.
  2. Use the inorganic mineral titanium dioxide and zinc oxide materials.
  3. make the consumer brown before they go in the sun. This is the intelligent approach and the only truly natural way.

Otherwise a company could adopt the position of repairing the damage sunscreens do. Let us temporarily move away from cancer and deficiency diseases and concentrate on other problems of sun screening.

Sun exposure causes redness and irritation and high-SPF products containing organic or chemical sun filters more than likely will sensitise the skin. Therefore after sun products are open to niche exploitation. After the consumer is led to believe they will not burn or be irritated. They are more likely to be open to a new brand to resolve the problem especially if based on naturals such as the common allantoin and bisabolol. Of course many exotic oils exhibit provable anti-inflammatory claims from vanilla to kukui.

Physical sun filters do not sensitize skin and are the preferred actives for baby’s and children’s sunscreen products. Nevertheless many opportunities exist to promote strong anti inflammatory effects.

Associated with localised inflammation from solar radiation are MMP’s. These are protein-degrading enzymes like collagenase, elastase and hyaluronidase that naturally occur and break down collagen, elastin, fibronectin and hyaluronic acid. UV radiation causes an over-proliferation of MMPs, resulting in compromised skin integrity, slackness and moisture loss. Various modulators from nature can be found including fashionable conceptys like peptides.

Clear mention of the damage caused by free radicals is mentioned above. Sun care products have long used free radical scavenging products to minimise the impact of over to exposure to sun damage that sunscreens do not address i.e. UVA. This free-radical damage includes lipid peroxidation, the proliferation of superoxide, hydroxyl radicals and hydrogen peroxide. All human cells and even those of animals have a cell membrane composed of phospholipids. These lipids, which are similar to lecithin, are subject to oxidative damage throughout the life of a cell. Solar radiation hastens the oxidative process, which can cause early cell death. Thus, controlling this oxidation can help reduce peeling and hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin E and C are the commonest materials used but the latter in particular is itself prone to damage. Free radical scavengers are of course Anti=Oxidants. Again nature supplies us a huge variety of alternatives. Generally nature fights rancidity and oxidation. Oxygen always wins in the end! Meanwhile we have arich source of exotics to choose from. A specific Natural after sun or Evening Cream may be a niche to trial. We can choose from polyphenols including catechins, picnogels also with anti cancer and anti inflammatory actions, flavonoids and many more.

For a direct suncare cream with a high SPF the limiting factor is the use of titanium and zinc. Any cream or emulsion using these products will be heavy. Using fine particles has allowed for a clear film on the skin but does nothing for the touch of the product. To over come this the industry has attempted to move to nano or ultra fine particles.  This has raised some concerns about the safety of ultra-fine particles penetrating the skin and causing systemic problems. Whilst the primary particle size of these products may normally be 10-50 nm, they tend to reagglomerate in the formulation and wind up being 150-250 nm!  These minerals used to have a particle size  of 50 or 60nm, now both may  have a primary particle size of 10-20nm. Thus, the aesthetic issues of whitening, streaking and bluing upon application have been reduced. At those particle sizes we are still left with the unpleasant touch creams associated with these sun blocks.

To overcome the touch issue with sun blocks newer sunscreen emulsion systems are based not on the HLB system using water-in-oil emulsions but water-in-silicone, liquid crystal gel systems and polymeric emulsions. These newer systems allow for delivery of physical sunscreens such as titanium and zinc oxide, which in combination can develop SPF values of 30 plus and provide both UVA and UVB coverage. These options are not open to ‘natural’ companies.

It is not practical unless we change the market position to include a sunscreen in a day cream etc. We could argue that cinnamates and PABA are found in nature but this has so often been done before and not affected the consumer

In view of the above I believe the Nude position should be to encourage a healthy attitude to sun care. It cannot having established its position suddenly change to ‘we are against xyz except for sun care because this horrible thing in the sky is causing skin cancer’! If the consumer wants a sun block lets do the best we can but not pretend it is going to be wonderful. We can extend this into three other products which are a pre-tanner and an anti irritant and an evening cooler anti ager. This needs to be discussed. Such a position would differentiate us from REN etc and allow us to start using the phrase ‘Intelligence’ to compete with their ‘clean’ etc.

Provide some facts, accept the weakness, sell our strengths on newly identified needs and our benefits.

About Jan Kuśmirek

Having brushed with the Security Services in my late teens and early twenties, I went on to become one of the world's leading exponents of aromatic medicine and skin care. I am an accepted authority on the subject and a sought-after lecturer. In the last few years I have turned my hand to literature and am the author of three spy novels that retell the European confilcts of the 20th century from a Polish perspective. The central character in the series - Teddy Labden - has resonated with the Polish media, who have claimed him as their own "James Bond".
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