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Harnessing the Power of Sunscreen – in the United States

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Have you ever looked at the skin on a 90-year-old’s backside? Dr. Fayne Frey, a dermatologist and author of “The Skincare Hoax,” has. She describes it as “beautiful,” with minimal pigmentation, few wrinkles, and hardly any visible blood vessels. In contrast, the skin on the same person’s face often displays brown spots, scaliness, prominent blood vessels, increased wrinkling, and a generally sallow appearance.

The natural aging process contributes to fine lines, but as much as 80 percent of age-related skin changes are attributed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Our star emits radiation across most of the electromagnetic spectrum, resulting in a wide range of wavelengths being emitted into space: X-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, and radio waves. Luckily for us, sunlight is filtered and scattered by the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a much less energetic radiation reaching our planet’s surface, with UV rays remaining our main concern. We are naturally drawn to the sun because our bodies need the energy contained in ultraviolet light to produce Vitamin D, essential for bones health, but at the same time that same ultraviolet light has negative effects on our bodies, for it is also a mutagen and permanently damages our genetic material. UV damage can lead to signs of aging, making sunscreen a vital skincare product. Sunscreen is renowned for preventing sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer, but it is also considered one of the best tools for slowing down the aging process.

UV rays inflict damage on the skin through two categories: UVA and UVB. UVB rays primarily affect the skin’s top layer, while UVA rays are longer and penetrate deeper. This deep penetration can occur even through glass, dispelling the notion that windows provide complete protection from sun damage. Extended exposure to both UVA and UVB rays leads to cell damage in the skin’s top layer, causing redness, roughness, and scaly patches known as actinic keratosis. DNA mutations in keratinocytes are responsible for this condition, and it can progress to become cancerous in some instances.

Below the keratinocytes are melanocytes, which produce melanin, darkening the skin and resulting in a suntan when activated by UVA rays. Long-term UV exposure can damage melanocytes, leading to permanent hyperpigmentation in the form of brown spots, often referred to as sunspots, age spots, or liver spots. Collagen and elastin, critical for skin elasticity and suppleness, reside in the skin’s deeper layers. UVA rays trigger the degradation of these proteins, causing wrinkles as the skin loses elasticity and thins, making blood vessels more visible.

While it’s challenging to artificially boost collagen and elastin, fibroblasts continue producing these proteins as we age, albeit at a slower rate. Using sunscreen consistently from an early age may help diminish the appearance of wrinkles over time. By preserving collagen levels and preventing further depletion through sun exposure, it’s possible to reverse some signs of aging. However, the jury is still out on whether sunscreen can genuinely reverse skin aging.

So, how does sunscreen prevent signs of aging? Sunscreen acts as a shield, blocking UV rays from reaching and penetrating the skin. Two types of sunscreen ingredients exist: mineral (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) and chemical (avobenzone, oxybenzone, homosalate). Mineral ingredients create a physical barrier, reflecting UV light off the skin. Chemical ingredients absorb UV rays. Both types of sunscreen can degrade over time, necessitating reapplication every two hours or more frequently when swimming or sweating.

A third type of sun protection, although not classified as sunscreen ingredient, is Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a well-known vitamin that helps to combat aging by neutralizing free radicals and protecting against UV rays and its oxidative stress by regulating the production of melanin. NEREA Florida, NEREA Spirale and NEREA Gorgolaio offer natural Sun protection thanks to the improved content of Vitamin C present in the algae an in the snail slime that make up the ingredients of these products.

Everyone who’s going to walk under direct sunlight should incorporate sunscreen into their daily skincare routine. Since sunscreens’ SPF is made up by ingredients reflecting or absorbing UV light, creating a barrier between the skin and the exterior environment, it should be layered on our face after serums and moisturizers (or anti-age creams of any sort) and before applying makeup in the morning.

Sunscreens are more effective at blocking UVB rays than UVA rays. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) indicates how well a sunscreen prevents sunburn, mainly related to UVB protection. To ensure a sunscreen provides adequate UVA protection, look for “broad spectrum” on the label or ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide.

In Europe, newer sunscreen ingredients are more effective against UVA, and so some Americans have turned to sunscreens manufactured abroad to meet their skincare needs. These brands use active ingredients not yet approved for use in the United States. The technology behind these products is sophisticated, providing effective protection without the heavy feel of traditional sunscreens. In Italy, NEREA is currently working on developing its own broad spectrum sunscreen as well, which will soon be submitted to the FDA for approval.

In contrast to the United States though, where sunscreen is regulated as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), major skincare hubs like South Korea, Japan, and the European Union, with Italy on the first level of the podium, categorize sunscreen as a cosmetic product. This difference in classification leads to variations in the approval process for new sunscreen ingredients and formulations. While the FDA has not approved new active sunscreen ingredients for over two decades, the European Union has embraced more than 30 such ingredients. This gap has left many skincare-conscious Americans frustrated with limited sunscreen options.

However, Congress has initiated a preliminary process to examine potential improvements to the approval procedure, with a focus on encouraging sunscreen filter manufacturers to conduct the necessary research and development to meet FDA requirements. This approach aims to maintain safety standards while facilitating the introduction of innovative sunscreen products to the market.

Despite the backlog of sunscreen ingredients awaiting FDA approval, experts assert that the current rates of skin cancer in the United States are not solely due to a lack of new sunscreen filters. Instead, they emphasize the importance of a comprehensive approach to sun protection, including avoiding intense sunlight, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen effectively.

While various solutions exist, online influencers and consumers are also vocalizing their preferences and seeking alternative sunscreen options. The desire for improved formulations and accessibility is growing, prompting a potential shift in the U.S. sunscreen market and a call for action on this vital issue.


Dana G. Smith – New York Times

Sandra E. Garcia – New York Times