James Connors, MD
Choosing a Sunscreen
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a sunscreen: how it feels on the skin, water-resistant vs sheer, the ingredients (mineral/zinc based vs chemical sunscreens), how well it rates in Consumer Reports or the Environmental Working Group guides and cost.
I am placing my recommendation based on what product, in my opinion, likely does the best job of protecting the skin from the unwanted effects of ultraviolet radiation, namely skin cancer and photoaging.
Triple Protection Factor
That product is a sunscreen called Triple Protection Factor (TPF) and it is marketed by Elizabeth Arden, which is funny because I don’t normally think of Elizabeth Arden as a particularly medically-oriented brand. Lumen carries it, because I think it’s a great product and wearing a good sunscreen is one of the most important things we can all do to protect ourselves and keep us looking young.
TPF has three components: an SPF 50 broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, antioxidants formulated to penetrate into the skin, and 3 different DNA-repair enzymes.
We know that UV light exerts its damage within the skin by two main pathways: direct damage to the DNA of the skin cells, and indirect damage to DNA and cellular proteins by oxidative damage/ free radicals.
The Role of DNA Repair and Antioxidants
Our own bodies have antioxidants and DNA-repair enzymes that keep this damage in check. As we get older, these defenses become less efficient and can become overwhelmed – unable to keep pace with the UV light-induced damage.
We are able to measure the amount of direct DNA damage as well as the amount of oxidative damage done to skin cells by taking a biopsy of the skin and doing biochemical assays to measure levels of different chemical “markers” that indicate how much damage is being done. Some markers indicate oxidative damage. Others show how much direct DNA damage has been done. If we were to measure levels of these markers before and after spending the day at the beach, the afternoon levels of these markers would be much higher than the morning levels. In general, the oxidative markers mimic the levels of direct DNA damage.
In 2014, a study showed that the levels of sun damage markers were reduced by adding antioxidants to sunscreens and reduced even further when DNA repair enzymes were added as well. They then compared the triple protection product to other well-known commercially available products – antioxidants, sunscreens, peptides etc. The triple protection sunscreen product outperformed them all, in terms of the biochemical markers of sun damage. (For those clients interested, we keep copies of the journal articles we use when deciding on which products to recommend and can provide them to you doing your visit.)
There is not always a perfect correlation between what one sees in the lab and what happens in real life. However, as time goes on, I have a feeling we will be seeing a new generation of “smart” sunscreens. These products won’t just block UV radiation. They will also help reverse the damage that happens after UV radiation has altered the DNA and cellular proteins of the skin. Currently, TPF is one of the better ones out there.