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One step anti-ageing? Think sun screen.

June 5, 2013

Yesterday’s news reporters excitedly told us eager and cash-strapped Australians that all we need to do to keep the wrinkles at bay was to slap on some sunscreen every day (or almost every day at least).  This sunscreen should be SPF 15 or above and apparently ‘it doesn’t matter what brand it is, in some cases even the cheap stuff performed well”……

So no anti-ageing elixirs?  No antioxidant scrubs and masks?  No re-energising facial toners?  Man, I’ll go out of business!!!!!!

Anyway back to the story – is there any science behind this?

The link between sun exposure and premature ageing of skin has long been known.  We probably all have someone in our family that was an ‘outdoor’ type and, by the age of 50 or so has developed that ‘weathered’ look be it leathery skin, deep furrows, ruddiness, spider veins or rough skin.  We have seen many a picture of a wizened up older woman selling her wares at the local markets or truck drivers who had one saggy and one age-appropriate cheek thanks to years of driving off into the sunset (or should that be sunrise)?

This isn’t rocket science.

What is interesting is the subtle fact that said sunscreen should be SPF 15 or above and not SPF 30 or SPF 50 or SPF gazillion.  For me, that is the key piece of data.

SPF and sun

Here in Australia where we have a lot of very white skinned folk living under a searing sun (me being one of them) we are often told that as far as SPF goes you can’t get enough of it – slap it on thick baby!  This message is a little different. Granted that we are not talking about taking our Lilly white asses down to the beach, we are talking every-day life here but I am not sure that this distinction has ever really been spelled out before.

I don’t wear sunscreen every day but I do wear a well crafted broad spectrum SPF 20 foundation for ‘going about my business’ and replace that with an SPF 30 or higher when I know I’ll be in the thick of it all day.  I do this because like many of us I do an ‘inside’ job and want to ensure that my time spent outside is put to good use. I want to make some vitamin D.  This isn’t ‘advice from up high’ but as far as my health goes I’m happy to go light on sun protection for my every-day life in favour of letting the skin see the rays for a few moments at a time.  I guess on an average day I would be out in the sun for around 70 minutes all up – morning walk 30 mins, washing hanging out – 10 mins,  Guinea Pig play/ feed – 10 mins,  Walking to and from lab and post box – 10 mins, School run – 10 mins shopping – 10 mins max.  Out of that 70 minutes only 20 would be in the ‘heat of the day’ and I know my skin can take that.

In my opinion there are a few important things to note from this news story and research.

  1. Too much un-protected sun exposure will age your skin.  Know your limits, how much do you get each day?  How much sun do you need?  How much protection is appropriate?
  2. The sunscreen you choose must be broad spectrum – cover UVA and UVB adequately.  This means that your sunscreen will act like a dimmer switch turning the quantity of sun down but leave the quality of light the same. This matters for Vitamin D synthesis.
  3. High SPF products are not always necessary but should not be overlooked if you have very light skin and are planning a day at the beach or even if you are darker skinned but work outside for much of the day.
  4. You don’t have to spend a fortune to hold back the signs of ageing if you don’t want to/ can’t.


So does this mean an end to anti-ageing skin care?

Of course it doesn’t.  We are always going to want choice and ways to express ourselves both as individuals and ‘tribes’. Products to look as good on our bathroom shelf as they do on our skin,  brands that understand us and help us show the world who we are, ingredients that sound tasty and interesting.  We will always want that and more.

And anyway many of my anti-ageing skin brand clients look at sun protection as part of their anti-ageing strategy and formulate an SPF into their product.  The law for these secondary sunscreens here in Australia is a max of SPF 15 and I’ve seen and worked on some very good SPF 15 products offering broad spectrum protection.  Anti-ageing brands also incorporate skin-boosting actives into their formulations be they antioxidants, vitamins, herbs or active oils which allegedly ‘feed’ the skin and boost its natural protection.  Actually this study also looked at the use of  dietary supplement beta carotene (an antioxidant) as an anti-ageing agent and they found no benefits vs the placebo – I think that this is worth taking up in another post but for now it is enough to say that I doubt that will be enough to sink the demand for topical skin food. Further, many anti-ageing creams tackle multiple skin concerns and not just sun protection.  This isn’t possible with pure sunscreens as the TGA or equivalent legislators don’t allow for such a diverse range of additives in a primary sunscreen product.

In fact, this study just gave anti-ageing, SPF 15 secondary sunscreens and  Sun protective make-up products a much-needed free-kick.  I’m sure people will value that extra SPF benefit more now after hearing about that study.

However, what it also does is make anti-ageing skin care a little more equitable. If you can’t afford to splash the cash on a miracle moisturiser you can see benefits from your family sunscreen.

We, as chemists and brand owners still have a long way to go in this area and for that reason I find it a very exciting and dynamic sector to work in.  We do need to better understand the balance between healthy sun exposure and photo ageing,  active skin boosting and dud science,  comfortable light weight skin feel and pure protection and I for one am happy to be a part of that work and happy to finally see that it isn’t just a numbers game.

Enjoy your skin and stay beautiful.



One Comment leave one →
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