Many women rely on SPF moisturizers to keep their skin hydrated, reduce their cancer risk and keep them looking young.
But a study suggests that these lotions may not protect us from skin cancer.
Researchers from the UK suggest that 16.6 percent of the face is missed when we apply creams with added SPF.
This is compared to just 11.1 percent of the face that is missed when using conventional sunscreen.
A difference in the consistency of the cream or packaging between the products may be to blame, the scientists said.
They worry that many of us go into too much sun without realizing that vulnerable areas of our face are unprotected.
The left image shows one of the study participants after she applied sunscreen, was exposed to ultraviolet rays, and photographed with a UV-sensitive camera. The dark areas are better protected. The same participant is seen immediately after applying a moisturizer with the same SPF added to the formula
Shown are the same women in the photo above, but left is taken with normal camera, while right is taken with UV sensitive camera
The study was conducted by the University of Liverpool.
It was co-directed by Kevin Hamill, an eye and vision science teacher, and Austin McCormick, an ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon consultant.
“Participants covered a smaller area of the face when using a moisturizer compared to sunscreen,” the authors wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.
Moisturizer is not applied as well as sunscreen; therefore, we recommend using sunscreen when planning long-term sun exposure. ‘
Skin cancer is on the rise despite global initiatives to boost SPF use, the scientists wrote.
While day creams with added SPF are useful, the researchers fear that they will not be applied in a way that offers “adequate protection.”
To test this, 21 men and 62 women were instructed to apply either Olay Regenerist 3 Point Moisturizer SPF 30 or Soltan Sensitive Hypoallergenic Sunscreen SPF 30.
Both products recommend users avoid their eyes, but do not mention eyelids.
WHAT IS SQUARE CELL CARCINOMA?
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the top layers of the skin.
It often looks like scaly red patches, open sores, raised growths with a central dip or warts, all of which can crust or bleed.
They can become deforming or life-threatening if allowed to grow.
More than a million people are diagnosed with SCC in the U.S. each year. British prevalence is unclear.
SCC is mainly caused by excessive exposure to UV light from the sun or tanning beds.
People are more likely to suffer if they:
- Have blond hair or skin
- Work outside
- Are over 50
- Have a personal or family history of the disease
- Have a suppressed immune system, such as chemotherapy or AIDS patients
While SCC can appear anywhere on the body, it is most common in areas exposed to the sun, such as the face and hands.
SCCs that are noticed at an early stage and immediately removed are usually curable and cause minimal damage.
Treatment usually includes surgery to remove growth, as well as radiation therapy and topical medications.
People can reduce their risk of developing the disorder by:
- Wearing a high-factor sunscreen that is applied at least every two hours, or more while swimming
- Cover with clothes
- Looking for shade between 10am and 4pm
- Do not use UV tanning beds
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation
Participants – ages 18 to 57 – were then exposed to ultraviolet radiation and photographed through a UV-sensitive camera.
The experiment was repeated with the participants who initially wore the sunscreen with a moisturizer and vice versa.
The results showed that participants were unable to apply the moisturizer to 16.6 percent of their face.
This was compared to just the 11.1 percent missed when using sunscreen.
Eyelids were most commonly forgotten, with 20.9 percent of the sensitive area missed when applying a moisturizer and 14 percent when using sunscreen.
The findings were worrying, since skin cancer is most common on the head and neck, the researchers wrote.
And eyelids have the highest incidence of the disease.
Squamous cell carcinoma – the second most common form of skin cancer in the UK – is also increasingly affecting patients’ eyelids.
“We conclude that when applying SPF cream, special attention should be paid to the eyelid,” the authors wrote.
And 78 percent of participants failed to protect the area between the corner of their eye and nose, regardless of whether they applied sunscreen or moisturizer.
In fact, only five of the participants treated this area in both experiments.
This is worrying, since the area between the eyelid and nose is particularly vulnerable to basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for more than 80 percent of cases.
A questionnaire completed by participants after the experiment showed that most were unaware that they had applied the sunscreen or moisturizer insufficiently.
When I was confronted with the statement ‘I applied (sunscreen or moisturizer) to all parts of my face’, 77 ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ when it came to the sunscreen.
And 73 had the same reaction regarding the moisturizer.
But when participants were shown the photos that exposed their UV exposure, more than half replied that they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the statement.
The researchers are concerned that while NICE recommends moderate sun exposure to help maintain our vitamin D levels, they believe we have applied SPF enough and may encourage us to spend too much time in the sun .
Unprotected areas then receive ‘increased cumulative UV doses,’ they wrote.
She added, “Alternative methods of protecting the eyelids should be considered, such as sunglasses with a UV filter.
“If we use a moisturizer, we recommend one with SPF, any SPF is better than none, but it should not be considered equal to sunscreen.”
The scientists hope that their research will lead to public health messages that encourage us to protect our sensitive eyelids.
An Olay spokesperson said, “At Olay, we use SPF in our skincare for daily protection and recommend applying it all over the neck and face, including eyelids.
However, we don’t recommend it as a substitute for the higher SPF protection products available if you plan to spend a long time in the sun, such as sunbathing.
“For those situations, we recommend a specialized sunscreen product, which is applied along with a daily moisturizer for optimal skin health.”
WHAT IS BASALCEL CARCINOMA?
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Non-melanoma means that it does not involve skin pigment cells.
BCC often appears as bleeding crusts
BCC accounts for over 80 percent of all skin cancers in the UK, with over 100,000 new cases each year.
It is mainly caused by excessive exposure to UV light from the sun or tanning beds.
BCC can appear anywhere on the body, but is most common in areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck and ears.
The following people are most at risk:
- People with fair skin or hair
- Those who work outside the home
- People who use sunbeds
- Those with a personal history of the condition
BCC is usually painless. Early symptoms often include only a scab that occasionally bleeds and does not heal.
Some appear as flat, red, scaly patches or have a pearly edge. The latter can then erode into an ulcer.
Others are lumpy with shiny nodules traversed by blood vessels.
Most BCCs are curable, but treatment is complex if not used for a long time.
Treatment usually involves removing the cancerous tumor and some of the surrounding skin.
Source: British Skin Foundation and NHS choices