Monday, April 26, 2010

How much do you trust Skin Deep (EWG) and their database?

This is a brilliant article below, that I came across with that literally covers everything that was lingering in my head for quite a while. Skin Deep database, is it a fact or a fiction? How much can we trust information it provides. I am aware that quite a few truly natural and organic companies (including us) were "upset" by finding their products rated incorrectly and often unfair only due to the "data gap" in their research of natural ingredients. Not to mention that inconsistencies in ratings of similar products are very common. So I think that it is time to enlighten consumers, who refer to Skin Deep for information, regarding the fact that Skin Deep and the Environmental Working Group are not using science to back up their claims. Nor they ever respond to inquiries or can explain anything about their ratings. Make your own conclusions after you read the article below by Dene Godfrey.

Scratching Below the Surface :: Dene Godfrey Article Regarding Skin Deep

Scratching Below the Surface, by Dene C Godfrey

From the EWG web site:

“The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.

In 2002, we founded the EWG Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that advocates on Capitol Hill for health-protective and subsidy-shifting policies.

EWG specializes in providing useful resources (like Skin Deep and the Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce) to consumers while simultaneously pushing for national policy change.”

From the Skin Deep home page:

“In 2004 we launched Skin Deep, an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products. Our aim was to fill in where companies and the government leave off: companies are allowed to use almost any ingredient they wish, and our government doesn't require companies to test products for safety before they're sold. EWG's scientists built Skin Deep to be a one-of-a-kind resource, integrating our in-house collection of personal care product ingredient listings with more than 50 toxicity and regulatory databases.
Now in its fourth year and third major update, our Skin Deep database provides you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for nearly a quarter of all products on the market — 54,866 products with 8,983 ingredients. At about one million page views per month, Skin Deep is the world's largest and most popular product safety guide"

The aims of both the EWG and their Skin Deep database are laudable – who could disagree that cosmetics should be safe? I doubt that any responsible manufacturer would ever knowingly put their customers at risk by placing products on the market that are not safe for their intended use. EWG insist that there is virtually no regulation of cosmetics in the USA, but this is not the case. The FDA requires that manufacturers do not place products on the market that are unsafe to human health and, whilst there may not be the same level of regulation as in , for example, the European Union, it is not true to say that cosmetics are unregulated. The EWG/Skin Deep promote themselves as the champions of safety (in cosmetics, for the purposes of this paper), but this is not actually what they achieve.

The database uses an impressive array of numbers (of products and data sources) and an impressive-looking amount of detailed explanation as to how their system of classification works, including some complicated-looking formulae. For the fine detail, click here.

The mainstays of this system are the following:

“Hazard (concern) rating. We developed a hazard rating that represents a synthesis of known and suspected hazards associated with ingredients and products. Hazard ratings within Skin Deep are shown as low, moderate, or higher concern categories, with numeric rankings spanning those categories that range from 0 (low concern) to 10 (higher concern).

Data gap rating. We developed a data gap rating within Skin Deep, primarily to describe the extent to which low hazard scores associated with some ingredients or products are based on definitive data demonstrating safety or, at the other extreme, on a near absence of data either demonstrating or disproving hazard. Data gap ratings are represented within Skin Deep by a numeric percentage ranging from 100% (complete absence of safety data) to 0% (comprehensive safety data). “
Already, several concerns creep in:

  1. It is not possible (at least, not without a high degree of subjectivity) to assign a numerical value to a hazard. A hazard is a hazard. It is not logical to compare something that is highly corrosive to something that is toxic by ingestion – it is the same as comparing apples with pears.
  2. On whose authority is the “suspected” hazard determined. Again, this is highly subjective. If there are no data, how is it possible to suspect a hazard?
  3. How is it possible to rate a data gap so empirically? The impact of any data gap is wholly dependent upon the nature of the data that are missing.
  4. They make the statement – “A hazard rating of "low concern" (shown as a green circle in Skin Deep) might be rated in that category because of definitive data proving its safety, or because of a near absence of any safety studies that would illuminate hazards.” How can absence (or near absence) of data ever be shown to illuminate hazards?
  5. They claim to offer “safety ratings” – they do not – they only offer hazard ratings.

On looking more closely into the database and, specifically, at various products and their hazard scores, there are many obvious issues. There is a group of closely-related compounds that are assigned hazard scores entirely the opposite of their true relative hazardous nature. There are examples of the same chemical being listed under two different names with different hazard scores.

One word that has arisen many times in this discussion, and on the Skin Deep database is “hazard”, and therein lies the basic issue with Skin Deep. It is entirely based on hazard, with no attempt whatsoever to evaluate risk. It is not possible to evaluate safety of the basis of hazard alone. If a chemical was in existance that required only a single molecule to kill a human, that would be described as extremely hazardous. However, if only one molecule of that chemical actually existed, then the chance of human exposure is insignificant, and the risk to human health is also insignificant. I use an extreme example to better explain the relationship between hazard and risk, which may be summarised as follows:


Because the database only highlights the hazard of the ingredient, there is no possible way the consumer can know the actual risk involved in its presence in a cosmetic product. In our daily lives we constantly assess risk, albeit mostly subconciously. If we avoided every hazard without ever considering risk, we would never cross a road, and we would never stay in our homes (as the majority of accidents occur in the home, so there is a definite hazard associated with being at home). As it is nonsense to live our lives with assessing risk, it is equally nonsense to avoid any particular chemical without assessing the risk. It may even be the case that high exposure to a product classified by Skin Deep as zero is less safe than low exposure to a product classified as 10 on this database. Therefore, the database offers no useful information on the safety of cosmetic products, and is misleading to consumers.

Regarding hazard, it is possible, given the correct dose and route of administration to establish a hazard for EVERY chemical in existance, be it natural or synthetic. If anyone decided to carry out an inhalation study using any chemical either in vapour, mist or powder form, it would result in death. The only substance that would not have this effect is air (although the individual components of air would cause death), and even inhalation of too much air too quickly can result in dizziness and unconciousness. Therefore every chemical is hazardous.

For a little light relief, I suggest that you investigate the extreme hazards posed by dihydrogen monoxide by clicking here.

The treatement of data gaps is of particular concern. This is, again, highly subjective. Some ingredients with 100% data gaps are assigned zero, but others are assigned 3, or higher. How is it possible to assign a hazard rating when there are no data? It is entirely possible that many companies, appreciative of the marketing benefits of being able to claim a zero hazard rating on Skin Deep, are designing products specifically using ingredients with a zero hazard rating. There is certainly at least one company using this tactic. This means that products are being manufactured using ingredients with no safety data! Given that the EWG make great play of their claim that the USA do not regulate cosmetics, is it wise of them to encourage this practise, albeit tacitly?

The use of hazard classification alone enables Skin Deep to provoke concern amongst consumers. Without this concern, they would get little in the way of donations.

Another quote from the EWG site:

"Under federal law, companies can put virtually anything they wish into personal care products, and many of them do. Mercury, lead, and placenta extract — all of these and many other hazardous materials are in products that millions of Americans, including children, use every day," said Jane Houlihan, Vice President of Research at EWG.

This strongly implies that mercury and lead are deliberately added into cosmetic products which (apart from a few mercury-based products used as skin-whiteners) is simply not true. Again, the comment focusses on hazard only. I am not going to comment on placenta extract as I don't know why anyone would want to use that in the first place, and I am not sure of the potential risks involved in its use., but this is more evidence of manipulation of information in order to scare consumers in a misleading manner.

At the 2010 Expo West (which, for the benefit of those not based in the US, is the largest natural products show in the country) the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Safety Review Group's booth reportedly had a banner which read "If you can't pronounce it, it can't be safe"!

Following this logic it must be the case that if you CAN pronounce it, it must be safe. Try pronouncing “hydrogen cyanide”.

Two final quotes from the Skin Deep web site:

“This scoring system does not account for individual sensitivities or differences between the severities of different health endpoints within a particular category.”

And at the head of every product’s hazard rating:

“Given the incomplete information made available by companies and the government, EWG provides additional information on personal care product ingredients from the published scientific literature. The chart below indicates that research studies have found that exposure to one or more ingredients in this product -- not the product itself -- caused the indicated health effect(s) in the studies reviewed by Skin Deep researchers. Actual health risks, if any, will vary based on the level of exposure to the ingredient and individual susceptibility -- information not available in Skin Deep.” (My bold type; not Skin Deep’s)

Does the average consumer looking at the database even read these disclaimers, never mind understand that they are saying that their ratings refer to the individual ingredients and that information on the ACTUAL health risks of the product in question is not available in Skin Deep?

In summary, the Skin Deep database does not offer any insight into the true safety in use of any cosmetic product. Indeed, by encouraging the use of ingredients with no supporting toxicity data, they are risking the health of the very consumers they pupport to be seeking to protect. This database should be radically amended (and corrected) to better reflect it’s true worth, or closed down.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Consumer Reports says sunscreen better than anti-aging serums

Consumers are better off spending their money on sunscreens and moisturizers rather than expensive anti-aging serums, according to Consumer Reports Health.

The report, which appeared in the May edition of the publication, put nine face serums to the test on a number of consumers and concluded that there were only ‘minor and inconsistent' improvements in the subjects.

The serums used in the study included DermaSilk 5 minutes Face Lift, Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle, as well as Burt’s Bees Naturally Ageless Intensive Repairing – the latter being the only all-natural product to be tested.

Study involved 79 women

The study itself tested the products on 79 women, 67 of whom were between the age of 40 and 65, with each individual using a specific serum on one side of their face for six weeks – which is longer than the minimum time recommended by makers before results are visible.

Although every one of the serums tested produced visible results in at least one subject, even the effectiveness of the best product was described as ‘limited’, with wrinkle reduction said to be slight at best.

The products that showed the best results were said to be Dermasilk 5 Minute Face Lift and Neutrogena Ageless Intensive Deep Wrinkle, although these products were also said to have drawn fewer positive comments from testers.

Natural alternative least effective

Interestingly the product which was proven by the study to be the least effective at diminishing wrinkles and fine lines was the natural alternative from Burt’s Bees.

"Consumers should focus on getting back to the basics like moisturizing and shielding skin from the sun. Beyond that, if you want to try an over-the-counter anti-wrinkle product, realize that the results may be minimal if any,” said Jamie Hirsh, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health.

PS from Sweetsation: It is not as encouraging to find out that the only natural product from Burt's Bees delivered the least result. We don't know, however, what ingredients were there, in the tested product. So as a total supporter of non-toxic beauty we still would say that the Defense is the best protection from aging. Sun*Si'Belle SPF 30 is there to help.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Eat the right food for always beautiful skin

Did your momma tell you that to be healthy you have to eat the right food? Same applies to your skin. Want smooth, supple, wrinkle-free beautiful skin?

Scientific skin care, lotions and potions...they're all great, but have you ever heard the phrase "beauty comes from within"? Eat super foods for healthy skin and you'll look younger and feel better.

Incorporating these eight super food secrets into your diet will help erase lines, keep your complexion glowing and give you beautiful skin.

1. Egg Whites for protein to produce collagen. Egg whites have long been known as an immunity booster. Recent studies show that egg whites are a great source of zinc, an essential mineral that keeps the skin young, firm and vital. If you're zinc deficient, all the skin care applications in the world won't cover basic healthy, youthful skin.

2. Pomegranate to soften your skin. A glass of natural, pure pomegranate juice is great, but try to have at least a cup of pomegranate seeds - not just the juice. This fruit is packed with Vitamin C. The juice in pomegranate seeds contains both ellagic acid and punic alagin. The first is a compound that fights damage from free radicals. The second is a super nutrient that increases your body's ability to preserve collagen, the connective tissue that makes your skin look younger, smoother and soft.

3. Olive Oil for a healthy glow. Have at least one tablespoon a day. Olive Oil has "good fat." It contains heart healthy omega-3's, which improve your circulation, leaving skin rosy and supple.

4. Watermelon for a dewy complexion. Eat as much as you like of this healthy, sweet fruit. Watermelon contains lots of Vitamin C, Potassium and Lycopene. These ultimate antioxidants help to regulate the balance of water and nutrients in cells. Hydration is the secret to vibrant, healthy, youthful looking skin and super food secrets for healthy skin is the key.

5. Blueberries to smooth fine lines. Blueberries are truly a super food. They contain more fiber and antioxidants than any other food. Enjoy eating at least one half cup of berries and give your skin the benefit of protection from skin damaging free radicals that come from over-exercising, emotional stress and too much sun exposure. Blueberries prevent cell-structure damage that can lead to fine lines, wrinkles and loss of skin firmness.

6. Green Tea to diminish brown spots. Drink at least one to two cups per day. Not only is this healthy brew great for your diet and boosting your metabolism, it contains "catechins," an effective compound for preventing premature aging and effects of sun damage. Green Tea is rich in antioxidants that fight off free radical damage and may reverse the effects of aging.

7. Cold-Water Fish to reduce redness. Eat six, 6 oz. portions of Salmon, Sardines or Mackerel per week. Cold-Water Fish naturally contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids which strengthen skin-cell membranes, which helps to hydrate the skin. Adding supplements to your diet will also help with inflammation such as Eczema, Rosacea and Psoriasis.

8. Spinach & Kale for skin firming. Eat your green veggies daily! These two Super Foods contain vital Phytonutrients also referred to as antioxidant compounds that help guard against damage from the sun. Try to have at least three cups per week of spinach or kale. These two leafy greens are loaded with beta-carotene and lutein. These two important nutrients are noted to improve skin elasticity and firmness. Also, adding Spirulina supplements to your diet is a great way to get in your nutrients if you aren't eating enough of your green, leafy vegetables.

In summary, beautiful skin starts on the inside. First and foremost, drink water, drink water, drink water, green tea, or even black tea, in place of coffee. Then, try these super food secrets for healthy skin. They are sure to help you look and feel your best!

Article Source: ABC Article Directory

Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know


What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is an ingredient added to many consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It may be found in products such as clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys. It also may be added to antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics—products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What is known about the safety of Triclosan?

Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review.

Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation. However, data showing effects in animals don’t always predict effects in humans. Other studies in bacteria have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

In light of these studies, FDA is engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient. FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time.

Does triclosan provide a benefit in consumer products?

For some consumer products, there is clear evidence that triclosan provides a benefit. In 1997, FDA reviewed extensive effectiveness data on triclosan in Colgate Total toothpaste. The evidence showed that triclosan in this product was effective in preventing gingivitis.

For other consumer products, FDA has not received evidence that the triclosan provides an extra benefit to health. At this time, the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.

What consumers should know:

  • Triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans.
  • FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time.
  • In light of questions raised by recent animal studies of triclosan, FDA is reviewing all of the available evidence on this ingredient’s safety in consumer products. FDA will communicate the findings of its review to the public in spring 2011.
  • At this time, FDA does not have evidence that triclosan added to antibacterial soaps and body washes provides extra health benefits over soap and water. Consumers concerned about using hand and body soaps with triclosan should wash with regular soap and water.
  • Consumers can check product labels to find out whether products contain triclosan.

How can I tell if there is triclosan in a product that I am using?

Antibacterial soaps and body washes, and toothpastes are considered over-the-counter drugs. If an over-the-counter drug contains triclosan, it will be listed as an ingredient on the label, in the Drug Facts box. If a cosmetic contains triclosan, it will be included in the ingredient list on the product label.

What is FDA doing to evaluate the safety of triclosan?

"We are engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of the safety of triclosan in FDA-regulated products. We also have partnered with other Federal Agencies to study the effects of this substance on animal and environmental health" (see;

FDA is working to incorporate the most up-to-date data and information into the regulations that govern the use of triclosan in consumer products. FDA will communicate the findings of its review to the public in spring 2011.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Sweetsation: Based on this FDA review Triclosan doesn't posses any immediate danger to the health of public, but doesn't carry any nutritious value either. Referring to Skin Deep database it scores a high rating of "7". We think that there is no reason to subject yourself to potential "undiscovered" yet danger using products containing this ingredient. So it's best to be avoided as there are many healthier alternatives.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sunblock vs. SPF factor

if you look at the list of "active ingredients" on any product boasting sunscreen protection, you'll notice a list of unfamiliar [and unpronounceable] chemicals. it is however possible to add sunscreen protection to your lotions, creams and balms using natural inorganic minerals that are not absorbed into the skin, are [thought to be] generally safer, and don't foster any adverse reactions such as allergies.

it is very important to note that a particular spf (sun protection factor) is not achieved just by adding a certain amount of some ingredient(s) that equates to a certain value. this value is determined by laboratory testing of the product and is necessary before any such claims can be made. also be warned that making such claims re-classifies the product as a drug and is thereby subject to the stringent regulations of the fda.

the highest spf values are achieved by combinations of ingredients which may include zinc oxide and / or titanium dioxide but always include other chemical sunscreen agents. for the purpose of this page, i am only considering zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

understanding ultraviolet rays
there are three type of light rays in the ultraviolet spectrum. uva, uvb, and uvc. ultraviolet c is the most dangerous but it cannot penetrate earth's protective ozone layer. it therefore poses no threat.

because ultraviolet b is stronger [than uva], it has long been considered the sole culprit in causing skin cancer [in persons with a history of sunburn and repeated overexposure]. recent research, however, has also implicated ultraviolet a as a possible cause of skin cancer. in addition to natural light, artificial light from tanning lamps contains uba and uvb. electric arc lamps can also generate ultraviolet light.

the sun protection factor
the spf or sun protection factors used to describe sunscreens are defined according to international standards. they correspond to the relation between the amount of [uvb] radiation that will cause sunburn on unprotected skin and the degree of radiation that will cause sunburn on protected skin. so by using a product with an spf of 6, for example, the skin's ability to protect itself from sunburn is multiplied by 6. these factors are established under laboratory conditions with a given amount of sunscreen. in real life, the sunscreen should be reapplied frequently.

the method [used by l'oréal] to calculate the uva protection factor is based on the amount of immediate pigmentation remaining after two hours of exposure for unprotected skin compared to skin protected by a sunscreen. it is known as the ppd (persistent pigment darkening) or uva factor. it is only uvas which cause this immediate darkening of the skin.

The protective role of zinc oxide
Zinc and zinc compounds play an important role in human health. Zinc deficiency can manifest itself in many ways including growth retardation, decreased immune function, skin disturbances, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and various blood disorders.

Although zinc has been recognized as an indispensable element for animals since 1934, the essentiality of zinc to humans was documented much later in 1963. Since then, it has become well known that zinc deficiency is common throughout the world, especially in developing countries. Currently, zinc is known to be required by approximately 200 enzymes in the human body.

Zinc containing compounds are also of great benefit to humans. For example, some zinc containing compounds are well known antimicrobials. Zinc oxide, too, has many benefits including its use as a broad-spectrum sunblock.


Zinc oxide has been used as a dermatotherapeutic agent for over 300 years, first as a component of calamine and then on its own in various preparations.

In the "Pharmacopea Londinensis" published in 1618 for the London College of Physicians, Lapis Calaminaris is mentioned as a component in three of 42 therapeutic ointments. In the U.S. Dispensary of 1883, calamine is mentioned and recommended for use as "a mild astringent and exsiccant in excoriations and ulcerations".

Calamine was originally a naturally occurring mixture of zinc containing compounds which was used as is or heated and pulverized into a powder which was then applied to the skin. What we know as calamine today is actually "neo-calamine", a mixture of zinc oxide and iron oxides. This mixture was standardized in 1947 with the publication of the recipe in that year's National Formulary in the United States.

Today, zinc oxide is still widely used as a topical therapeutic medication. In fact, it may well be the most commonly used topically applied drug of all time. One of the more important uses for zinc oxide is as a sunscreen. Why is zinc oxide ideally suited for this purpose?

Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR)

The earth is continuously showered with solar radiation: the electromagnetic energy emitted by the sun. This energy is the source of all that we know and yet, like many other good things, too much can be harmful. Among the spectrum of radiation that the sun emits, Infrared, Visible and Ultraviolet radiation command our attention.

The solar spectrum is divided into various portions by wavelength, which is measured in nanometers (nm). UVR covers from 200 to 400 nanometers. UVR is divided into UVC (200 - 290 nm), UVB (290 - 320 nm) and UVA (320 - 400 nm). UVA is further categorized as UVA I (340 - 400 nm) and UVA II (320 - 340 nm), also called long and short UVA respectively. UVR is generally credited with most of the biologically significant sequela of sun exposure like sunburn, skin cancer and visible aging.

UVC, also known as Germicidal UV, is very toxic. As its name implies, it is lethal to many microorganisms as well as to most plant life. In addition, it is carcinogenic to humans. Fortunately, virtually all UVC is filtered out by the ozone layer.

UVB makes up about 18% of the solar UV spectrum (prior to attenuation by the earths atmosphere) but only about 1% of the UVR that reaches the earths surface, because it is largely filtered out by the ozone layer. Despite its relatively low presence however, UVB is associated with much of the damage caused to humans by sun exposure. Traditionally, UVB was credited as being the sole cause of sunburn and various skin cancers. Although still considered a major cause of sunburn, UVB is no longer thought to be acting alone with respect to skin cancer. It also seems likely that other wavelengths (UVA) will be found to be involved in tumor formation, and perhaps, in some cases, even as the primary agent.

UVA makes up about 75% of the solar UV spectrum but about 99% of the earthly spectrum. This is because UVA is largely unaffected by the ozone layer. Much more abundant, UVA is also much less energetic than UVB and thus is thought to be biologically less significant. UVA is the major cause of skin darkening (tanning) and aging.

In addition to the sun, there are some man-made sources of UV exposure. They include welding arcs, germicidal lamps, some laboratory equipment and tanning lamps.


Photochemistry is simply chemistry that takes place as the result of light's interaction with molecules. Virtually any wavelength of light can induce some sort of photochemistry. In biology however, UVR wavelengths seem to cause the most significant changes in humans.

The body has many molecules that can absorb UVR and hence participate in photochemical reactions. For instance, nucleic acids (DNA, RNA), melanin, various proteins, hormones, and many drug metabolites absorb UVR. All of these molecules are potentially changed and damaged by sun exposure.

It is known that UVR consistently and specifically damages DNA and one gene in particular, known as p53, is a marker for such damage. Although the precise pathway is not yet mapped, this is most certainly one avenue that can lead to skin cancer. It is also well documented that UVR induces the formation of free radicals in the skin. These free radicals go onto produce many deleterious reactions that can also lead to damage, including cancer.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer occurs more frequently than all other cancers combined. In the US alone, there will be about 1,000,000 new cases of skin cancer this year. Importantly, the rate of skin cancer is increasing rapidly for reasons that are not entirely clear but surely have something to do with sun exposure.

There are two types of skin cancer, Melanoma and Non-Melanoma. Melanoma is a cancer (malignant neoplasm) that forms from melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that form melanin (the brown pigment we all make). Melanomas usually occur in the skin but can form anywhere there are melanocytes such as the eyes, nails, central nervous system and mucosal surfaces.

Of the types of skin cancer, melanoma is by far the most fatal accounting for the vast majority of skin cancer related deaths. The sun's role in melanoma is not yet definitively established although it seems likely that UVR exposure is critical.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC) is a term that collectively refers to the two less lethal forms of sun related skin cancer, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). Together they occur far more often than Melanoma but are also, fortunately, less likely to cause death.

Other Sun-related Skin Changes

Aside from causing skin cancer, the sun is responsible for many other changes in our skin. Sun exposure will cause wrinkling, yellowing, and thinning of the skin. In addition, sun exposed skin will lose its elasticity. It is estimated that 90% of the skin changes that we associate with aging are actually due to sun exposure. These changes are collectively referred to as photoaging. In other words, if we were constantly protected from the sun, our skin would barely change from the time we were about 20 years old. Most of photoaging is the result of damage to collagen and elastin, two important structural components of the skin. Between them, they provide the skin with strength and elasticity.

Action Spectrum

All of the photochemical reactions described above are the result of specific wavelengths interacting with specific molecules. The collection of wavelengths that can cause a particular reaction is called the Action Spectrum for that reaction. For example, the Action Spectrum for sunburn is predominately in the UVB range. In other words, UVB causes sunburn.

A long suspected, but only recently proven fact is that the Action Spectrum for photoaging is in the UVA region, specifically in the UVA I portion of the ultraviolet spectrum. This is important because zinc oxide effectively blocks this portion of the UVR spectrum.


Since the late 1920s, sunscreens have been used by people to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun. The original sunscreens were organic molecules that worked by absorbing the sun's radiation. Para-Amino Benzoic Acid (PABA), perhaps the best known sunscreen, was patented in 1943 and enjoyed a long period of common usage. It has since fallen out of favor but other organic sunscreens still make up the vast majority of the chemicals used for this purpose.

In addition to the organic sunscreens, there are also several inorganic chemicals used to block the sun. Some common ones are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and iron oxide. The inorganic chemicals offer good protection and, unlike their organic counterparts, are not absorbed into the skin. Because of this, they do not cause any adverse reactions such as allergies and are thought to be generally safer. Among these, zinc oxide has an unmatched history of safe and effective long-term use.

In the past, sun damage was synonymous with sunburn. It was assumed that the same rays that caused sunburn would also cause skin cancer and other sun related problems. Accordingly, sunscreen development was aimed at the invention of sunscreens that stopped sunburn which is a UVB phenomenon.

We now know that the entire UV spectrum, and not just UVB, is important. Photoaging and perhaps even some forms of skin cancer can be caused by UVA. There is a lack of ingredients that effectively block UVA, especially UVA I. Fortunately, zinc oxide does.

Sun Protection Factor: SPF

How much protection a sunscreen provides is described by the SPF number on the container. This system is used virtually worldwide.

The test consists of determining how much UVR (mostly UVB) it takes to cause a barely detectable sunburn on a given person. As an example, if it takes 10 minutes to "burn" without the sunscreen and 100 minutes with the sunscreen then that product has an SPF of 10 (100/10). An SPF of 15 blocks about 94% of the UVR and is generally considered adequate for most people most of the time.

Since the SPF system is based on sunburn (a UVB phenomenon), it tells you very little about UVA protection. Again, this stems from the fact that, at the time the SPF system was created (the 1970's), UVB was considered the only important part of the spectrum. A meaningful test for UVA is currently being devised but, for the time being, consumers have to rely of the sunscreen manufacturers to use the right ingredients, like zinc oxide.

One should note that a claim of "Broad Spectrum" on the label is no guarantee of adequate UVA coverage. This is because a "Broad Spectrum" claim can be made simply by including one of several ingredients that block only a portion of the UVA spectrum. As above, this is based on the old assumption that UVA was not very important. It is expected that the various regulatory agencies around the world will correct this problem in the near future.

Zinc Oxide As A True Broad-spectrum Sunblock

Zinc oxide has been used for centuries to protect and heal the skin. When it was first intentionally used as a sunblock is not clear but, at least during this century, it has been considered common knowledge that zinc oxide is the most effective sunblock available. Everyone can recall lifeguards and tennis players with zinc oxide on their lips and noses. The military even issued zinc oxide paste to pilots during both World Wars to use in case they were downed and excessively subjected to the elements.

UVB causes sunburn and UVA causes skin aging and skin darkening (tanning). Both UVA and UVB are involved in skin cancer. Given this knowledge, any consumer product claiming sun protection needs to block both UVA and UVB. To do anything else is doing a disservice to the public. Recall that a sunscreen that blocks only UVB will still prevent a sunburn.

Sunburn is the body's built in alarm system that tells us when we have had too much UVR. When this response is "bypassed" people stay out longer than they normally would and, if using only a UVB block, expose themselves to unnaturally high doses of UVA radiation. This is one of several proposed explanations for the rising incidence of skin cancer.

Fortunately, zinc oxide blocks virtually the entire UVA and UVB spectrum. This makes it the most complete block known. Why then, is it not used in all sunscreen products?

There are a couple of answers to this. First, the recognition of zinc oxide's potential as the ultimate sunblock is a relatively recent event. Second, the traditional organic sunscreens have a tremendous amount of commercial inertia that needs to be overcome. Third, even in a microfine form, zinc oxide will appear white when used in large amounts. To deal with this, the cosmetic formulators must be educated on the proper use of particulates.

In the past couple of years, the market has seen the first elegant sunscreens based on zinc oxide become available. Sometimes zinc oxide is used alone but usually it is used in combination with one of the organic sunscreens. More and more products based on zinc oxide are expected to appear in the market in future. This is especially true given the trend towards using sunscreens in daily wear products such as moisturizers. In this type of formulation, it is particularly important to use ingredients like zinc oxide that are not only effective, but also non-irritating.

titanium dioxide
like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide is an inert earth mineral. in addition to being used as a thickening, whitening, lubricating ingredient it is also used as a sunscreen. as with zinc oxide, it comes in a white powdered form and is water soluble. the micronized (small particles) form is dispersible in oil. there is also a micronized form of zinc oxide.

titanium dioxide is very similar to zinc oxide in that they both are physical sun blockers. there are both inert and are therefore not absorbs by the skin. consider the commercial sunblocks that afford higher spf values. whereas they may give superior protection, these organic chemicals are being absorbed by the skin. and since sunblock needs to be re-applied repeatedly, this increases your exposure.

so how much and of what do i use to give my product an spf of 15? in addition to those natural substances listed below, there are the myriad chemical sunscreen agents (e.g. avobenzone, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, ethylhexyl salicylate, octinoxate, octisalate, oxybenzone, etc.), most of which are not available to the general public. regardless of the substance, the amount used, i would think, would be determined by the properties of the ingredient and how it affected the end product ...and it's effect on the skin. the desired spf can only be determined by laboratory testing ...and those results submitted to the fda for the right to make the sunblocking claim and include such information on the product label.

one such product "Paula's Choice Pure Mineral Sunscreen SPF 15", which uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the only sunscreen agents, boasts an spf of 15. if we were to assume that since this is a commercial product, it has been tested and fda approved. from that assumption we could conclude that adding 6.84% titanium dioxide and 2.23% zinc oxide to your lotion would give it an spf of 15. But that assumption may not be (and probably isn't) true. the spf is also determined by the medium in which the sunscreen agents are suspended as well as the other ingredients in the lotion. also, in the case of zinc and titanium, the particle size has an important influence on their efficacy ...the smaller the particle, the more surface area to deflect the UV rays.

so, what and how much of it you use is a trial and error process and finally left up to your own personal discerment. in the end, you will have a product that has some sunblocking properties, but -- and I can't stress this enough -- unless you're having the product lab tested and verified to provide a specific degree of sunblock protection, that claim cannot and should not be made.

all that having been said, i'm listing here some addidional information that i ran across offering suggestions for adding spf. these are not the results of lab testing and this information is to be taken with many grains of salt.

this [excerpt from] the ingredients list for a lotion bar actually quotes an spf value.
to 1.75 oz of melted product:
add 1 tsp. titanium dioxide for an spf of 15
add an additional 1/2 tsp. for spf 30
this ingredients list for lip balm with spf will give an indication of the proportions used -- no actual spf value was quoted.
1-1/2 oz beeswax pearls
1 oz cocoa butter
1-1/2 oz shea butter (natural)
2 ozs. avocado oil
1-2 teaspoons vanilla and orange flavor oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon titanium dioxide white
1 teaspoon vitamin E liquid
and finally, the chart below was supplied by "ponte vedre shop shoppe" (stating that it ws supplied to them by their supplier) and attributes a particular sfp value to a percentage of concentration.

(spf 2-5)
(spf 6-11)
(spf 12-19)
ultra high
(spf >20)

titanium dioxide <4% 8% 12% 20%
titanium dioxide, micronized 2% 4% 6% 10%
zinc oxide 5% 10% 15% 25%
zinc oxide, micronized 3% 7.5% 12% 20%

natural spf substances
in addition to zinc and titanium, there are some other natural substance that have their own spf properties. since i cannot identify the "authoritative" source of this information, i'm passing it on as purely informative.

zinc oxide -- spf: 2 - 45
titanium dioxide -- spf: 2 - 45

jojoba oil -- spf: 4
red raspberry seed oil -- spf: 28-50
sesame seed oil -- spf: 4
shea butter -- spf: 4

there is also green tea [extract], and white camellia oil, which is extracted from the seed of the camellia flower (i.e. tea plant: camellia sinensis). green tea has been found to counteract the effects of both uvb & uva radiation and protects against skin cancer. green tea does not absorb uv rays like a sunblock. it works with the skin on a cellular level. it inhibits uvb-induced erythema (redness of the skin caused by increased blood flow to the capillaries). it also blocks the cancer-causing changes to the skin cells caused by sun exposure. it does this by causing abnormal cells to self-terminate thereby preventing the development of abnormal growths. lastly, it supports melanin production, the skin's own natural sunburn protection.