There are two important components of the ultraviolet sun that reach the earth: (1) Ultraviolet A (“UVA”) and (2) ultraviolet B (“UVB”). UVA has a longer wavelength allowing it to penetrate the skin more deeply and it is more photoaging (wrinkling, aging, etc.). UVB has a shorter wavelength and is more responsible for skin cancer (although we know that UVA is also carcinogenic). The Sun Protection Factor (“SPF”) number you see on sunscreen packaging refers to UVB protection only! It tells you nothing about UVA protection—the more aging part of the sun! You have probably thought that the higher the SPF the better your skin will look 10 years from now...wrong ☹! UGH! No one may have bothered to tell you that until now, but now you know!
Another thing you should know is that some ingredients that provide UVA protection are unstable and once they are exposed to the sun they break down quickly. The FDA has never regulated how to measure UVA protection in sunscreen. However, new regulations coming out this December (2012) will require sunscreen manufacturers to have a certain level of UVA protection if they use the term “broad spectrum” on the outside of the bottle. So look for that!!! But remember SPF number is important too---who wants skin cancer?!
I always start by looking at the active UVA protective ingredients to try to keep my skin youthful and then I look for an SPF of 30 (or higher) to guard against skin cancer. Later this week, I will tell you specifically what the best UVA sunscreens are…and I will also name the sunscreen that I have applied every day for the past eight years of my life. I simply cannot do without it!