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Sunscreen, also commonly known as sun cream, is a lotion, spray, gel or other topical product that absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin exposed to sunlight and thus helps protect against sunburn. Skin lightening products have sunscreen to protect lightened skin because light skin is more susceptible to sun damage than darker skin.
Sunscreens contain one or more of the following ingredients:
*Organic chemical compounds that absorb ultraviolet light.
*Inorganic particulates that reflect, scatter, and absorb UV light (such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or a combination of both).
*Organic particulates that mostly absorb light like organic chemical compounds, but contain multiple chromophores, may reflect and scatter a fraction of light like inorganic particulates, and behave differently in formulations than organic chemical compounds. An example is Tinosorb M.
Medical organizations such as the American Cancer Society recommend the use of sunscreen because it prevents the squamous cell carcinoma and the basal cell carcinoma. However, the use of sunscreens is controversial for various reasons. Many do not block UVA radiation, which does not cause sunburn but can increase the rate of melanoma, another kind of skin cancer, so people using sunscreens may be getting too much UVA without realizing it. Additionally, sunscreens block UVB, and if used consistently this can cause a deficiency of vitamin D.
The first effective sunscreen may have been developed by chemist Will Baltzer in 1938. The product, called Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream), subsequently became the basis for the company Piz Buin (named in honor of the place Baltzer allegedly obtained the sunburn that inspired his concoction), which today is a well-known marketer of sunscreen products. It has been estimated that Gletscher Crème had a sun protection factor of 2.
The first widely used sunscreen was produced by Benjamin Greene, an airman and later a pharmacist, in 1944. The product, Red Vet Pet (for red veterinary petrolatum), had limited effectiveness, working as a physical blocker of ultraviolet radiation. It was a disagreeable red, sticky substance similar to petroleum jelly. This product was developed during the height of World War II, when it was likely that the hazards of sun overexposure were becoming apparent to soldiers in the Pacific and to their families at home. Sales of this product boomed when Coppertone acquired the patent and marketed the substance under the Coppertone girl and Bain de Soleil branding in the early 1950s.
Franz Greiter is credited with introducing the concept of Sun Protection Factor (SPF) in 1962, which has become a worldwide standard for measuring the effectiveness of sunscreen when applied at an even rate of 2 milligrams per square centimeter (mg/cm2). Some controversy exists over the usefulness of SPF measurements, especially whether the 2 mg/cm2 application rate is an accurate reflection of people’s actual use.
Newer sunscreens have been developed with the ability to withstand contact with water, heat and sweat.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
The SPF of a sunscreen is a laboratory measure of the effectiveness of sunscreen — the higher the SPF, the more protection a sunscreen offers against UV-B (the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn).
The SPF is the amount of UV radiation required to cause sunburn on skin with the sunscreen on, relative to the amount required without the sunscreen. So, wearing a sunscreen with SPF 50, your skin will not burn until it has been exposed to 50 times the amount of solar energy that would normally cause it to burn. The amount of solar energy you are exposed to depends not only on the amount of time you spend in the sun, but also the time of day. This is because, during early morning and late afternoon, the sun’s radiation must pass through more of the Earth’s atmosphere before it gets to you. In practice, the protection from a particular sunscreen depends on factors such as:
*The skin type of the user.
*The amount applied and frequency of re-application.
*Activities in which one engages (for example, swimming leads to a loss of sunscreen from the skin).
*Amount of sunscreen the skin has absorbed.
The SPF is an imperfect measure of skin damage because invisible damage and skin aging are also caused by ultraviolet type A (UVA, wavelength 320 to 400 nm), which does not cause reddening or pain. Conventional sunscreen blocks very little UVA radiation relative to the nominal SPF; broad spectrum sunscreens are designed to protect against both UVB and UVA. According to a 2004 study, UVA also causes DNA damage to cells deep within the skin, increasing the risk of malignant melanomas. Even some products labeled “broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection” do not provide good protection against UVA rays. The best UVA protection is provided by products that contain zinc oxide, avobenzone, and ecamsule. Titanium dioxide probably gives good protection, but does not completely cover the entire UV-A spectrum, as recent research suggests that zinc oxide is superior to titanium dioxide at wavelengths between 340 and 380 nm.
Owing to consumer confusion over the real degree and duration of protection offered, labeling restrictions are in force in several countries. In the EU sunscreen labels can only go up to SPF 50+ (actually indicating a SPF of 60 or higher) while Australia’s upper limit is 30+. The United States does not have mandatory, comprehensive sunscreen standards, although a draft rule has been under development since 1978. In the 2007 draft rule, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed to institute the labelling of SPF 50+ for sunscreens offering more protection. This and other measures were proposed to limit unrealistic claims about the level of protection offered (such as “all day protection”).
Importance and Differences of Sunblock and Sunscreen
Although some believe that sunblock and sunscreen are both the same, they are not. Although they have similar properties and are both important in caring of the skin, sunblock is opaque and is stronger than sunscreen since it is able to block a majority of the UVA/UVB rays and radiation from the sun, thus not having to be reapplied several times a day. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two of the important ingredients in sunblock.
Sunscreen is more transparent once applied to the skin and also has the ability to protect against UVA/UVB rays as well, although the sunscreen’s ingredients have the ability to break down at a faster rate once exposed to sunlight, and some of the radiation is able to penetrate to the skin. In order for sunscreen to be more effective you’ll have to consistently reapply and use a higher spf.
However, that distinction is mostly used for marketing and the FDA even considers banning the term “sunblock” from marketing claims as it considers it misleading
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