Ep 204 – The Rogue Pharmacist: Sunscreen Safety—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

girl applying sunscreen

Although estheticians go through extensive training on UV radiation, its impacts on the skin, and sun protection, there are still plenty of debates and misconceptions. In this episode of The Rogue Pharmacist, Ben Fuchs shares his views about sun safety, understanding SPF, ingredients, and application.

Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) presents The Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs, R.Ph. This podcast takes an enlightening approach to supporting licensed estheticians in their pursuit to achieve results-driven skin care treatments for their clients. You can always count on us to share professional skin care education, innovative techniques, and the latest in skin science.

Benjamin Knight Fuchs is a registered pharmacist, nutritionist, and skin care chemist with 35 years of experience developing pharmacy-potent skin health products for estheticians, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons. Ben’s expert advice gives licensed estheticians the education and skin science to better support the skin care services performed in the treatment room while sharing insights to enhance clients’ at-home skin care routines.

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Website: www.brightsideben.com 

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0:01:33.2 Maggie Staszcuk: Hello and welcome to ASCP on the Rogue pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs. In each episode, we'll explore how internal and external factors can impact the skin, I'm Maggie Staszcuk, ASCP Education Program Manager, and join me is Ben Fuchs skin care formulator and pharmacist. Hey Ben. 


0:01:50.4 Benjamin Fuchs: Hey Maggie. 


0:01:50.5 MS: How are you doing?  


0:01:51.8 BF: I'm doing good. Nice to see you. 


0:01:52.2 MS: Good. Nice to see you. So we're talking about sunscreen safety today. And I think both aesthetician and consumer are there taught concepts of sun protection. And I'd like to think they all know the basics, but there's still a lot of misconceptions, especially when it comes to sunscreen safety. 


0:02:09.0 BF: So, I love the sun, love the sun. Do you know everything we eat is, we eat because we want we're trying to get the sun. Food is packed sunlight. In fact, everything is packed sunlight. Reality is packed sunlight. But when we eat foods, we're eating basically to get the energy from the sun in different forms. Vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, all the nutrients that are in foods are substances that initially came from the sun. The sun is the source of life. It always struck me as ironic that the sun has been so demonized because of its power and its potency. Yes, you don't want to burn your skin, but the sun is really important for growing, for healing, for neurotransmission and brain health and mood. So many benefits to getting a good amount of sun. Everybody knows about vitamin D, of course. 


0:02:56.0 BF: But there's a lot of reasons why you want to get regular exposure to the sun, regular exposure to the sun covering your whole body. Nonetheless, the sun is powerful and it can speed up chemistry, accelerate aging, secondarily cause problems with pigmentation, disrupt DNA and it's associated with aging. So you want to have some respect for the sun. Love the sun but respect the sun. We've come up with different strategies for protecting the skin from the sun and because we tend in our business, obviously, but in our culture generally, we tend to think of the immediate effects of things and not the causes of things or the obvious effects of things. And often the causes of things, it seems like we'll put something on top of the skin and that will protect us from the sun. As it turns out, the best way to protect your skin from the sun is by what you eat and what you put in your body. 


0:03:45.8 BF: Skin sensitivities oftentimes are the result of either deficiencies in certain things that we're eating or eating the wrong things. Putting the wrong things in our bodies that get deposited in the skin or not getting the right things in our body that don't get deposited in the skin. So for example, the wrong kinds of fats, eating processed fats can make the skin more sensitive and can make the barrier weaker and cause more problems with the sun. And on the other hand, deficiencies in certain nutrients, antioxidant nutrients, pigments, the greens and the blues and the yellows that protect plants from the sun, deficiencies in these nutrients or malabsorption of these nutrients can make the skin more sensitive. If you have skin barrier issues or weakened skin barrier either because of topical things you're doing, maybe exfoliation strategies that you're using or you're not getting enough essential fatty acids or the B vitamins, particularly niacin. 


0:04:36.8 BF: Your barrier might be weaker and then your skin is going to be more sensitive to the sun. You'll think it's the sun that's causing the problems when it's your weakened barrier. So there's things that we should be doing internally to protect our skin from the sun and that should kind of make sense when you think about the skin as an organ. You know, we always say the skin is the body's largest organ, right? So what does that really mean? The skin is in many ways like the heart or the spleen or the liver or the intestine and its strength and its resilience and its healing properties and its health in general are dependent on what we eat. Like that makes sense for your heart, that makes sense for your intestine. Why shouldn't it make sense for your skin too? So when you talk about sun protection or the dangers of the sun, we really want to start to focus more internally on what we're putting inside our body or what we should be putting inside our body that we're not or what we are putting inside our body that we shouldn't be. That's number one. So there's lots of ways to protect your skin from the sun internally and we should be doing that. If you want a really quick hack, think eye vitamins. I think I've told you about this before. 


0:05:34.2 MS: Yeah, Ocuvite or something?  


0:05:36.4 BF: Ocuvite, yeah. There's a lot of different eye vitamins out now. I like one called Ocutiv and Vision FX. There's also Ocuvite. That's the standard one. But now there's a few different brands. They're designed to protect your eyes from the sun. If you look at the ingredient deck, on these nutritional supplements for the eyes, you'll see things like taurine, N-acetylcysteine, vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin. They protect the eyes from the sun, macular degeneration in particular is an eye disease that's caused by sun damage. But the same kind of protection that you get for your eyes, you'll get for your skin. And that's really important. So if you're going to go out tanning or you're going to go out in summertime or you're going to go out on a cruise or you're playing a lot of tennis or golf, and you're out in the sun a lot, take eye vitamins. And you'll notice that you're burning much less readily and you're protecting your skin from the effects of aging. 


0:06:26.7 MS: Yeah, I'm having a hard time processing this because... So I am very, very fair. If I go into the sun, I'm going to burn within 5-10 minutes. So what I'm hearing from you is if I am taking in certain nutrients, that burning is not going to happen as quickly. 


0:06:45.0 BF: Readily. As readily. 


0:06:45.7 MS: As readily. So, that doesn't change the fact that I'm still very fair. 


0:06:51.4 BF: Correct. 


0:06:52.1 MS: So, I am having a hard time processing the sun rays hitting my fair, fair skin and no burning happening. 


0:07:00.1 BF: Well, the burning, the effects of the sun, the redness we'll say more than the burning. You definitely don't want to burn your sun, but the redness is the first thing that happens before the burn. The redness will be, it'll be prolonged. You'll have a longer period of safety before you start to turn red. Redness is technically the term, the word redness is erythema, right?  


0:07:20.3 MS: Yeah, yeah. 


0:07:21.6 BF: So, the redness response to the sun, the minimum erythema response, the MER, they call it, for somebody who's fair like you, might be 5 or 10 minutes. But if you start using these eye vitamins, that MER, that erythema response, may be 15 or 20 minutes, which means you're going to get the benefits of the sun for 10 minutes longer. And the benefits for the sun, as we say, are vitamin D and serotonin, neurotransmitters and healing, antiviral and stabilizing the growth of cells, et cetera. You'll get to enjoy those benefits longer. 


0:07:50.6 MS: You said safety. So in people's minds, I think, they're thinking of, I have a tan, which is that pigment is protection. 


0:08:00.0 BF: It is. 


0:08:00.6 MS: That is my safety. But if I don't tan... 


0:08:02.6 BF: Then you're going to have less safety. So it's going to be more important. That's the job of melanin. Melanin is a powerful antioxidant. I absolutely love melanin even as you know... Melanin, most, there's a lot of melanin inside your body too by the way, as much as on the outside of your body. So, melanin's main role is not strictly to protect your skin from the sun but to protect your skin from or to protect your body from electromagnetic energy. And you have electromagnetic energy in your brain and you find you have melanin in your brain. You know, you have melanin in... I remember I did an autopsy on a cadaver in pharmacy school. We had to look at a cadaver. And this was a cadaver farmer who had been out in the sun a lot. When we opened him up, he had melanoma all inside his body. So there are melanocytes and melanin production inside the body as well as on the outside of the body. 


0:08:48.6 BF: So melanin is a general protective molecule. On the skin, it does protect you from solar radiation. That's one of its main jobs. And it's really good. It's very good at doing that. The problem is before the melanin response hits, like for you, you're going to be subject to damage. And that's why the nutrition is so important. Again, what you're putting in that you should be and what you're not putting in that you shouldn't be and specifically it's the trans fats and the processed fats and the heated fats are really the biggest problem when it comes to eating the wrong foods. Now there's also the issue of sunscreens themselves. And by the way, the term sunscreen is kind of a really weird term. We used to say sunblocks and sunscreens, right? Sunblocks meaning, it's things that cover the skin, that paint the skin essentially and the sun will bounce off these materials. There's only two, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. And then there's a whole bunch of sunscreens. There's 20 or 30 different sunscreen chemicals. The most common one is called octyl methoxycinnamate. 


0:09:45.0 BF: Today we don't say, I still say sunblocks and sunscreens, but according to the FDA, sunblocks are now called physical sunscreens and what I used to call sunscreens are all chemical sunscreens. So, we'll just go with that nomenclature. The physical sunscreens are really the way to go. Because they're basically a nerd. They don't really do any chemistry to the skin. The chemical sunscreens are incredibly problematic. And if you were to, for example, ingest one orally, you'd get very sick because they're toxic. And not only are they toxic when you ingest them internally, but there's evidence to suggest that they may be toxic when you put them on top of your skin as well, because they are very lipophilic, fat-soluble, and they tend to penetrate into the skin. In fact, the toxicity of sunscreens is so well-known that there are places like in Hawaii where they tell you not to wear chemical sunscreens because when you go in the ocean, they come off in the water and they kill the coral. 


0:10:37.1 BF: Dermatologists will say, don't use a chemical sunscreen on a baby because baby's skin is very thin and absorption of the chemical sunscreen is increased through thin skin. So dermatologists will say, put zinc oxide or titanium dioxide on baby's skin. If that's what you can do for babies, you should probably do it for everybody, in my humble opinion. And on top of everything else, zinc oxide is actually a healing molecule. You can use it to treat sunburn as well as to prevent sunburn. It's really a no-brainer, the way I look at it. Although zinc oxide is much harder to formulate with than chemical sunscreens, and zinc oxide is also much more expensive than chemical sunscreens, which is probably the biggest problem. So and then, it also makes you white a little bit, unless it's really formulated cleverly and correctly. The sunscreens are very, very problematic. 


0:11:26.9 BF: And I get into this a lot with sunscreen manufacturers and people who are promoting sunscreen products, that is chemical sunscreens, because they don't want to hear that. But the fact of the matter is, is they're nasty chemicals. I'm telling you this as a chemist. When I'm working with chemical sunscreens in the pharmacy, I'm wearing gloves, sometimes even a mask. And this is the same kind of, these are the ingredients that people are rubbing all over their skin. Plus on top of all of that, there's really a myth about SPF. First of all, there's mythology around SPF and then there's misunderstanding, even non-understanding in the lay among lay people. Aestheticians tend to know what SPF is, but lay people really don't. So what is SPF? SPF is a measurement of how long it takes to get red. So it involves math, a little bit of math. It's a factor, a multiplication factor, that is associated with the time it takes for your skin to get red with a sunscreen and without a sunscreen. 


0:12:18.8 BF: So for example, you said your skin takes 10 minutes to get red, right? Without a sunscreen, I'm assuming. If you wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, now your skin will get red in 15 times 10 minutes. If you wear a sunscreen that's a 20, SPF of 20, 20 times 10 minutes, SPF of 30, 30 times 10 minutes. You see where we're going here. So let's say you wear an SPF of 30, right? Now your skin is going to get red in 300 minutes instead of 10 minutes, right? Well, that's five hours. So are you gonna really be out in the sun for five hours? I mean, maybe. So reapply, because the thing is, an SPF of 30 requires you to interact with a lot more chemicals than an SPF of 15. The higher the SPF, the more nasty chemicals you're putting on your skin. These days, there are products that have an SPF of 60 or 90. I've even seen 120. So let's say you wear an SPF of 60. Now you're going to be out in the sun for 10 hours. 


0:13:17.5 BF: Well, is that realistic? Are you really going to be out in the sun for 10 hours? So it's best if you're going to use a physical, a chemical sunscreen to reapply. Physical sunscreen, you don't have to worry about that as much. But with a chemical sunscreen, go low SPF, reapply. That's my suggestion. And sunscreen safety is something that you really want to pay attention to because sunscreens are among the nastiest chemicals in all of cosmetics. And this is why they're regulated as drugs, by the way. So you're essentially putting a drug on your skin and you wanna have the same respect for that ingredient as you do for a drug and you wanna be very careful, use a low SPF and don't wear a sunscreen if you don't need one. 


0:13:53.5 MS: Tell me if this is not accurate, but in addition to, you know, you're maybe in the water or just rubbing on your skin, which is why you would reapply every two hours, but those sunscreen chemicals, when they are exposed to UV rays, also start to break down. 


0:14:08.7 BF: Not only break down, but they become even more toxic. So yes, they do break down, they get weaker over time. So it may be that you have a sunscreen with a certain potency when you put it on, but over the course of time as it's reacting with the sun, it's becoming less and less protective, which is another reason why you want to, if you're going to really want to protect yourself, reapply. Use a low SPF and reapply. And when you don't need it, take it off. If you're wearing a lotion that has an SPF but you're not in the sun, why would you put that on? You're exposing yourself to chemicals that you don't need. Eye creams, for example, there's a lot of eye creams that have built-in sunscreens to them. You may not need it. Why would you put a chemical on your skin with a known toxicity profile when you don't need it? So, the way I look at it when it comes to sunscreens, number one, make sure you're internally correct. 


0:15:00.5 BF: Make sure you're using pigments. And if you have malabsorption, by the way, and a lot of people don't absorb their fatty material on a lot of these pigments, the greens and the blues and the yellows, the carotenoids they call them and things like carotenes and things like beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. You'll see these on eye vitamins. These are very protective against the sun when you eat them orally for the skin. For example, you'll eat lutein in watermelon or in an apple or in papaya. It goes into your body. It goes into your intestine and in the intestine, bile and pancreatic juices and intestinal contractions are supposed to break open that food that contains the lutein or the zeaxanthin or whatever it is, and then it goes into the bloodstream. But if you have a gallbladder missing, that's not gonna happen, or it's not gonna happen as effectively. 


0:15:46.0 BF: Or if you have pancreatic issues, pancreatic insufficiency issues, that's not gonna happen as effectively. If you're not making enough stomach acid, and a lot of people don't, it's not gonna happen as effectively. So that may make your skin more prone towards burning. So if you are going to use nutrition, things like antioxidants and pigments, you want to make sure that you're absorbing them using digestive strategies. If you have poor digestive health, that's going to impact the health of the barrier and the health of the skin and its ability to respond to the sun effectively. And then you're going to say, oh, I need to have an SPF of 50, I need to have an SPF of 40. And what you're doing is you're forcing your skin to have to deal with octyl methoxycinnamate and octocrylene and octyl salicylate and these very toxic chemicals. 


0:16:30.5 BF: So, number one, make sure you're using nutritional supplements and eating correctly, using digestive support if you need it, bile salts and digestive enzymes and HCL supplements, hydrochloric acid supplements. And then number two, in my opinion, use zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide is okay, but zinc oxide is healing. In addition to not being toxic, it actually heals the skin. Zinc is a very important mineral for the skin, as it turns out. Zinc is involved in the healing process and zinc oxide is a well-known healing ingredient that we use in the pharmacy all the time for treating burns and rashes. It's part of calamine lotion. So, why would anybody use a sunscreen, a chemical sunscreen, when they have the option of using a physical sunscreen? And that's the way I look at it. That's the best way to do it. So, to sum up, love the sun, don't burn, be respectful of it, use internal nutrition and dietary strategies or digestive support strategies if you need, and use zinc oxide. 


0:17:27.5 MS: That concludes our show for today and we thank you for listening. But if you just can't get enough of Ben Fuchs, the ASCP's rogue pharmacist, you can find him at truthtreatments.com. For more information on this episode or for ways to connect with Ben Fuchs or to learn more about ASCP, check out the show notes.

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