Summer time means bare skin and more time spent having fun outdoors soaking up the sun. It can also mean sunburn, ageing, and skin cancer. Most of us are aware of the importance of using sun protection, but it can be confusing to know what all the sunscreen jargon means, and also how to protect yourself without using potentially risky chemicals.
Sun Stuff 101:
These are the rays that cause skin damage and ageing, and potentially cancer.
These can penetrate glass and clouds.
These rays are responsible for the “ouch” factor: burning skin and the sexy lobster look.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor):
This is in reference to the burning rays (UVB) and not the rays that are linked with causing skin cancer and ageing (UVA). A higher SPF doesn’t mean higher protection against skin cancer; it simply refers to protection from burning. A general rule of thumb: The higher the SPF, the more chemicals you are applying.
This refers to protection from BOTH UVA and UVB rays, which is what we want.
How Sunscreens Work:
♥ The chemical sunscreens form a film on the skin and absorb UV rays.
♥ Physical or mineral sunscreens (Zinc oxide & Titanium oxide) form a physical layer that reflects the UV rays away from the skin.
Zinc oxide and Titanium oxide offer broad-spectrum protection: they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
General Sun Safe Recommendations:
• Wear long-sleeved shirts, hats, sunglasses
• Avoid the sun during the middle of the day when it is strongest
• Sit in the shade
• Wear a safe sunscreen (see below)
• Avoid spray sunscreens (inhalation is a risk and application is generally not sufficient)
In Australia we were bombarded with the "Slip, Slop, Slap" message every summer: it basically means to slip on a shirt or coverup, slop on some sun protection, and slap on a wide-brimmed hat. Easy to remember!
75% of the hundreds of sunscreens tested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for their 2016 Sunscreen Guide were found to be unsafe, ineffective or a combination of both.
Half of the sunscreens tested wouldn’t pass the stringent European Union’s testing because they don’t protect against UVA rays sufficiently.
Sunscreens are formulated with either chemical or physical (mineral) active ingredients, or a combination of both.
Mineral sunscreens are safer than chemical ones, but they tend to be less popular because they can leave a chalky, sticky finish to the skin. To counteract these effects, manufacturers use Nano-sized mineral particles. These are thought to be fairly safe (there is controversy around this) but there are concerns regarding environmental impact and the risk of inhaling spray products.
Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide:
♥ No or very little absorption into skin
♥ Not found in breast milk
♥ No link with hormonal disruption
♥ The main risk seems to be with inhalation of spray or powdered versions
The Problems with Chemical Sunscreens:
♥ Retinyl palmitate: Some contain this form of Vitamin A that may cause skin tumors when skin is exposed to sunlight.
♥ Oxybenzone: may be hormone disruptive, a skin irritant, linked with Endometriosis, and is found in breast milk. This is present in around 70% of chemical sunscreens.
♥ Octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene: these are common chemicals with links to hormone disruption, is found in breast milk, and are possible sin irritants
♥ Mexoryl SX is considered the safest chemical ingredient as it has a low risk of skin irritation and there is no known evidence for hormonal disruption.
Other Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid:
♥ Fragrance and preservatives: increased risk of skin irritation/allergy and hormonal disruption.
♥ Methylisothiazolinone: High risk of allergic reaction, yet it is used in many Hypoallergenic products.
Which Sunscreen to Use?
I personally use the mineral sunscreens because I believe the fewer chemicals we put on our skin the better. I prefer a little stickiness to hormonal disruption, and a rash (which I always get from the chemical ones).
I have put together a list of safer sunscreens (in no particular order) but I suggest going to a health food or natural skincare store and trying them out for yourself because it depends on what you are looking for.
♥ John Masters Organics SPF 30 Natural Mineral Sunscreen
♥ Loving Naturals Clear sunscreen: this is apparently clear.
♥ TruKids Sunny Days SPF30
♥ Babo Botanicals ClearZinc Sunscreen SPF 30
♥ Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunscreen, Fragrance-Free, SPF 30
♥ Badger sunscreens
♥ Juice Beauty SPF 30 Sport: mineral based and non-nanoparticle
♥ Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer, SPF 30
♥ Coola Organic Sunscreen Mineral Baby Unscented SPF 50
Sources: www.ewg.org, www.wellandgood.com, www.credobeauty.com