-- A new sunscreen approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) promises protection for the full range of both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) rays.
While this new sunscreen is a breakthrough in skin protection, experts say that people should continue to follow standard advice to avoid the sun and protect their skin.
Anthelios SX is an over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen that contains a new molecular ingredient designed to block a broader spectrum of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. The new molecular entity is called ecamsule. Ecamsule has not been marketed in the United States, but has been sold in Europe and Canada as Mexoryl SX since 1993.
The other two active ingredients in Anthelios SX, avobenzone and octocrylene, are generally recognized as safe and effective under the current OTC requirements for sunscreens.
New Ingredient Blocks UVA Rays
Ecamsule shields skin from short-wave UVA rays - something sunscreens currently available in the US are unable to do. The product will be available to consumers this fall.
"There is nothing like this in the US," says Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University and advisor to L'Oreal, the manufacturer of Anthelios. "Basically, it lasts longer, and it gives better protection against UVA."
Dr. Rigel notes that most UVA protections are not chemically stable and break down quickly. "What Mexoryl [ecamsule] does is stabilize them and make them last longer," he says.
According to the FDA, the safety and efficacy data for Anthelios SX included information from 28 studies in over 2500 patients, ranging in age from 6 months to over 65 years old. In addition, the contribution of each of the active ingredients to sun protection was studied.
Side effects reported during clinical studies were infrequent and non-serious. The most common side effects in patients were acne, dermatitis, dry skin, eczema, abnormal redness, itching, skin discomfort, and sunburn.
Sunscreens Only One Part of Sun Protection Strategy
A better sunscreen, however, does not change the basic rules of skin protection.
"No sunscreen completely protects people against UVA radiation," says FDA spokeswoman Kimberly A. Rawlings. "This product and other sunscreens reducing UVA exposure should be used in conjunction with limiting time in the sun and wearing protective clothing. [The] FDA has not compared this product with other sunscreens capable of reducing UVA exposure."
According to experts, UVB causes sunburn and skin cancer, while UVA causes aging and some skin cancers.
One expert believes the best sun protection combines physical sun blocks with chemical ones.
"A lot of sunscreens break down in the sun. That's the dirty little secret that no one talks about," says Dr. Jeffrey C. Salomon, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine. "In most sunscreens, there are both chemical and physical sun blocks."
Sun blocks such as zinc oxide and titanium physically block the sun from coming in, Dr. Salomon says. "Chemical sun blocks break down rapidly in the sun," he says. "You want a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB, that has a high SPF, and that is waterproof."
"It's best to use a sunblock that contains both physical as well as chemical blockers," Dr. Salomon advises.
Dr. Salomon recommends putting a shot-glass-size amount of sunblock on each arm and leg and on the chest and back. In addition, it should be put on at least 30 minutes before going into the sun and reapplied every two hours.
"Sunscreens are an important part of total sun protection strategy as consumers arm themselves against the harmful sun rays," says Dr. Steven Galson, Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
"While this product provides protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays, [the] FDA continues to recommend that in addition to using a sunscreen, consumers protect themselves from sun exposure by limiting time in the sun and wearing protective clothing," Dr. Galson states.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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Facts About Skin Cancer and UV Radiation
Skin cancer strikes more people worldwide than any other form of cancer. Although more common in fair-skinned people, anyone can develop skin cancer.
In the US alone, one million US adults will be diagnosed with the disease this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, especially when too much time is spent in the sun.
Avoiding sun overexposure is the best defense against skin cancer. And, catching skin cancer early can provide a better chance for successful treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society and the CDC:
Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells and accounts for 50 percent of all cancers.
Although exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays is said to be the most important factor in the cause of skin cancers, about 70 percent of American adults do not use sun-protection measures.
Most skin cancers appear after age 50, but skin damage from the sun begins at an early age. Therefore, protection should start in childhood to prevent skin cancer later in life.
What is ultraviolet radiation?
Energy from the sun reaches the earth as visible, infrared, and ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) is made up of wavelengths 320 to 400 nanometers (nm) in length.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) wavelengths are 280 to 320 nm in length.
Ultraviolet C (UVC) wavelengths are 100 to 280 nm in length. Only UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays reach the earth's surface. The earth's atmosphere absorbs UVC wavelengths.
UVB rays cause a much greater risk of skin cancer than UVA. However, UVA rays cause aging, wrinkling, and loss of elasticity.
UVA also increases the damaging effects of UVB, including skin cancer and cataracts (an eye disorder characterized by a change in the structure of the crystalline lens that causes blurred vision).
In most cases, ultraviolet rays react with a chemical called melanin, that is found in the skin. This is the first defense against the sun, as it is the melanin that absorbs the dangerous UV rays that can do serious skin damage.
A sunburn develops when the amount of UV damage exceeds the protection that the skin's melanin can provide.
While a small amount of exposure to sunlight is healthy and pleasurable, too much can be dangerous. Measures should be taken to prevent overexposure to sunlight in order to reduce the risks of cancers, premature aging of the skin, the development of cataracts, and other harmful effects.
Always consult your physician for more information.