Sun Creams – Be Careful in their Selection


It is a little known fact that the first effective sun cream was developed by chemist Will Baltzer in 1938. The product, called Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream), subsequently became the basis for the company Piz Buin. Some suggest that Gletscher Crème had a sun protection factor of 2.  Franz Greiter is credited with introducing the concept of Sun Protection Factor in 1962, which has become a worldwide standard for measuring the effectiveness of sun cream when applied at an even rate of 2 milligrams per square centimeter (mg/cm2). However since then many things have changed.  Scientists know the benefits as well as the damaging effects of the sun. Every year new sun protection products are introduced to the market featuring such innovations as the ability to withstand contact with water. 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.        

Do not rely on sun creams as the only form of skin protection.  The use of sun creams should be complemented with other natural ways of protection such as: remaining in the shade, wearing hat, sun glasses, and most importantly clothes with ultra violet protection factor. A simple t-shirt used at the beach offers minimal sun protection from UV radiation when dry.  When it is wet it allows 50% of the UV radiation to pass through it – offering very poor protection from the sun.

When selecting a sun cream it is not enough to know our skin type, in order to choose the sun cream with the most suitable SPF factor. We should also read what natural and chemical filters the cream contains.


What is SPF 

The SPF is the amount of UV radiation required to cause sunburn on skin with the sun cream on, relative to the amount required without the sun cream. So, if we start getting red after 10 minutes, if we wear a sun cream with SPF 20, our skin will not burn until it has been exposed to 20 times the amount of solar energy that would normally cause it to burn. However, 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. Also, 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). 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), and amount of sunscreen the skin has absorbed.





Natural and chemical filters of sun creams 

A sun cream (in lotion, spray or gel) has the ability to absorb or reflect some of the sun ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin exposed to sunlight and thus helps protect against sunburn.  Sun creams contain one or more UV filters of which there are two main types: Natural filters (inorganic particulates), and chemical filters (organic chemical compounds and organic particulates).
Natural filters (inorganic particulates) have the ability to reflect, scatter, and absorb UV light (such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or a combination of both). In general sun creams containing only natural filters are recommended for children, pregnant women and for those who have an allergy to chemical filters.  Their advantage is that they are absolutely safe for the skin.  However, they are not very effective with regard to the UVA radiation, and are not so popular, due to the fact that the sun cream is not totally absorbed when applied to the skin and gives a white aspect to it.       
In order to have better protection from the UVA radiation many sun creams also contain organic chemical compounds that absorb ultraviolet light (such as oxybenzone, avobezone, and meroxyl XL), or organic particulates that mostly absorb light like organic chemical compounds, but contain multiple chromophores,  that reflect and scatter a fraction of light like inorganic  particulates,  and behave differently in formulations when compared to the organic chemical  compounds.  Their advantage is that they are totally absorbed when applied to the skin, especially in greasy skins. On the other hand they are not considered optimal for sensitive skin and may create problems.
Nowadays, most sun creams contain both natural and chemical filters for maximum protection from UVA radiation- responsible for premature skin ageing- and from UVB radiation – responsible for sunburns.  Other main ingredients in sun creams are usually aromatic molecules conjugated with carbonyl groups, for cosmetic care.  


Five SOS criteria for a sun cream’s selection

Certain sun cream components need careful consideration before use. Here is a list of the substances that should be avoided:


  1. The filter. Oxybenzone is one of the active components in many of sun creams. It is quite an effective organic filter; when it reacts with the sun has been found to form allergenic and cancer-causing chemicals. Oxybenzone is a component that is often contained in sun creams as it allows the sun cream to be well applied. However it is preferable to select sun creams with natural filters, which contain natural particulates, as oxide of zinc (zinc oxide) and dioxide of titanic (titanium dioxide).


  1. Nanoparticles. Certain sun cream companies use nanoparticfles of dioxide of titanic or oxide of zinc. These allow the sun creams to be better as the skin does not acquire a milky aspect. However these nanoparticles are so small  that they can be inhaled, especially when the sunscreens are in a spray form. It is known that the dioxide of titanic is cancer-causing if inhaled. 



  1. The toxic elements. Very often sun creams contain toxic substances that have adverse effects for the immunogenic system. Elements like DMDM hydantoin (a formaldeide formula that is used in preservation), triaithanolamine salicylate (a common substance that counterbalances pH), as well as neurotoxins as aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, (heavy metal that is used as a density stabilizer).


  1. The perfumes. The chemical mixtures that are added to sun creams in order to give them a pleasant smell are listed according to their components as “perfume”. These additives are often powerful allergenic factors and frequently confirm the presence of toxic substances.



5. Antibacterial. Sun creams often contain antibacterial, toxic substances such as triklozane. When these chemicals are rinsed into the sea or rivers these substances are released into the environment, having a toxic effect on marine life.   When we buy sun creams for us and our children, we should always pay attention to the substances contained in their components. It is important to note that the  data mentioned in their label complies with the constitution of European Union. Sun creams labels should mention the following:

 • That they offer protection from both UVB and UVA radiation.

• That sun cream needs to be reapplied within 2 hours in order to remain effective. Further reapplication is necessary after such as swimming, sweating, or rubbing/wiping.  Treat labels with caution that have phrases like “absolute protection”  which may create the impression that the sun cream protects completely protect from the dangers of exposure to the suns radiation with only one  application.

• That we should use 2 mg/cm2 (2 teaspoons) per square hundredth, that is to say very big quantity in order to achieve the SPF factor written on the label.

• The SPF factor can range from 6 - 50 or 50+.
• Apart from the SPF factor the label should contain the words “Low” (for SPF factor 6-10), “Intermediate” (for SPF factor 15-25), “High” - (for SPF factor 30-50) and “Very high” (for SPF factor 50+), in order to increase the understanding of the general public to the effectiveness of sun creams.