My five year old cat Mango had just been diagnosed with gum disease and now requires to have his teeth brushed daily. It’s not a common thing to brush your cat’s teeth but the vet and the sales person at the local organic pet food store recommend it. As a result, a tube of cat toothpaste is competing for shelf space amongst my beauty products on my bathroom counter. My husband started to arm his way into getting more real estate for the cat’s brushing tools by making the point: “Well, you are so on top of applying sunblock everyday to prevent aging, why not do some preventative brushing for Mango so he doesn’t lose his teeth?”
Hmm… is it really the same? How can he view cat teeth brushing the same as aging prevention? It’s true, I am a little of a health nut when it comes to preventative care for the body, especially when it comes to using sunscreen, but this is certainly a much more important factor that affect our lives.
A few years after I graduated from college I went to a birthday party for one of my friends and met a woman named Jessica. She was a TV producer who seemed very accomplished for her age. After talking to her for an hour I started to get very impressed with this girl’s worldly experience.
She graduated from Columbia with a master’s degree in journalism, worked on TV shows, wrote screenplays, and was taking a year off. All for a woman seemingly my age – what an accomplishment.
As I started asking about her last year at Columbia to see if we knew anyone in common, she stared at me. “Honey, we would not know anyone in common – I’m 40.” Forty? As in more than a decade older than I am? I almost dropped my beer. The woman doesn’t look a day older than 25.
“What do you put on your face everyday?” was one of my first questions. I had to know the secret and tattoo it in my mind before I get too inebriated to store information properly.
“Oh, nothing much, just some organic lotion and sunblock. But if you are really wondering what my beauty secret is, it’s really just sunblock”. Answered Jessica slyly.
“What brand?” I asked bluntly, Asian style.
“I actually make my own. But you should definitely become familiar with the terms titanium dioxide and zinc oxide if you ever shop for a new bottle. These are the magical ingredients.”
She then went on to explain that when she went to Columbia, a lot of her classmates were rich and they all had perfectly youthful looking moms. She had always wanted to become one of them, sans Botox. After talking to a few, and doing some research at the library (this is pre-Google days, she was stuck researching for hours), she concluded that the face cream they used helped a lot and the magical thing their face cream did was block sun exposure.
Inspired by the 40-year-old woman who looks 25, I went on an information hunt on the effect of sunblock on skin aging.
What I learned about Sunscreen
I rushed home to check if the Shisiedo suncreen my mom gets me for Christmas every year had any titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Phew, it had one – titanium dioxide. Maybe that was why I was still getting carded buying liquor at 27.
I did a quick search at Walgreens, and amongst all the Coppertones, Neurtrogena, and Banana Boat brands the only product that contained either of these two ingredients was Olay UV Protective Lotion, which isn’t even marked in the sunscreen isle.
It made me wonder if all the hours of enduring the foul Coppertone smell at the beach was actually worthwhile.
More facts about the Sunscreen
SPF – Sun Protection Factor. Everyone who’s ever used sunblock probably knows this term, but don’t know much about exactly what it does. It basically protects the skin from UVB light emitted by the sun. UVB light causes sunburn, redness on the skin. If a sunblock has a high SPF, you can probably avoid getting red and puffy by using it.
UVA – Less widely known but also emitted by the sun. This light doesn’t cause visible damage to the skin but can cause skin cancer with pro-longed exposure. This also causes the skin DNA to change, darken, and tan. The only ingredients that protects against UVA light are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
The above is summarized from Wikipedia’s Sunscreen entry.
What most people don’t know is that the high SPF number on your sunscreen isn’t linearly proportional to how well it will protect your skin. A high SPF number only means that it protects the skin against UVB light, but it does not mean that the product protects the skin against UVA light at all.
The good news is that for the first time in 30 years, FDA just proposed a new regulation last month to further protect consumers who use sunscreen. Suncreens can no longer be marketed as “waterproof”or “broadspectrum” without some quantitative backing of how much protection it offers.
“These measures are necessary…We want consumers to understand that not all sunscreens are created equal.” says Lydia Velazquez, PharmD, in FDA’s Division
What kind of sunscreen do I use?
I don’t get carded as much anymore, but I haven’t developed a wrinkle on my face yet either (I’m 32). I’d like to attribute part of this to the help of my carefully selected sunscreen. Here are the ones I buy for myself and family members, all containing either titanium dioxide and or zinc oxide.
Shisiedo Sunscreen 60+
$39 a bottle is not cheap for sunscreen, but it lasts me about 6 months with daily usage on my face. $78 per year to make your face look good, that’s cheaper than a facial or a botox in the future.
Blue Lizard Sunscreen $15
Inexpensive so you can use it liberally on your body for a day at the beach without worrying that you’ve spent your lunch money on your skin. It’s made by an Australian company and I assume Australians know a bit about the sun.
DDF sunscreen $38
Short for Doctor’s Dermatologist Formula, the brand name sure makes it sound trusting. I like this sunscreen mainly because it’s the only one my husband will wear and not complain about the smell. Odorless but not colorless, it does have a faint tint that rubs off on your clothing. Easily washed off with soap and water, but may not want to wear anything that requires dry cleaning. My husband rarely wears collared shirts, so this isn’t a big deal to him.
I’m still amazed by the amount of people I meet who don’t understand the difference between good and bad sunscreen. Or worse, people who don’t use sunscreen at all. A girl who worked with me once said: “Well it’s annoying to have it on you everyday”. Well so is skin cancer.
For some reason, it’s just so much cooler in the US to act nonchalant about your skin than other parts of the body – say, teeth, or hair. We brush our teeth everyday, and probably spend more money on toothpaste every year than sunscreen. We spend hours conditioning our hair and spend who knows how much on haircuts and hair products. Why not spend a little more time and effort to do the preventative maintenance on our skin?
My sister-in-law’s 10 year old cat Carl had just had his front fangs pulled out because of gum disease. Poor Carl, if only we had been doing the same preventive treatment with him as we did with Mango. I’m sure he wishes he had his two front teeth, even if it’s just for the superficial reason of looking bad ass.