Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sunscreen Primer



Sunscreen is my pet topic. So much have been written about sunscreen, so many experts, so many articles, it's hard not to get too technical, even for my taste. However, when I think of sunscreen, I try to distill it to things that matters.

The Four Sunscreen Commandments

  1. Use it.
    If you don't use it, you won't get protection. Duh! That means using it daily, even though it is cloudy or you are just driving and getting in-out of indoor places (more about this later). I think formulating sunscreen must be a feat of cosmetic formulation --  a balance between fulfilling all regulatory requirements while making sure the product has elegant feel and finish to it. Choose a texture and formulation that you like that you will want to use it daily.
  2. Use enough of it.
    All sunscreen measurement of protection is based on the amount applied per area of the skin (it is 2mg/cm2 to be exact). Using enough mean a full shot-glass for the whole body, which comes down to a teaspoonful (5 milliliter) for the face and neck. Go ahead and measure it! A teaspoonful is quite a lot to spread over your face and neck. If you use less, you won't get the stated-protection, you may not even get any protection.
  3. Reapply.
    All sunscreens degrade. If you don't reapply, you won't get enough protection. This is especially important on all-chemical sunscreen. Physical block may degrade less than chemical sunscreen but skin's own sweat and sebum can still break through the barrier that the sunscreen provides.
  4. Don't rely on sunscreen alone.
    Especially for those sunscreens marketed in the U.S., the very definition of sunscreen protection per FDA is,".... sunscreen products meeting modern standards for effectiveness may be labeled with new information to help consumers find products that, when used with other sun protection measures, reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging, as well as help prevent sunburn."
    If the FDA won't rely on sunscreen alone, I sure won't, either. I use hats and UV-block clothing on regular basis when I'm outdoor. This also means, to avoid burns, I stay under the shades whenever possible. Do what you have to do to avoid sun exposure.
Notice there is no mention of sunscreen ratings on my "Four Commandments" -- the reason why we shall explore below.

Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) -- Not another Tom Ford's Eau de Perfume


O.k. I'm thinking about Violet Blonde (or as I may want to say Violent Blond) -- never-mind the lame joke. Which one cause burns? Which one cause aging? Which one cause cancer? Easy.

UV-A = Ageing
UV-B = Burn
UV-C = Can't reach the Earth

All UVR causes cancer, some wavelength more/less to a certain degree.

Of the total UVR to which we are exposed, 95% consist of UVA, only 5% of UVB. UVC basically is scattered in the stratosphere/dispersed in the ozone layer.

Moreover, UVA penetrates through glass (that includes the windshield and side-windows of cars) and clouds. I am a textbook example of that. Most of my adult life, I drive a car almost daily, and most of my sunspots are on the left hand side of my face, down my left shoulder and arms, aka the side of the driver seat, aka the side that I got the most sun exposure. I've got 3-4 biopsy sites on my left-hand side and none of my right-hand side. Coincidence?

Sunscreens in the market, thus far, have done good job in UVB protection. One can even get under the shade to avoid burning, right? UVA, however, is another story. This, and the fact that the majority of UVR is UVA, and that UVA goes through practically everything should make one think that UVA protection should be paramount in any sunscreen formula.

SPF


When I think of SPF, I think of UVB (Burn). It is a measure of protection against burn. There are so many definitions out there, but one that helps me is this:

"If I burn within 10 minutes without sunscreen, with an SPF of 15 I can stay as long as 10 minutes times 15 (150 minutes) before I got burned."

SPF is quite an arbitrary measure of burn protection, because each person burns in a different rate. Papalorp actually rarely burns, he just tan. The Tod also tans straight on his limbs but not on his face and scalp -- he burns on those areas. I practically just burn, never tan (to tan, I need suntan lotion -- more of this below).

It would be ideal to match one's skin tendency to tan with the SPF rating, right? But who wants to check how long one got burned and choose the SPF accordingly? Pas moi.. This is yet another reason why SPF rating can be deceitful: technically for someone like Papalorp, any SPF rating would do -- he can even use SPF 2, but for me, I need choose as high as possible since I got burned easily. How high? Some regulations actually cap the highest SPF rating at 50 (FDA included) as to not give an illusion of impenetrable protection.

A little anecdote that I hope will make sense to you once you understand what SPF means: way back when, sunscreens are not really called sun-screen. They are called sun-tan lotion. Why? Because with SPF 2-4, you can sit in the sun as long as you can, achieving the glowing tan while skipping the burn. Tan, as we learn, is part of persistent pigment darkening, the product of UVA. Devilish, eh?

Ahh.. the scent of summer. Image from bananboat.com

SPF is not a measure of duration of sunscreen's protection. A product with SPF 15 does not last longer than a product with SPF 50; both products should be reapplied every 2 hours -- commandment no. 3. On the above example of staying in the sun for 150 minutes? Well, that rating will only hold if I reapply every 2 hours (120 minutes), so, if I only apply once, I can be sure I'll get burned.

Finally, SPF is measured in-vitro, with in-vivo as control/comparison. They measure this by shining artificial light (with calibrated wavelength and so on) through the tested product, and see how much light can go through the layer of sunscreen (remember the 2 mg/cm2, commandment no. 2). Why does this matter? Because sometimes in-vitro measurement is not a good representation of in-vivo, actual-human-usage of sunscreen.

PPD and PA


Both PPD and PA are a measure of protection against UVA. In short, a rating of PPD 5 allows five times increased of UVA exposure before a persistent pigment darkening occur compared to unprotected skin. Again, what does this mean? Whose unprotected skin?

Another problem: none of these tests and values are internationally standardized. PPD testing, for example, uses human volunteers (in-vivo), but recently European Cosmetic Industry Association (COLIPA) has adopted an in-vitro equivalent of PPD testing. So confusing.

Even more confusing, most European sunscreens, which are subject to PPD testing, do not actually specify the PPD rating on the bottle, unlike the easily-spotted SPF value. The bottle of La Roche Posay Anthelios only mentioned "SPF 50+, UVB + UVA."

Then, there's the PA rating. PA rating is only used in Japan. The majority of web sources I found translates PA rating as direct interpretation of PPD rating. For example, PA+ = PPD 2-4, PA++ = PPD 4-8, and so on.


How to interpret sunscreen ratings?


Granted, sunscreen rating, SPF or PPD or PA, are not perfect, but all of them are intended for consumers to make a better, informed decision about the product. I pay attention to them and I rely on the product's website for this information (e.g. La Roche Posay's website is quite helpful with this. They also state the full ingredient list on each one of their products). Japanese sunscreens are more "consumer friendly" with the PA rating printed on the bottle.

Without getting too technical, the equation that describes the SPF protection (transmission of UVB = 1/SPF) has an asymptote at around SPF 30, which means, a protection of SPF 30 and SPF above 30 is practically indistinguishable. For this reason, I always choose my sunscreen to be at least SPF 30 or above (above most commonly comes as SPF 50). I definitely would not hesitate using an SPF rating of 30 on my son (most environmentally-friendly, kid-friendly sunscreen rarely goes above 30 anyway).

Finally, let's talk about the term "Broad Spectrum" used in sunscreens in the U.S. market. You can read the original FDA press release here. "Broad Spectrum" is FDA's catch-all phrase to certify that a certain product has "..pass(ed) the FDA’s test for protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays." In addition to the term "Broad Spectrum," a manufacturer can state a claim that the product, "... reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging, when used as directed," if the product is of SPF 15 and above. Example, a sunscreen with SPF 4 can carry the term "Broad Spectrum" so long as the manufacturer pass this FDA-required test, but it cannot carry the "reduce the risk of skin cancer..." claim.

The take home message is choose the sunscreen that is labeled "Broad Spectrum" with at least SPF 30. If there is a PPD or PA rating stated, I prioritize on choosing the highest PPD/PA rating, without sacrificing the Suncreen Commandments.

Are sunscreen ingredients and formulation safe?


Being a mom, I tend to be more careful lately with product safety. There actually has been a call to reexamine the safety of sunscreen, especially on skins of elderly, children, people with some skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or other type that makes the skin more susceptible to increased sunscreen topical absorption. Nothing has been decided yet -- at least from what I read so far. Again, commandment no 1 is the key: in my case, it takes numerous trial-and-error to find a good sunscreen that I equally feel good using.

Another impact of sunscreen is to the ecosystem, particularly on body of water that drains to the sea (like the lakes that are here in Seattle). Again, I am extra careful on researching that the sunscreens we use while we are playing in the open water is also environmentally friendly.

Will frequent use of sunscreen cause vitamin D deficiency?


UVB is the UV spectrum that initiates the first step of vitamin D conversion in the skin. Subsequent transformation happen in kidney and liver. Remember that of the total UVR, UVB only comprises 5% of it.

There are theories in regards to the duration of UVB exposure needed to supply the body with vitamin D's daily value, the optimal wavelength of UVB, the latitude/area on Earth that receives optimal wavelength of UVB, seasonal variation of UVB wavelength received on particular place on Earth, etc. Sufficed to say, under this condition, frequent sunscreen use will not result in vitamin D deficiency. I mean, just think about it, there are so many factors involved than just the ones mentioned above -- sunscreen reapplication (how many of us remember to re-apply?), the percentage of skin surface actually covered with sunscreen, etc.

The British Journal of Dermatology. 2009;161(4):732-736. 


Which sunscreen to use and when?


I rarely stray from my regular skin care but when it comes to sunscreen, it's good to have a few sunscreen on rotation and it's good to experiment. Even the most low-tech sunscreen can fill a niche. Finding sunscreen has mostly been a trial-and-error process for me, but no sunscreen is wasted at the Land: we use those which does not work on our bodies.

  • Under Makeup
    I trust most Japanese sunscreens with their elegant, high-tech formulation to perform very well under makeup and give adequate protection. There are many variations, including those which contain ingredients to prevent sebum breakthrough. My favorite so far is Hada Labo (the slim tube, not the squeeze tube which contains alcohol), and Sunplay. Other sunscreens that perform well under makeup are EltaMD and Bobbi Brown Protective Face SPF 50. Another promising candidate is LRP Pigmentclar UV SPF 30 (only tried samples, yet to purchase a full-size). It has nice hydrating ingredients, niacinamide and broad spectrum SPF 30 chemical screens.
  • Extended Outdoor Use (such as a picnic day at the park, or summer days with the Tod)
    On my face and body, I normally use La Roche Posay due to its high PPD rating (see the gigantic tube of Anthelios XL). Commandment no 4: I always seek shades anyway but there is no reliable filtering UVA. I even put LRP sunscreen on my face for re-application.
  • Water Sport (our-kind of water sport consists of wadding pool, lake, and beach)
    Nothing is more tenacious than the low-tech Badger Sunscreen. It is quite badass; so white, so tenacious, it takes either Clinique Balm Cleanser or a bit of coconut oil on the Tod to remove. It protects well and I feel good using it since it is biodegradable and friendly to the water ecosystem. 
  • For the Tod
    Goddess Garden, hands down, has a great, non-sticky yet spreadable texture that is nicely scented with lavender. I slather this sunscreen regularly on the Tod and he does not mind a bit. This one is also biodegradable.
  • Lips
    Don't forget the lips! My stapple is Shiseido Water-In-Lip UV Care SPF 18. I found the formula very emollient but not greasy, without any detectable sunscreen taste (in fact, it taste like cool menthol). Jack Black would do in a pinch, but the Shiseido is notches above any lip sunscreen I've came across. I do not use anything that contain oxybenzone for the lips, and that includes balms by Bite Beauty and Fresh.


Physical v.s. chemical screen, nano v.s. non-nano, critical wavelength, sunscreen stability, etc. etc. are topics that are beyond the scope of this measly blog post. I don't claim to be an expert, but I use, read, buy, and experiment with sunscreen enough that I hope this has been helpful. Please leave a comment with your opinion on sunscreen, your favorite sunscreen for you or your children, or even sunscreen for lips!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Living Below Our Means: Use What You Have

I have lots of ideas brimming and swimming in my head about the way we have been living lately. If you remember at the beginning of the year, I jumped in and started the year with decluttering my wardrobe. It inevitably spread into other things in my home: my son's clothing, my books, my digital documents. When it comes to toiletries and makeup, I got stuck.

Here's how my medicine cabinet looked like at the beginning of the year.


Is this a poster child of minimalism or what? I am paralyzed, absolutely paralyzed. Then I mulled things over again and again, and something becomes clearer to me: these purchases were loved when I got it. I mean, let's face it, who does not get a kick out of purchasing that new lipstick or new skincare from Sephora? And every single one of these items serve a purpose, downright to that 70% rubbing alcohol in the gigantic bottle. 

So, I have decided to use what I have. 

Most of using-up project has self-imposed rules: only buying staples are allowed, X number of new items per months are ok, etc. etc. but who am I kidding? I am, after all, a recovering makeup and skin care junky. I thought this time, just to humor myself, I'll see how far I can "survive" with only using the ones what I have without buying anymore items, not even staples, sales, whatever! Just use it up, period. No excuses. 

Then I thought about blogging this journey, you know, sort of when you are on diet, you'd tell everyone you know so you won't be tempted and be accountable and such. But then, I've always been an introvert; my motivation would often stem from the inside, not outside rewards. I decided that I will only blog about this if I have learned something worthy of sharing, and this lead me to the following:

  • I don't die without my staple products.
    I've rarely strayed from my skin care routine, which consists of acid toner/exfoliant, serum (vitamin C + antioxidant), retin A, and a good sunscreen. Masks, sprays, toners, creams, eye creams are all extras. Most of my skin care products are either from Paula's Choice or Skinceuticals. They are the ones to run out first, yet I still found things in my cabinet that can serve the purpose of these cant-live-withouts.
    More over, my skin looks and feels the same. There are several reasons why this is true. I rarely purchase products that does not agree with my skin to begin with, and if I feel like "experimenting" with my skin care, I usually get samples first (thanks Sephora and Nordie!). Now that I ran out my PC's BHA, for example, I fall back on PC's AHA. When I ran out of the serums, I use Sunday Riley Juno. I learn that the products I deemed as staples only pretend to be necessary. Look, I'm still alive!

  • Using up what I have made me appreciate the value of each item.
    Cliche but true. This is something I have to experience in order to understand. Not having anything else to use makes me appreciate every drop of the things that I do have. Sort of like, if you are a coffee drinker and almost ran out of coffee, but can't buy some until payday, you will start nursing and using up your coffee to last you until you can purchase it again.
    This is also the more reason that when I do have the means to spend for an item, I would rather spend it in something of high-quality and well-thought, just to be absolutely sure that I will use this product and continue using it.
    On the flip side, having too much things too easily will "cheapen" the value of each item. I just thought of the items I donated/got rid of quickly: they were either bought thoughtlessly or in the manner that was easily obtainable to me (price-wise, availability-wise, etc.). The value of an item has nothing to do with its price. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for affordable, low-priced items (in fact, most of my much-loved makeup brush collections are super affordable from Sonia Kashuk). Buying thoughtlessly is the point. Ditto with buying obsessively -- obsession is never a good thing when buying because buying based on such fleeing feelings is well.. fleeting. Obsessions come and go, and what's left after that is nothing but guilt, and regret, and the cycle begins again.
    Using up what I have actually is a joy and an exercise in appreciation.

  • Using things up liberates me.
    A common theme that comes after true appreciation is freedom. I realize that there are very few things I truly need to take care of myself. Sometimes basic things are more than sufficient. Moreover, I know in my mind that I do not tie up my time, energy (mental or physical), and money to any particular item. There is something very liberating in this realization. I started to see that these "things" are things which help me to get from point A to point B in life, whatever that may be, and without them, I will still get from A to B.
    Freedom is also knowing that I am ok not having a certain things (see the last point below).

  • Using things up does not deprive me.
    On contrary, I feel more "satisfied" using things I already have, similar to the above-point that I mentioned. I think a sense of deprivation is just my fear speaking: will my skin be full of zits or worse, fall to the ground? will I be bored using the same things over and over again? will I feel "empty" inside? what will happen if my obsession really cease at some point? who am I without all these products??
    And when I see this clearly in my own pattern of consumption, I see it more clearly in the external forces that govern patterns of consumptions: ads, subtle commercial blog posts, YouTubes, TV, etc. They do, like they said, prey on that sense of vulnerability and fear.

With all that song and dance, here's how my medicine cabinet looks like now (aka six months later):



Aren't you glad to see it is not even half-empty? What do you expect? I have lots of things to use up! But, there is another unexpected side-effect of this experiment: I have not thrown or donated a single product. I probably won't hesitate doing so anyway, but in reality, I've actually keep on using them. After all, this is not a "project purge," this is all about using what I have, and that means, I will nurse and squeeze every one of those bottles till the last drop if I have to. This medicine cabinet can last me several years if I am really that frugal (which I'm not!). Let's just say I am still a work in progress.

You may know or recognize these ideas intellectually. However, if in reality you are, like I am, paralyzed to declutter, yet equally paralyzed to resist the temptation of spending, I invite you to an experiment similar to mine: just use up what you have for a week, a month, a year, and see where the experiment leads you. No fanfare, no big announcement, if you wish. And when you do, I invite you to share your experience with me. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lately...

Summer is typically a slow blogging season for me, simply because I have less free, alone-time, and I prefer to spend my time with the Tod who is usually on Summer break. Do follow us on our adventure, though, on Instagram and Twitter -- I'll try my best to remember to share as well.

For now, here's what's happening lately at the Land.

Nothing's better than a pot of freshly made yogurt and homemade strawberry compote.


I am obsessed with yogurt. Yep, obsessed. It all started when I found the yogurt which reminds me of the one my uncle used to make when I grew up. Then a trip to the local Farmer's Market got me chatting with some of the dairy farmer about making yogurt at home. Finally I took the plunge -- first, I made several batched using the oven with pilot light on. Then, after a few failure, I tweaked the starter, the incubating temperature, even the depth of the pot that I was using.

This brand-new looking yogurt machine was probably a white elephant gift.. someone else's junk is my treasure!

A fateful trip to a Goodwill store sealed the deal: I found an almost brand new, perhaps never used, home yogurt machine for $10. I've been making batches of yogurt ever since. Last week, a small packet from my uncle arrived -- it was the yogurt starter blend that he used!

I still am not satisfied with my yogurt, I have a feeling this will be my summer project. Fortunately, this project is quite inexpensive and consumable by the whole family. In fact, I often found no yogurt left when I need a little snack in the afternoon.

I won't belabored on the process of yogurt making as many excellent resources are available on the web. Sufficed to say, here's a few that has helped me along the way:

  • Be gentle. Respect the culture. Stir the culture (or you can even use already-made, store-bought yogurt as your culture, I did that in the beginning) gently into the milk. 
  • Be patient. The bacteria needs to colonize and it takes time. I even let my yogurt "rest" for an hour or two after incubation period before putting them in the fridge.
  • Slow down. I scorched the milk a couple of times in the beginning, but now, I go slow and tend the milk all the way while it heats up. I even got hypnotized sometimes while stirring it.. zzzz..

A little word about shopping at Goodwill: I am a fan. Why purchase new things when you can purchase used and help people along the way? I've purchased many things from Goodwill, and I've also donated many things there. 'Nuff said..


Daisies that the Tod picked for me from the sidewalk, and the shell that he painted the colors of the sea.

Finally, these past few weeks have been weeks of "goodbyes" for the Tod. I'm not sure how much he realizes, but he finally graduated from the Early Intervention program. If you follow me on Facebook, you would probably have noticed that the Tod was born with a few developmental delays. My heart is brimming with pride of what he has achieved so far and I am thankful for the dedication and love of all his teachers and therapists.

The Tod will go to a typical school next year, a pre-K and we are in for yet another adventure and challenges. Along with graduation are goodbyes to all his friends and the parents I've made friend with for the past 2-3 years. Some of their children are in different situation than the Tod and I will miss their constant inspiration of courage, bravery, extreme commitment and radical love. Raising children with disabilities are not for the faint of hearts -- no words can describe the dedication of these fellow parents day in and day out. They keep my perspective of life and the many blessings I have enjoyed so far.

I am already mourning days I spend with the Tod at home, unscheduled and free. I will cherish this summer with him before he goes to school full-time in the Fall.

Wishing you all a blessed, happy, safe Summer ahead!