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Is infrared light really bad for skin?

Posted May 14 2013 11:06am

Post image for Is infrared light really bad for skin?

Al asks…Lately in Spain I’ve seen people raging about infrared targeted sunscreens, products that protect from IRA rays…is this necessary at all? Does it have some basis or is it mere marketing gimmick? Should I buy one?

The Beauty Brains reply:
Unfortunately, it looks like this is NOT hype. As recently as 2010, scientists began to understand that it is important to protect skin from infrared radiation because it does indeed contribute to photo-aging.

Infrared radiation (IR) is the “other end of the rainbow” from ultraviolet (UV). Most of the research on solar radiation has been done on the UV part of the spectrum because we KNOW it does bad things to skin. Yet UV accounts for only 7% of the total solar energy that reaches the our bodies. Most of the solar radiation we’re exposed to (about 54%) is in the infrared region. Just as we have different ranges of ultraviolet (UVA, B, and C), there are also different bands of infrared: IRA (760–1440 nm), IRB (1440–3000 nm) and IRC (3000 nm-1 mm). Only the IRA portion penetrates skin and about half of what hits the skin can penetrate all the way through the epidermis to the dermis. And once it reaches the dermis, IRA is able to interact with living components of skin. While the extent of this interaction is not fully understood yet it appears that IRA can cause aging effects and perhaps contribute to skin cancer as well.

Sunscreen is not as effective against IR as it is UV. When it comes to UV, sunscreens work in two ways: UV absorbers literally soak up the dangerous UV and re-release the energy at non-dangerous frequencies. UV blockers reflect the light so it doesn’t reach the skin in the first place. But as of right now there are no IR absorbing ingredients. That means most sunscreens won’t protect you against IRA. And only some of the inorganic sun blockers (such as titanium dioxide) appear to be capable of reflecting IRA. The good news is that early research has shown that some antioxidants can protect your skin from damage by IRA.

Scientists are still researching how to best protect skin from the effects of broad spectrum solar radiation. In the meantime, your best bet appears to be a combination of the so-called “sunblock” ingredients along with antioxidants.

Reference: J Invest Dermatol. 2010 June; 130(6): 1496–1499.

Image credit: http://fc09.deviantart.net

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