Sunscreen Myths & Truths: What We Know in 2015

Sunscreen is a trying case. Which is worse: no screen at all or a chemical cocktail? And then the Vitamin D hysteria, oh dear. 

Sun protection info can look complex – in order to gain clarity, let’s focus on the latest we know.

To get the latest info and the perspective of a dermatology and allergology expert, I made sure to talk to an experienced allergist and dermatologist, skin cancer expert Prof. Dr. med. Eckhart Kämpgen – one of the founding directors of Dermatologikum Berlin, Berlin’s largest dermatological practice, day clinic, laser centre, and educational space.dermatologikum-berlin-impressionsHere’s what it looks like inside.

Of particular interest for me: Vitamin D facts and readers questions (re: kids and sun; sunscreen from inside out).

sunscreen-facts-2015Q: As a dermatologist, what do you think about sunscreen „from inside out“ with substances like astaxanthin and beta-carotene? 

A: The effects are minimal, and omitting an effective topical protection as a possible result is foolish.

Q: Sunscreen lotions often contain irritating and/or toxic substances (alcohol, fragrance, retinol, DHA); titanium dioxide can cause cell damage when exposed to UV rays; exaggerated SPF of 50 and more can lead to uncontrolled sun exposure. The research efforts of finding a safe, a clean sunscreen are enormous. Dermatologists urge us to apply sunscreen – but do you campaign safer product formulations too?

A: ALL external agents (cosmetics, but also medical products and firm skincare) bear a certain risk of irritating skin or of causing allergies – as a specific defensive reaction to an ingredient. On the plus side of using a sunscreen product is the avoidance of UV-damage, and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages in my opinion.

It is a common misconception that “biological” products are less harmful than industrial formulations. WRONG, we see contact allergies occur more often after the use of some ‘marigold salve’ or ‘milking grease’ than after the use of established skincare of the big brands. Plant coumarins, exposed to light, can cause severe skin reactions. Using such salves on damaged skin will dramatically increase the risk of sensitisation.

Especially with sunscreens the photostability of the UVA and UVB filters is an important feature, moreover the products’ water resistance – which is excellent with modern formulations.

1) DHA + sun = more free radicals
2) Titanium dioxide concerns
) Current (2015) EWG safe
suscreen recommendations

sunscreen-facts-2015-vitaminDQ: Sciolism and panicking rule these days when it comes to Vitamin D levels. How much “un-sunfiltered” sun exposure is safe for reaping all the sunlight benefits without getting any side effects?

A: It’s correct that the skin needs the UVB energy to build Vitamin D precursors. BUT – this process stops after 20-30 minutes. This is the moment to apply sunscreen at the latest. Skin type I (red hair, pale complexion) should do so after 10 minutes already.

Q: Is the Vitamin D from food and the Vitamin D built through UVB of equal value for the body?

A: Basically, yes – Vitamin D, whether it’s skin synthesis or intake with food, has to be activated primarily in kidneys. One soused herring a day will do.

Too much Vitamin D can be toxic.
The recommended maximum intake
is 50 mcg (2,000 IU) for individuals
with normal kidney function.

Beware of ‘experts’ that insist on Vit D
deficiency as The root of all trouble. Think
holistic – a reasonable Vit D level is only a
part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

A comprehensive Vitamin D resource,
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

sunscreen-interview-eckhart-kaempgenQ: Many parents wonder whether babies and small children really need sunscreen. What is your recommendation? Can kids play in the sun without sunscreen?

A: Definitely NO – we know today that sunburns during infancy and childhood have severe consequences. The black skin cancer frequency rose dramatically in people who migrated to Australia as young children, concretely before reaching the age of 20.

And thus – when the sun radiation is intense (example: Mallorca in summer), children and in particular babies and infants need to keep out of the sun. In the early morning and late afternoon they may go outdoors protected (waterproof sunscreen, SPF 25 minimum), wearing a shirt (most sunburns occur on the shoulder area) and preferably also a sun hat.

Q: What would be your SPF recommendations for adults?

A: Skin types I (red hair and pale complexion) + II (blond, blue eyes) should take SPF 50, waterproof. Renew your sunscreen after 4 hours but only if practicing extensive outdoor sport activities like sailing, beach volleyball. Skin types III and IV can stay in the sun for more than 12 hours with SPF 25, so this should be sufficient.

Q: What is your personal UV protection strategy?

A: UVB causes sunburn and skin cancer, UVA the wrinkles! And other than UVB, UVA can penetrate most glass panels. And hence: the diligent office worker sitting by a window is likely to develop wrinkles, but not skin cancer!! Professional drivers (because who would apply sunscreen in a car) of 30 years have more wrinkles than any farmer – the latter is wearing a hat in the outdoors.

My tip: make it a duty to wear a day cream with UVA filters when indoors – this will save you a fortune otherwise spent on Botox and hyaluronic acid. When outdoors, a classic sunscreen with both UVA and UVB is a must.

1) Unchanged: My fave sunscreen by Badger Balm
2) S.T.A.C.Y. – my individual, holistic sun protection plan

I hope this was an enlightening combo of an expert Q&A and helpful links.
Do you still feel you have blanks to fill in in regards of sun exposure and skin health?
Or do you want to share a controversial point of view?

Let’s hear that in the comments below!


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14 Responses

  1. Heather in Arles

    Thank you so, so very much for this. As someone with Skin Type 1 (plus both my mom and dad had skin cancer at some point as they are in the same category too), I worry a lot about seperating the myths from the hype from the facts. This was helpful and reassuring on many points.

  2. Tanya

    Cool. Good I’ve never had issues with sunbathing as a kid. I hated sitting still so I was mostly playing at a shadowy place while the adults were grilling ^^

  3. Thank you very much for the comprehensive interview, the details and links to other articles. Very interesting although I read quite a lot about the topic and discussed with you. Beside using sunscreen when spending the day outside I made it a must to wear sunglasses and a visor or head as well.

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