13 April 2011

Emerging technologies light the way for better sunscreens

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. (March 15, 2011) – — The latest advancements in sunscreens combine high-tech and natural elements. Dermatologists believe these new sunscreen formulations will do an even better job at helping protect people from ultraviolet (UV) exposure – the leading preventable risk factor of skin cancer.

“Sunscreen protects us from the damaging effects of UV light in four ways – by reflecting UV, absorbing UV, decreasing UV and decreasing antioxidant damage created by UV,” said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, MD, FAAD, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. “While there will always be a need for the use of the proven ingredients in the sunscreens currently on the market, these new developments will enhance with these tried-and-true formulations to make sunscreens even more effective in protecting us from UV damage which can lead to skin cancer, wrinkles and age spots.”

Photoreflective Polymer Spheres: Reflecting/Absorbing UV
Photoreflective polymer spheres are one of the newest sunscreen technologies and build on the foundation of reflecting light (typically performed by the physical filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) and absorbing light (typically the job of chemicals such as oxybenzone and avobenzone). Photoreflective polymer spheres are small, hollow synthetic compounds that cannot be seen or felt on the skin and do not penetrate the skin.

When UV light strikes the skin, the photoreflective polymer spheres act as a physical barrier by reflecting this harmful light. Some of the UV radiation also gets absorbed by the spheres, where the light gets bounced around and loses energy. Dr. Draelos explained that the further UV light travels, the less energetic it becomes, which means the less damaging the light is to the skin.

“Several sunscreens on the market contain photoprotective polymer spheres in their formulations, along with other active ingredients that provide added protection from UV light,” said Dr. Draelos. “Another benefit of this new technology is that photoreflective polymer spheres are non-allergenic and do not cause acne or irritant reactions, so this development makes regular sunscreen use more appealing for some people.”

UV-Altering Pigments: Decreasing/Absorbing UV
UV-altering pigments are just beginning to enter the sunscreen market and are used as inactive ingredients in sunscreens to absorb visible UV radiation, such as blue and violet visible light that can cause skin damage. When the newly developed pigments absorb UV light, they emit the energy as fluorescence – a light that does not damage the skin. While zinc oxide leaves a white film on the skin when applied, sunscreens with these UV-altering pigments go on clear, but create a “glow-in-the dark” effect when under a black light.

Dr. Draelos added that another cutting-edge sunscreen technology in development is pigments that act like the body’s melanin which absorbs UV radiation and provides natural UV protection. Specifically, melanin absorbs UV radiation so it does not strike the nucleus of skin cells. If UV radiation penetrates this barrier, it damages a person’s DNA and can cause skin cancer. Sunscreens with these new pigments will be able to absorb UV radiation, preventing damage that could have been caused by the original UV light wavelength entering the skin.

Decreasing Antioxidant Damage Created by UV
The concept of using antioxidants in sunscreens is based on the knowledge that most plants possess antioxidant activity in order to live outdoors in abundant UV light. Dr. Draelos explained that even with the best sunscreen technologies some UV radiation gets through and enters the skin. When it does, antioxidants added to sunscreens work by helping to absorb this radiation and protect DNA from being altered.

“Manufacturers regularly add antioxidants into sunscreen to target the UV light that inevitably gets past the product’s first line of defense on the surface of the skin,” said Dr. Draelos. “While there are many different plants with antioxidant properties, extracts of the candlewood plant and green tea are two antioxidants being used in sunscreen now because they are effective and thought to be safe for people with sensitive skin.”

How New Technologies Will Benefit Skin Health
Dr. Draelos added that these advancements will improve the look and feel of sunscreens, enhance the sunscreen options for people with sensitive skin, and eventually lead to sunscreens that do not have to be reapplied as often. She also said these sunscreens will be the most consumer-friendly to date, which will encourage regular sunscreen usage and reduce the risk of skin cancer and the signs of aging. Consumers should consult their dermatologists for recommendations on the most appropriate sunscreens for them to use, some of which may incorporate these new technologies.

“The best sunscreens will use all of these mechanisms in the very near future, because one alone is not sufficient,” explained Dr. Draelos. “However, proper sun protection must include more than just sunscreen. Wear protective clothing, seek shade during peak hours, protect children from sun exposure and do not use tanning beds to further minimize your risk of skin cancer.”

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 16,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the Academy at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or