New formulas — and one of our favorite beauty entrepreneurs — are revolutionizing SPF as we know it.
Rihanna has been all around the world — and still couldn’t find a sunscreen that wasn’t chalky or caused flashback. But “you gotta protect your skin from the sun no matter what your skin color is,” says the founder and CEO of Fenty Skin. And that is how a world-famous megastar wound up joining skin-care researchers from around the globe in pursuit of a common goal: innovative sunscreens that everyone can — and wants — to wear.
The sobering reality is that “only one in three adults regularly use sunscreen when spending time outdoors,” says Dawn Holman, a behavioral scientist for the CDC. This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people (“If you’re under 25, you’re less likely to wear sunscreen,” says Holman) and people of color: Only about 11 percent of non-Hispanic Black adults and about 25 percent of Hispanic adults regularly use sunscreen, compared with 40 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, according to a CDC survey.
“I think a lot of people with darker skin tones think because they’re not burning that they don’t need SPF, but we can still get sun damage,” says Rihanna. “If you have discoloration, guess what? You can get that from the sun.” Characteristics like blue or green eyes or freckles make people more prone to skin cancer, but “no one is immune,” says Holman. “All races and ethnicities get diagnosed with skin cancer.”
Making people think differently about sunscreen is a tall order, but education can go a long way. “School-based interventions can increase sun-protective behaviors and reduce sunburn among youth,” says Holman. Also great sunscreen-wearing motivation (for all ages): Rihanna says so. She’s launched her first sunscreen, Fenty Skin Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen, and hopes to raise awareness that everyone needs to protect themselves.
“We created this pink hue that works on all skin tones,” she says of the avobenzone, homosalate, and octisalate formula. It creates a pretty glow, blends in easily, and is “totally invisible; that means no chalky residue and no flashback,” says Rihanna.
As Holman points out, “making it easy for people to stay sun-safe makes a big difference.” We also know that when Rihanna puts her mind to bringing about inclusivity in the beauty industry, things tend to change…
Already, Amorepacific is developing a unique and hopefully truly sheer “UV-protective physical solution” (their words, not ours). Right now, it’s hard to find physical or mineral formulas that work on darker skin tones. The two existing mineral ingredients — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — are “also used in makeup for making pigments whiter or opaque,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “It goes against their very nature to be sheer.”
It is possible to shrink titanium dioxide and zinc oxide into smaller particles to make them transparent, but that raises a new set of issues: Some studies suggest that if those particles go down to nanosize, they might not block UVA rays as effectively and may penetrate skin.
And that penetration has raised some safety concerns, “but they remain in the stratum corneum with minimal systemic absorption, [so it is] unlikely that they cause harm,” says Michelle Henry, a clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. (Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide be “generally recognized as safe and effective,” but the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified titanium dioxide as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”)
Amorepacific is using silica, a naturally occurring mineral commonly found in sand, to create transparent, hollow, loosely compacted spheres that refract UV rays (thus protecting skin), says Yan Li, a scientist at the Amorepacific R&D Center in South Korea. “Cosmetic-grade silica is not considered carcinogenic,” says Wilson.
It could be years, though, before this silica filter (which still needs to go through clinical trials) appears in sunscreens in the U.S. To call the FDA’s approval process for sunscreen ingredients “slow” is generous. The 2014 Sunscreen Innovation Act did help pave the way for speedier approvals, but the FDA still hasn’t signed off on a new sunscreen ingredient since 1999; the E.U., meanwhile, has 27 ingredients, compared with our 16.
“Chemists can only do so much with the limited number of sunscreen actives available, and that list is getting smaller due to consumer and environmental concerns,” says Wilson. (Two sheer chemical sunscreens — oxybenzone and octinoxate — have been banned in Hawaii because studies show they can damage coral reefs.)
But we can’t wait for new ingredients to be more vigilant about sun protection. “As average temperatures continue to rise globally, there has been an increase in the amount of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface over time, which could contribute to an increased skin cancer risk,” says Holman. She cites sunscreen as one very important part of a larger plan, including wearing protective clothing, staying in the shade, and reducing time outdoors.
While we’re doing all that, we can also fantasize about the future: “Hopefully, there will be a sunscreen that only requires a weekly application and gives transparent protection 24/7,” says Henry. “That would be the dream.”
Originally published on Allure.com
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