features weekly tips and advice from a revolving cast of industry
leaders, on hand to discuss your beauty dilemmas, from blemishes to
Botox. To submit a question, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been hearing all of these reports lately about sunscreens
formulated with vitamin A that increase the risk of skin cancer. The
headlines sound pretty scary. What’s the best way to keep myself safe
from the sun without doing damage to my skin?
A: There have been
some studies showing that retinyl palmitate, a type of vitamin A, caused
an increased incidence of tumor development in rats. But it’s hard to
make the jump to say that the same holds true for humans without much
additional research. It may not be the case, and there’s not enough
evidence to support that conclusion at this point. Also worth
considering: When vitamin A is present in a sunscreen—and it often is
not present—the amounts used are extremely small.
As far as ideal
sunscreen is concerned, look for a broad-spectrum product that protects
against UVA and UVB damage. SPF 30 offers protection that’s adequate
for most people, and it offers the biggest bang for the buck. As you go
higher than SPF 30, any added sunscreen benefits sort of fall off
quickly and are not as noticeable. The key is to apply a good enough
coating of the product—one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass, is
considered adequate to cover your body—and to reapply every two hours or
after swimming or sweating heavily. According to the American Academy
of Dermatology, even so-called “water-resistant” sunscreens may lose
their effectiveness after 40 minutes in the water. Sunscreens rub off as
well as wash off, so if you’ve towel-dried, be sure to reapply
sunscreen to avoid a burn.
James Hammer is a cosmetic chemist who
analyzes and formulates products for the beauty industry. He works with
the Pharmasol Corporation in Easton, MA.