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Dr. Joshua Fox and Dr. Valerie Goldburt on misconceptions about cosmetics and sun protection
We all agree on sunscreen for a day at the beach. But do we need it for a day at the office? Few women want a glazed sheen when they head to work, but sun protection is still essential. UV rays can penetrate windows and we are also at risk of sun damage when we are out getting lunch or walking to work, rain or shine. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, outnumbering all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
“Skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer,” says Dr. Joshua Fox, founder and director of New York-based Advanced Dermatology and the Center for Cosmetic & Laser, OBS.
“Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer and there is much that we can do to limit that exposure.” It’s tempting to skip a sunscreen and rely on the SPF of makeup, but is that enough? Or can you just wear moisturizer with sunscreen? Dr. Fox and his colleague Dr. Valerie Goldburt address these questions and other common misconceptions about cosmetics and sun protection.
· Is foundation with SPF enough coverage?
Many foundations and pressed powders now contain sunscreen but you’ll need a kabuki mask’s worth to obtain the advertised sun protection. “It would require seven times the amount of foundation you wear to get the full SPF value of the product,” says Dr. Goldburt. “And it would take 14 times the amount of powder.” Foundations with an SPF rating between 8 and 15 will increase your odds for sun protection but should be preceded by sunscreen or sunscreen-containing moisturizer. It’s important to do the math – correctly. “If your foundation and your moisturizer both have SPF 15,” says Dr. Goldburt, “it doesn’t mean you’ve doubled your protection to SPF 30.”
· Should I powder my nose?
Yes, because its benefits are twofold: The tiny pigmented talc particles it contains provide a certain amount of protection on their own, and applying a layer of powder will help your sunscreen and your moisturizer stay put. “Once sunscreen wears off or is washed away by perspiration or skin oils, it can’t protect you as well,” says Dr. Fox, who recommends compressed powder applied with a sponge.
· Can I substitute sunscreen for moisturizer with SPF?
If it’s winter and you will primarily be indoors, a moisturizer that reads “broad-spectrum” with an SPF 15 or higher may be enough. It should list active ingredients such as zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) or ecamsule (Mexoryl), combined with octocrylene and avobenzone. Generally, there is no cost difference between moisturizers with or without sunscreen so the latter is a good investment. However, sometimes a higher SPF sunscreen can be more expensive than ones with lower SPF. Ideally, you should apply an SPF-packed moisturizer followed by sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure.
· What are the differences in regulations between plain moisturizers and moisturizers with sunscreen?
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies these products differently,” says Dr. Goldburt. “Moisturizers on their own are considered cosmetics, meaning they are applied with the intent of cleaning, beautifying or changing the appearance of the body.” Because sunscreen ingredients are designed to prevent disease, they are classified as drugs and are subject to a stringent approval process before going on the market. Thus, moisturizers with sunscreen undergo greater scrutiny before they hit the shelves than plain moisturizers.
· Will lipstick protect my pucker?
If you slick on lip gloss before hitting the beach, you may as well be putting baby oil on them and lying out in the sun: the gloss will attract UV rays. “Lips get more sun exposure than any other area on the face and they have almost no melanin to protect them,” says Dr. Fox. “The color is derived from tiny blood vessels beneath the skin.” He recommends an opaque lipstick, preferably with an SPF rating of 15 or above. “If you prefer the wet look, apply colored lipstick first and then top it with a gloss for shine.” People who wear lipstick have much lower rates of lip cancer.
· Does hair shield my scalp?
“People often forget to protect their scalp and end up with a burn in their part,” says Dr. Goldburt. “Mist your scalp and hairline with a sun spray specifically for hair. Even better, wear a hat!”
· Can mineral makeup minimize UV damage?
Mineral makeup has become more popular due to its claims of sun protection. This claim is due mostly to the high content of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — two ingredients commonly found in traditional sunscreen. These cosmetics are often as pricy as department store brands. However, L’Oreal, Maybelline, and other drugstore brands offer more affordable mineral cosmetics.
“Because mineral makeup often eliminates classic irritants like fragrances, dyes, and preservatives, it can be gentler on the skin,” says Dr. Fox. “But there is no federal or state regulation for what constitutes a mineral makeup, so any product containing minerals as a primary ingredient can be marketed as one, even if it contains synthetic components.”