Exclusive Interview with Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®

Protect Yourself from the Sun
This Summer and All Year Round

nce upon a time, most of us thought that sunbathing was good for us, and we admired the “healthy” glow of a rich tan. All that changed, however, as we learned about the hidden dangers of too much sun exposure and the skin cancers that it causes. It is now widely recognized that even short periods of time in the sun can be too much if they cause skin damage, because that kind of damage accumulates over long periods of time.

Yet too little sun exposure can also be harmful, because it deprives us of our primary source of vitamin D, which is synthesized in our skin from exposure to the sun’s life-giving rays. Vitamin D is a substance increasingly recognized as more important to our health than was previously thought.

The trick, then, is to get the sunshine we all need (and love), without overdoing it. With that in mind, Life Enhancement went to see life extension scientists Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw and asked them to enlighten us about sun exposure and the benefits of their sunscreen.


LE: Let’s get right to the point: what’s so good about your sunscreen?

DURK: It’s truly waterproof, so that whether you’re Jet Skiing on a high-altitude lake in California or surfing the Pipeline in Hawaii, it really stays on, despite the spray that would scour a conventional sunscreen off. And it does this without the kind of sticky kid stuff that surfers traditionally use. Our product even resists the high temperature of a hot tub or a hot spring—conditions that would melt regular sunscreens away—and it won’t sweat away either.

SANDY: Our interest began almost 20 years ago, when a friend invited us to go Jet Skiing on a mountain lake in August. For the occasion, we brought a surfer sunscreen that Durk had used before. It had the consistency of axle grease, but it worked very well—at least for surfing.

DURK: After a few uses on that lake, though, the Jet Skis got so slippery, they would just shoot out from under you. Sandy went back on shore every 45 minutes or so to put more on, and I did the same every hour. Yet she got burned to the point of peeling, and I actually got burned to the point of blistering.

So we decided to design a truly waterproof sunscreen. We got every scientific paper that had been published in English, and a few in German, on sunscreens. We also acquired every book that had ever been published on sunscreens. After we studied the literature, we started ordering sample materials and began work on a formulation.

Most sunscreens are either oil-in-water emulsions or water-in-oil emulsions. Either way, the combination is made feasible by a substance called an emulsifying agent, or emulsifier, which acts like a detergent (all detergents are emulsifiers). So if your skin is exposed to water after you’ve applied the sunscreen, the residual emulsifier allows the oil to be dissolved and washed away. This is especially true, of course, if the water is turbulent or hot. Sandy and I are hot spring aficionados—in fact, we own one.

SANDY: After designing the product, which involved a lot of experimenting on ourselves, we submitted it to a testing laboratory for the FDA protocol required for assigning a sunscreen protection factor, or SPF rating. We decided to go for the toughest criterion, which was then called waterproof but is now called water-resistant.

The test requires that experimental subjects put the sunscreen on and get into warm, agitated water for an extended period, after which they come out and are pat-dried with a towel. This procedure was performed four times. Then the subjects were exposed to controlled amounts of UV (ultraviolet) radiation to determine the level of protection still remaining from the sunscreen.

DURK: This test is only for UVB radiation. There’s no test for UVA, so an SPF rating pertains only to UVB, not UVA.

LE: We need to digress for a moment. What’s the difference between UVB and UVA?

DURK: The differences lie in their energy and skin-penetrating ability. UVA is adjacent to violet in the electromagnetic spectrum, so its wavelengths are shorter than those of violet, meaning that they represent higher energies. UVB has even shorter wavelengths than UVA, and thus higher energies still. You might think, therefore, that UVB would penetrate more deeply than UVA—but it doesn’t, owing to the unique nature of its interactions with the molecules of our skin. Even though it doesn’t penetrate as deeply as UVA, though, UVB’s higher energy means that it causes more damage, including sunburn, and it induces tanning.

SANDY: UVA is far from harmless, though. The higher-energy end of the UVA range, adjacent to UVB, is strong enough to damage our DNA in ways that can lead eventually to squamous-cell and basal-cell carcinomas. The lower-energy end of the UVA range is not as bad, although it too can cause some photoaging—damage such as wrinkling, discoloration, and that leathery quality we’ve all seen on some people. But UVA can also be beneficial, by inducing molecular repair mechanisms that can offset some of the damage done by the higher-energy radiation.

DURK: And, of course, ultraviolet radiation causes the synthesis of vitamin D in our skin. In the past—whether 100 years ago or 100,000 years ago—the principal source of vitamin D for humans was the sun. Nowadays, though, with our largely indoor existence, we often don’t get enough sun exposure to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D—and if we did, we’d probably be doing ourselves more harm than good, owing to the downsides of overexposure on our overly “civilized” skin.

SANDY: So UVA represents both good and bad for our skin: it’s beneficial in small amounts but harmful in larger amounts. Unfortunately, there’s no established protocol for assigning UVA-based SPF ratings for sunscreens, as there is for UVB. The fault lies with the FDA for not developing such a protocol and for not permitting the use of privately developed ones.

DURK: Getting back to our story—about eight weeks after we submitted our sunscreen, we got a call from the doctor who was running the laboratory. He said, “How did you do it?” I said, “How did we do what?” And he said, “We’ve tested over 8000 sunscreens, and yours is the only one that didn’t lose any statistically significant SPF points between the waterproof test and the static [dry skin] test.” He’d never seen anything like that before. It’s common for sunscreens to lose 15, 20, 25 points, and ours showed no significant loss. I explained to him that we had created an anhydrous sunscreen, with no emulsifiers. It goes on and stays on. The only way to get it off is to wash it off with soap or detergent.

LE: How does it stay on?

SANDY: We use isopropyl alcohol as a solvent and penetrant, because if you want a sunscreen that’s really useful under the toughest conditions, it should not contain emulsifiers. The alcohol evaporates very quickly. Our formulation also contains macadamia nut oil, which provides a soothing effect and acts with the alcohol as a carrier to allow the other ingredients to penetrate more deeply into your skin. Macadamia nut oil is highly monounsaturated, a desirable characteristic that can help reduce the risk of cancer from UV radiation. Monounsaturated oils offer antioxidant protection that you don’t get from saturated oils. Polyunsaturated oils can actually be pro-oxidants. Also, macadamia nuts produce antioxidant compounds that are dissolved in the oil, offering yet another level of protection.

LE: What are the sun-blocking components?

DURK: First, there’s octyl para-methoxycinnamate, an FDA-approved UVA absorber. We chose it because many cinnamic acid derivatives are antioxidants as well. We also have titanium dioxide, another FDA-approved sunscreen, which acts as a highly efficient UV blocker. Then there’s octyl salicylate, a UVB absorber that does not cause the kind of photoallergic reaction that produces sun bumps, especially in women. Sun bumps can be caused by benzophenone or its derivatives, which are found in virtually all of the most commonly used cheap sunscreens. Our product is free of benzophenone and PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid).

Then we have methyl anthranilate, another FDA-approved UVA absorber with antioxidant properties; its parent acid, anthranilic acid, is yet another antioxidant. The esters of some organic acids are what give many fruits their characteristic aromas, and methyl anthranilate smells like Concord grapes. Similarly, octyl para-methoxycinnamate, an ester of cinnamic acid, smells like cinnamon.

SANDY: Our sunscreen also contains vitamin C in the form of ascorbyl palmitate, a fat-soluble compound and an antioxidant synergist that has been shown to provide protection against the development of particular types of skin cancer resulting from solar ultraviolet exposure. That’s true for vitamin E as well, which we’ve also included.

We also have a powerful chelating agent, triethanolamine etidronate, which can prevent iron from causing oxidative damage. This iron chelator is over 100 times more potent than EDTA, which is found in many cosmetics.

Then there’s BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), a potent antioxidant and food preservative that has been shown to inhibit the development of skin cancers in animals.

DURK: To adjust the sunscreen’s pH to the right value, we’ve included the buffers triethanolamine citrate and triethanolamine malate, which will not form carcinogenic nitrosamines. You have to watch out for diethanolamine-type compounds, because in the presence of nitrites—which are often found in skin—they can form nitrosamines. Triethanolamines can’t do that, however.

Also present are vitamins A and (ironically) D, which are cellular growth-control agents. Vitamin A helps regulate cell growth, and vitamin D tends to prevent excessive cell growth.

SANDY: A recent meta-analysis of epidemiological studies in humans showed that sufficient amounts of vitamin D provide protection against a variety of cancers.

DURK: There isn’t enough vitamin D in our sunscreen to replace the amount you can get from the sun. For example, if you went outdoors without sunscreen on a sunny summer day with just your face and hands exposed, you could synthesize as much as 20,000 IU of vitamin D a day. You can’t get anywhere near that much from topical applications. Therefore, if you use an effective sunscreen, such as ours, we highly recommend that you take a vitamin D supplement.*

*Editor’s note: Durk and Sandy suggest that most people supplement with 2000 IU of vitamin D per day. Some studies suggest even more. In fact, a recent human study found that a person uses about 4000 IU per day during the winter, after storing it up during summer sun exposure. Durk and Sandy believe that osteoporosis and certain types of cancers may be due in part to excessive use of high-SPF sunscreens, which inhibit vitamin D production, and in part to insufficient supplemental intake of this vitamin. See page 8 of this issue for more about vitamin D.

LE: You mentioned earlier that your product didn’t lose SPF points in the lab test. What rating did it wind up with?

DURK: A nice odd number: 17. That means that if, for example, your “burn time” in a given location on a given day were about 15 minutes, you could be out in the sun for 17 times that long, or about 4 1/4 hours, before starting to burn. We could have pushed our SPF much higher, but we didn’t want to encourage people to spend excessive amounts of time out in the sun. Unless a high-SPF sunscreen makes you look like you’re covered with white paint, it will absorb far more UVB than UVA, so with those products, you will photoage and increase your risk for skin cancer, even if you don’t burn.

SANDY: We’re not in favor of high-SPF sunscreens, even though we live in the desert at 6000 feet, where there’s not as much atmospheric protection against UVB radiation as there is at lower altitudes. The intensity of both UVA and UVB is much greater up here.

LE: What are the main problems with conventional sunscreens?

DURK: They run off when you sweat, even if you’re not in the water—and then you burn. And if the sweat gets in your eyes, it can cause irritation. That’s why many cowboys, at least in the past, didn’t use sunscreen. Out on the range, there’s a lot of dust, dirt, pollen, seeds, etc., and the greasiness of regular sunscreens makes you a magnet for all that stuff. And sweating can get it in your eyes. Hats and bandannas help, but they can get saturated pretty fast.

SANDY: The dangers of herding and branding make it important for cowboys to avoid letting sweat get in their eyes and impede their vision.

DURK: We know some cowboys who are using our sunscreen at the branding corral and, in fact, whenever they’re outdoors—which is most of the time. The skin damage due to prior exposures, before they started using sunscreen, can’t be undone by using a sunscreen, but there is, at least, a lot less damage being done now. One rancher we know has a beautiful wife. She’s using our sunscreen, and he is too, because he wants to stay young and pretty for her.

LE: Will a second application of your sunscreen increase its effectiveness?

DURK: Not by much. You can get a small additional benefit, but you certainly can’t double the SPF by putting on a second layer—it doesn’t work that way.

LE: How do you apply your sunscreen?

DURK: Well, since it comes in either a flip-top bottle or a pump sprayer, I either pour or spray a small amount into the palm of my hand and apply it with my fingertips—face and neck first. Then I use larger amounts to coat my arms or legs or whatever else is going to be exposed.

LE: Can women use makeup with your sunscreen?

SANDY: Absolutely, as long as the sunscreen goes on first, and then the makeup. Otherwise, the sunscreen’s water resistance will be compromised.

LE: There are two different forms of it, called Rich and Light. Please explain.

DURK: With more macadamia nut oil, the Rich version is designed for people spending time at the beach and swimming in the ocean, which can desiccate their skin. Salt water contains a higher concentration of salt than your skin, so swimming in the ocean extracts water from your skin and dehydrates it (the opposite is true when you swim in fresh water). In either salt water or fresh water, you want to have a layer of oil on you to provide protection.

SANDY: On dry land, though, and especially in dry climates, you don’t need that much oil—nor would you want it. We designed the Light version mainly for people who live in dry climates.

LE: What’s the last word on your sunscreen?

DURK: Let’s just say that we designed it for those who want to stay young-looking and as good as they can for an inordinately long time.

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