The truth about sunscreen- The Star 4th June 2014

Jun 14, 14 The truth about sunscreen- The Star 4th June 2014

When it comes to sunscreens, does cost reflect quality?

It may not be the sexiest beauty product out there, but any self-respecting woman – or man – should not leave home without slathering some on. Sunscreen is said to be your skin’s best line of defence against UV rays, and healthcare practitioners have long extolled the virtues of using one.

While you won’t find sun-worshipping Oompa Loompa lookalikes in Malaysia, the damaging rays here are virtually unavoidable unless you’re a vampire. As a consequence, Datuk Dr P.S. Nathan, senior consultant dermatologist and co-founder of the Dermatological Society of Malaysia, says he sees patients with sun-damaged skin every day.

“You can immediately tell if a person’s been out in the sun because it’s very obvious. Among Asians, sun damage is cumulative, and manifests itself in the form of pigmentation and fine lines,” he says.

While one can try reversing these effects, Dr Nathan says, “it’s a very long process” involving procedures like lasers, fillers and even cosmetic surgery.

The key then is prevention. Which brings us to the next question: how much would you pay to protect your skin?

“I’m using Chanel’s UV Essentiel,” says Chin Miew Ling, 32, accountant. “It’s not to say I can afford a Chanel, but I find that it’s of good quality and worth the extra money.”

UV Essentiel is by no means Chanel’s most expensive sunscreen – that title belongs to Sublimage LA Protection UV. But like many women, Chin thinks nothing of forking out hundreds of ringgit on sunscreen that will guarantee her a Cate Blanchett-esque complexion. As a result, beauty companies are launching newer, more luxurious versions of sun protection. Think along the lines of La Mer’s Blanc de la Mer Protecting Fluid, Lancome Bienfait UV Super Fluid Facial Sunscreen, and more recently, Sisley’s Sunleya GE, which costs close to four digits.

But La Prairie’s Cellular Radiance Emulsion, a “multi-tasking” sunscreen laced with Golden Peptide – “a combination of a state-of-the-art peptide and 24-carat colloidal gold” as described by the Swiss beauty company – might convince beauty junkies to dig deeper into their wallets. Priced at a whopping RM1,750, this literal pot of gold promises a “high level of SPF protection” and “multiple anti-ageing benefits.”

According to business manager of LuxAsia Kannie Liew, Cellular Radiance sold remarkably well when it was launched in 2011. “Eighty percent of available stocks were sold and this was a major milestone back then for this price point. Those who have used this have become faithful users.”

But do these products really differ from their cheaper counterparts?

Beyond sun protection

A study by Consumer Report last year, which tested 22 sprays, creams and lotions which protect against UVA and UVB radiation, found that sunscreens like Banana Boat and Coppertone available in pharmacies for under RM50, can be just as effective.

Stay-at-home mother Rabea Rohde, 27, was introduced to Nivea Sunscreen by her parents as a little girl. “Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean that it’s not good,” she says. “I definitely won’t spend all that money on sunscreen. You only pay for the name of the brand, nothing more.”

However, Dr Nathan claims that not all sunscreens are created equal. “Of course, there’s a general perception that cost indicates quality and, as such, beauty companies tend to inflate prices as a form of marketing. That’s not always the case, however. Some sunscreens command these prices because they’ve got quality ingredients that have anti-ageing or whitening benefits,” he explains.

Associate professor and consultant dermatologist at USCI University, Dr Irene Lee, agrees. These expensive next-generation sunscreens, in her opinion, aren’t merely a gimmick because they “look beyond just sun protection”.

“The best sunscreen will be one with an incorporated repair mechanism, with a good research and development background. And as you know, R&D costs a lot. In terms of the formulation, for instance, (of) various technologies to enhance delivery of the sunscreen, increase the product’s lifespan on the skin, improve the texture of the cream while maintaining its efficacy,” she says.

La Prairie’s Cellular Radiance Emulsion capitalises on the obsession with precious metals. Gold is touted to slow collagen depletion and the breakdown of elastin to prevent sagging skin, while stimulating cellular growth to regenerate healthy, firm cells. Moreover, the product also contains a patented molecule that brightens the skin by inhibiting tyrosinase activity, as well as having a UV-protective effect on skin cells.

Similarly, La Mer also employs special ingredients and cutting-edge technology in its Blanc de la Mer UV Protecting Fluid.

“When creating all La Mer formula, we focus on perfecting each element so it is the sum of its parts that makes the product so spectacular,” says senior vice president, Product Development and Innovation for The Max Huber Research Labs, Loretta Miraglia.

“La Mer’s legendary Miracle Broth empowers the skin’s natural healing energies to replenish moisture, soothe irritation and restore radiance. For this formula, La Mer also uses a smart seaweed that is completely interactive – even in the driest conditions, it keeps skin soft and emollient – as well as gemstones and a blend of photonic spheres to help prevent the appearance of future hyper-pigmentation and visible ageing signs.”

Sunscreens like Sisley’s Sunleya GE are said to be the culmination of years of research. In fact, during their time in the lab, Sisley’s researchers identified two major factors in skin ageing – glycation and solar elastosis. That’s what G and E stand for, states Nicholas Chasnier, Sisley’s regional managing director Asia Pacific.

The company combats GE by adding a sophisticated age-minimising complex. Einkorn wheat fights free radicals while strengthening the skin’s natural defences and, at the same time, reducing damage caused by UV rays to cellular DNA; while soy-peptide extract works on wrinkles, reorganising the dermis into a protected network. Finally, white willow leaf is said to curb the activity of the enzymes to boost skin tone and elasticity.

It gets better

Dr Nathan believes sun protection will get even more sophisticated. “The cosmetics industry has become more proficient over the years, and it will only get better. Companies are prepared to spend any amount on research because there’s a huge demand among Asians, Africans and Caribbeans, who are all obsessed about fair skin.”

As for Chin, she’s shopped around before settling on Chanel’s UV Essentiel. “It has high zinc oxide for full spectrum UV protection, no damaging ingredients and an aesthetically pleasing finish. I really wish I could find a cheaper alternative, but most of them contain possibly harmful preservatives like parabens or phenoxyethanol, or are chemical sunscreens, which irritate my sensitive skin,” she says.

Nevertheless, Dr Nathan warns that some of the claims are pure marketing and that no sunscreen is 100% protective. He advises users who are in doubt to pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen – one that protects you from both UVA and UVB – that’s at least SPF 30.

SPF (sun protection factor) is a measurement of the ultraviolet B (UVB) protection – this differs from protection Grades of UVA (PA), according to Dr Lee.

 “Higher ‘+’ signs indicate better UVA protection. We need PA +++ for effective coverage in our region,” she says.

Dr Lee reiterates that the method of application also matters in order to maximise efficacy. “Very often, I come across patients who just use minimal sunscreen but expect its full effect. As a general rule, squeeze out one fingertip unit of sunscreen (from the last finger crease to the tip of your finger). Two fingertip units are needed to fully cover the face and neck. Reapply every two to four hours, after heavy sweating or being soaked.”

Looks like ultra-luxurious sunscreens are here to stay. Says Miraglia: “Our devotees all have one thing in common – their love for products that transform their skin and exceed their expectations. For our consumers, La Mer takes what may be considered a luxury and turns it into a necessity.”

The Star ePaper - Star2 - 4 Jun 2014 - Page #10Sun screen

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