Sun, Light and Melanoma
How Technology is Gaining Ground against Skin Cancer
(A Professional Blog by Judith Sikora)
Years ago M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) made a significant impact in educating the public against the dangers of drunk driving. This merry month of May we’re reminded of yet another potentially tragic health menace warranting an equally fierce battle on its behalf. Amazingly, after decades of safe sun education and ominous Skin Cancer warnings by media, government, the Skin Cancer Foundation and American Medical Association, “Melanoma” still remains the most deadly of all Skin Cancers. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation website today, one out of five of us can expect to develop Skin Cancer in our lifetime! And, more than twenty Americans currently die on a daily basis from Skin Cancer; the majority of which are still diagnosed as Melanoma. In fact, one person continues to die from Melanoma almost every hour (or every 62 minutes, to be exact!). And women of America, stand up and take note…statistics document that the female gender (aged 39 and under) has a higher probability of developing Melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer. Now that’s a small factoid with a big message. Wouldn’t you agree?
The truth is, I’ve been acutely aware of the dangers of UV light exposure; burning, pre-mature aging, DNA damage and Skin Cancer, for many decades. In fact, for fifteen years I spoke to thousands of retail Beauty Consultants weekly, preaching the gospel of sun protection and tanning abstinence, as a Director of Education for a number of cosmetic companies. But, this year seemed different. This year the subject felt more threatening…more dangerous…more likely to affect those that I loved and cared about, in a very real way.
As soon as the month of May rolled around (Coined “Melanoma Month” by the Skin Cancer Foundation), I began feeling an intense need to investigate the status of the war against this long-time opponent. What had we, (“MOBI”— Members of the Beauty Industry) — the undisputed best advocates in the fight against this disease— been doing in recent years to wage war on this serious and life-threatening adversary?
Okay, I’ll admit that perhaps my earnest quest had a tiny bit to do with the fact that I recently accepted a position with a leading Contract Cosmeceutical Manufacturer (G.S. COSMECEUTICAL USA, Inc.); a GMP facility known for it’s ability to formulate and manufacture a stunning array of custom cosmeceuticals and OTC’s, including Sun-Care and SPF-Based Products. Add to this, the fact that I am a very curious individual by nature, and you get the picture. I simply needed to know what top OTC Manufacturers (like “GSC”) had been working on recently, to advance the cause against this vile health threat. I began researching the subject by speaking with my super-talented team of GSC colleagues and formulators, who have successfully formulated and manufactured a number of ground-breaking SPF technologies available on the market today. My goal was to learn about specific gains in the technology war being waged against UV light damage and associated Skin Cancer risks. Here is what I learned:
According to GSC’s Product and Process Manager, Irvaz Husic, sunscreen formulas and ingredients have been evolving and advancing, qualitatively and quantitatively, literally at the speed of light. “Interestingly,” Irvaz points out, “the biggest changes have to do with the shift from chemical-based to natural-based screens”. Traditional, irritating, greasy and often tacky-feeling chemical-based formulas (formulated with ingredients meant to absorb harmful UV rays) have given way to newer, smoother, micro-pulverized natural screens made with Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide (meant to reflect and refractdamaging UV light away from the skin). What a relief, because the older chemical-based sunscreen formulas had become saddled with so much cynicism that it was difficult to separate their truly positive attributes from the negative allegations out there. These included accusations that the chemical screens contained carcinogenic raw materials, demonstrated photo-instability… and had a tendency to “over-heat” the skin. Conversely, the new natural, micronized oxides received adoration and praise, and the highest of marks regarding their efficacy, photo-stability and perceived “cooling” effect on the skin. In fact, highly experienced cosmetic scientists, including my company’s CEO and Founder, Gogi Sangha, all rave about the “dispersion factor” that makes these new micronized oxides so attractive to use in SPF formulations. According to Gogi, new cosmetic emulsions which incorporate dispersed Titanium and Zinc Oxides result in better blended SPF formulations, capable of providing heightened levels of UV light protection. SCORE ONE against the ravages of Skin Cancer!
And today, no one is considered too young to benefit from protection against this serious threat to our well-being and health. As a result, my GSC Team is working on behalf of vigilant Pediatricians, Physicians, Veterinarians and Skin-Care Houses to develop sun care for babies, pets and even infants! By formulating with natural sunscreen ingredients… natural/organic or food-grade preservatives, gentle botanical extracts and state-of-the-art anti-oxidants, viable formulations are developed that allow us to protect our most cherished and vulnerable little ones. An extraordinarily important mission according to the American Cancer Society, given that three or more blistering sunburns during childhood can increase the risk of developing Melanoma. SCORE TWO against Melanoma!
Then there’s the dreaded melanoma “vacation syndrome” to consider. According to a study by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology referenced on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website: “Caucasian English Women who vacation in hot countries have seventy-four percent more moles than those who have never vacationed in tropical climates.” Dr. Perry Robins, President of the Skin Cancer Foundation summarizes the vacation threat with this simple statement, saying: “This study supports the hypothesis that intense, intermittent sun exposure plays an important role in the development of Melanoma.”
So, what’s a health-minded girl or guy to do in 2009, if they really, really need a vacation and “the islands” are their favorite R&R destination? Well, first, make certain you are taking a broad-spectrum sun-screen with you; one that will actually protect from both UVA and UVB rays. SPF monograph testing in the lab results in a rating for UVB level protection only, and as a result, is the SPF reflected often on product labels. However, some concerned OTC manufacturers make a point to list UVA protection on their labels. Thankfully, the FDA is currently working on new sun care packaging regulations that will help make SPF labeling easier to understand and much more transparent! Score three against our deadly foe!
Next, re-application and usage compliance are both still very important factors, but are no longer quite as big a threat to our UV protection levels, thanks to the latest technological advances in SPF research and development. Medical experts remind us to reapply a sunscreen every two hours, or after periods of swimming or profuse sweating (exercise). However, the big advantage to the newest high-tech, mineral-based SPF formulas is that they tend to be more naturally resistant to water and perspiration. Add to that the ability of sophisticated OTC manufacturers like G.S. COSMECEUTICAL USA, Inc., to develop technologies which can significantly extend the stability of key sun protection ingredients in an SPF formula! So, while safety and protection continue to be our front and center concerns; the failure to re-apply issue has become a bit less worrisome for those of us concerned about sabotaging our own best efforts. Score four against the big “M”.
Speaking of putting our best feet forward in the fight against Melanoma… one of the final frontiers that we have yet to conquer seems to be the human mind. It makes sense that our subconscious beliefs about tanning and the dangers related to UV light exposure, will certainly dictate the scope of our actions and efforts to protect ourselves from Skin Cancer. Gogi Sangha, our Chief Scientific Officer and long-time Master Formulator, suggests a simple paradigm shift for sunscreen. “We have become much more astute about the role that environment plays in our overall health”. “We have developed good eating habits; working hard to include the four food groups into our daily diets.” “So”, asks Gogi, “why not take it to the next step by focusing on five daily food groups, making sunscreen the fifth dietary component for your skin?”
Gogi makes a great point. All it would take to get it done would be a little change in the way we think about our daily dietary rituals. Score five against this dreaded disease!
As May moves along toward June and my investigative project draws to a close, I can see that there is no doubt we are gaining ground in the war against UV light, Melanoma and other Skin Cancers. Clearly, technology is marching forward; at times in giant leaps, at others… in baby steps. I am heartened by what I’ve learned, and have no doubts that as our best scientific minds find ways to conquer space and energy; they will also succeed in ultimately eradicating melanoma. I’m also incredibly proud to see just how far we (as an industry) have come in providing the public with sun protection solutions that really work. And yes, my GSC colleagues in their white lab coats have earned a new level of respect and admiration from me, for the many ways in which they work to advance the cause of sun protection and human longevity, one great sunscreen product at a time.