In 1938, Chemist Will Baltzer invented what is believed to be the first effective sunscreen called Glacier Cream. Historians believe it had about a factor of SPF 2. And while he was technically they first to develop sunscreen, the first widely used sunscreen was the brainchild of pharmacist Benjamin Greene. He created a physical block made of red veterinary petroleum in 1941 during World War II to protect soldiers fighting in the South Pacific from sun overexposure. Coppertone bought the patent in the early 1950s and soon marketed to North Americans under Bain de Soleil and Coppertone brands.
Today, dozens of companies produce and market sunscreens and blocks. This is carefully regulated by Health Canada with a handful of approved chemical sunscreen ingredients that have been carefully tested. As summer weather approaches, Dr. Lisa Kellett assists Cosmetics in explaining the most common sun protection terms with some interesting facts you might not know.
Cosmetics: To start, what is SPF?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor which measures mostly UVB protection and is calculated as a ratio of the redness caused by UV light in protected versus unprotected skin. SPF can range from 2 to as high as 100. The measurement term was created by Franz Greiter in 1962 which has become a worldwide standard for calculating the effectiveness of sunscreen. It’s based on sunscreen applied at an even rate of 2 milligrams per square centimeter. This measurement factor is currently causing some controversy as many doctors believe it isn’t enough for proper protection. They believe it should be double the amount.
Cosmetics: What is UVA?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: UVA is Ultra Violet A Rays and UVB is Ultra Violet B Rays which coexist on a spectrum of light measured in nanometers. They are produced artificially and also are found in sunlight.
Cosmetics: What does it mean to have broad-spectrum?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: The term “broad-spectrum” usually refers to broad-spectrum coverage of sun protection products whereby the product is composed of ingredients that are effective against both UVA and UVB rays.
Cosmetics: What is melanoma and how does it form?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: Melanoma refers to malignant melanoma which is a potentially life threatening skin cancer arising from pigment producing cells in the skin. There is an association between sun exposure and malignant melanoma development.
Cosmetics: What is an appropriate amount of sunscreen in a single application?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: Ideally, you should use the amount of product you can put in a shot glass for the entire body.
Cosmetics: What is Parsol 1789?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: Parsol 1789 or avobenzone is an oil soluble ingredient used in chemical sunscreens to absorb UVA rays. It’s also known as Eusolex 9020, Escabol 517 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane. It’s been proven to absorb ultraviolet light across a wider range of wavelengths than several organic sunscreen ingredients, hence its popularity in sunscreen lotions and sprays. Some studies show it is most effective when paired with titanium dioxide, a physical sun block. Unfortunately, Parsol 1789 has recently been the cause of significant incidence of allergies. For that reason, it’s being used in less and less sunscreens.
Cosmetics: There are more and more products that claim to prolong a suntan. Do these work?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: A tan is the skin’s response to injury. In short, if you have a tan you have damaged your skin. A tan resolves when the damaged dead skin layers with the pigment are desquamated from the skin. Some products moisturize the top of the skin to decrease the desquamation process thus keeping the “look” of the tan longer.