Sizing up sunscreens: Higher SPFs, added antioxidants gain attention

June 1, 2010

National report - Several new sun-protection products have recently entered the market, including sunblocks with increased SPF ratings, oral sunblock agents and sunscreens with antioxidants.

National report - Several new sun-protection products have recently entered the market, including sunblocks with increased SPF ratings, oral sunblock agents and sunscreens with antioxidants.

“There are some interesting trends in sunblock development that may influence the marketplace,” says Lawrence F. Eichenfield, M.D., chief, pediatric and adolescent dermatology, professor of pediatrics and medicine (dermatology), Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Dr. Eichenfield

“Some manufacturers have formulated products with antioxidants added to the formulation,” Dr. Eichenfield says. “These antioxidants are stated to improve skin health and cosmetic appearance, though there have not been ‘head-to-head’ (or ‘face-to-face’) studies of these products in real-world use assessing efficacy with those without the additives.

“Another trend is the extension of light spectrum that is attenuated by use of the sunscreen, with reformulations based on minimizing visible light and infrared spectra as well as the traditional UVB/UVA blockers,” he says.

Higher SPFs
Sunblocks with increased SPFs have hit the shelves in time for summer. “This SPF inflation comes as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) tries to determine how to rate sunblocks in terms of UVA photoprotection,” says Zoe D. Draelos, M.D., in practice in High Point, N.C.

Dr. Draelos

“At present, the higher SPF products basically provide better UVA protection, which is vital to prevent premature aging and skin cancer,” she says.

However, there is point at which the high-SPF products exhibit poor aesthetics, including skin whitening and increased stickiness.

“It is hoped that the FDA will finalize some guidelines late this summer, which allow consumers to make more informed decisions on the purchase of sunblocks,” Dr. Draelos says.

‘Oral’ sun protection
Other suncare products include oral sun protection.

Biopelle’s Heliocare is designed to work as an oral antioxidant to knock out free radicals before they damage important cellular proteins. Heliocare is taken daily and is said to be effective in protecting cells deep in the skin, as opposed to topical antioxidants, which are usually ineffective in protecting cells at this level.

Damage to these deeper cells is responsible for many of the signs of photoaging.

Still, “Oral sunscreens cannot be used in place of topical sunscreens,” Dr. Draelos says. “For persons with photosensitive disorders, such as lupus, that are unable to tolerate the sun with an appropriate sunscreen, it may useful to consider oral formulations.

“However, they must be taken at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and they do not provide all-day sun protection,” she says.

What’s new
Some topical sunscreen products now include antioxidants. “Antioxidants are the new frontier in sunscreen research. No sunscreen blocks all of the damaging rays of the sun, so antioxidants are necessary to block the UV radiation that ‘got past the sunscreen,’” Dr. Draelos says.

One recent 12-week clinical study, conducted by Thomas Meyer, Ph.D., and colleagues at Schering-Plough HealthCare Products, Memphis, Tenn., measured the effects of daily application of broad-spectrum sunscreens containing blends of antioxidants proven to significantly reduce formation of free radicals in the presence of UV light.

A poster was presented at the 2010 annual American Academy of Dermatology. Results showed that women who began the study with mild-to-moderate photodamage had notable improvement in multiple parameters that contribute to the cosmetic signs of premature aging, including visible dryness, mottled skin tone, laxity, roughness, and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Additionally, evaluation of UV-light facial photographs after treatment compared to baseline photos demonstrated a significant reduction in the degree of uneven pigmentation (a sign of hidden damage) below the skin surface.

“Clinical results provided further evidence that topical application of antioxidants in a sunscreen product can provide measurable skincare benefits that go beyond sun protection,” the researchers reported.

“Emerging research shows that vitamin E, one of the primary antioxidants in the sunscreen we tested, is a key ingredient for preserving skin’s barrier function and for helping to maintain skin health,” says Robert Bianchini, Ph.D., vice president of research and development, the Coppertone Solar Research Center.

Dr. Bianchini

“Because vitamin E may be lost from the skin during environmental stress, such as outdoor exercise, using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with antioxidants proven to help restore these elements is important,” he says.

Not all topical antioxidants are equal under UV exposure.

In fact, Dr. Bianchini says, UV radiation may cause an unexpected reaction with certain topical antioxidants - including some plant extracts - when they exposed to sunlight, transforming them into damaging pro-oxidants.

For that reason, Dr. Meyer says he and his colleagues tested the antioxidant ingredients used in the sunscreens to ensure they continue to function properly in conditions similar to “real-world” sunscreen use.

“Topical antioxidants are rapidly emerging as a breakthrough innovation in suncare,” Dr. Bianchini says. “The results of this study and other research demonstrates that there are many skin health benefits and applications to adding antioxidants to a sunscreen formula - and we will continue to explore advancements in how this technology can be used with sun protection to help maintain overall skin health.”

Still, even with recent sunscreen innovations and a pending FDA ruling on SPF protection, Dr. Draelos emphasizes, “Clothing is still the best photoprotection.”

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