The days of baking in the sun covered in baby oil using tin foil reflectors are over. While science and research has shown that the sun is the best source of vitamin D, too much exposure to its powerful rays can be harmful. Freckles, age spots and wrinkles are frequent results of overexposure to the sun, which is also the leading cause of skin cancer.
One of the best ways to protect against sun damage is by applying sunscreen. But not all sunscreens are created equal. What we put on our skin is eventually absorbed into our body, and new research shows that some chemicals in sunscreens can speed the rate at which cells become malignant. So while we try to protect ourselves, using the wrong sunscreen could do more harm than good.
Natural Sunscreens – Benefits To Consider
- Minimal to no exposure to harmful chemicals
- Reflect UV rays instead of absorbing them
- Eco-friendly, cruelty-free and organic options available
Different Types Of Sunscreens
- Inorganic Sunscreens tend minimize chemical content and use other mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These products work by reflecting UV radiation instead of absorbing it.
- Chemical Sunscreens work by absorbing UV radiation and converting it into small amounts of heat. These products tend to contain toxic chemicals with side effects as described below.
What’s The Difference Between UVA and UVB?
- UVA rays penetrate the skin on a much deeper level. They commonly contribute to changes associated with aging, such as wrinkling, leathering and sagging.
- UVB rays are the causative agent behind sunburns and the increasing rise in skin cancer rates.
Ingredients To Know And Avoid
- Oxybenzone – This toxic chemical absorbs ultraviolet rays from the sun, easily penetrates the skin and acts like estrogen in the body. Allergic reactions can be triggered in the body when it’s absorbed. Studies have found it can alter sperm count in animals, and be associated with endometriosis in women.
- Vitamin A – When taken as a supplement or used in night creams, vitamin A doesn’t seem to cause as much of a problem. However when applied to the skin and exposed directly to sunlight, “retinyl palmitate,” a form of vitamin A commonly found in sunscreens, seems to speed the development of certain skin tumors
- Octinoxate – Although it has relatively high rates of skin reactivity, the most troublesome effect of this product is hormone disruption, due to its hormone-like activity. In animal studies, it altered the function of the reproductive system and thyroid gland.
- Homosalate – Chemically-derived sunscreen often times needs to get absorbed deep into our skin layers to work. Homosalate helps sunscreen to penetrate deep into our skin. When this chemical builds up in our bodies, it disrupts hormones like estrogen, androgen and progesterone. If that isn’t bad enough homosalate can even break down into more toxic products.
- Avobenzone – Avobenzone offers the best UVA protection out of the chemical filters and is not as toxic as the other chemicals used in sunscreens. While there’s no evidence of hormone disruption, there are relatively high rates of skin reactivity and allergies to consider.
- Octisalate – Overall octisalate is pretty safe and there’s no real evidence of hormone disruption or skin reactivity. If you see it on the label, it’s typically there to help stabilize avobenzone. It’s not broken down by sunlight, providing longer-lasting skin protection.
- Octocrylen – Like octisalate, this ingredient is generally pretty safe and there’s no current evidence of hormone disruption. However, skin reactivity is fairly common.
How To Read What’s On The Label
- SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and is a measure of how well the sunscreen protects against UVB radiation.
- In general, if your unprotected skin would burn within in 10 minutes of being in the sun, then applying SPF 15 would prevent burning 15 times longer. So you could be in the sun for 150 minutes without burning.
- The other way of looking at this is in terms of percentage.
- SPF 15 filters 93% of all incoming UVB rays
- SPF 30 filters 97% of all incoming UVB rays
- SPF 50 filters 98% of all incoming UBV rays
- The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
- Broad Spectrum on a sunscreen bottle means that it is intended to protect you from both UVA and UVB radiation
- Expiration Date – Sunscreens past the expiration date are typically no longer effective. Most sunscreens last up to 3 years. If your product doesn’t have an expiration date, try writing the purchase date on the product to help ensure effectiveness.
Other Tips To Help Reduce Sun Damage
- Being outside doesn’t have to mean being in direct sunlight – find shade, or cover your skin by wearing shirts, hats, shorts or pants
- Choose cosmetics and contact lenses that offer UV protection
- Wear sunglasses that provide extra UV protection
- Sun strength varies throughout the day – avoid peak sun exposure between 10am and 2pm
- Check the UV Index to prevent overexposure
- Re-apply your sunscreen! Every 2 hours is standard, or more frequently if swimming or sweating
- Know the signs of overexposure to avoid getting burned (redness, sore skin, blistering, dehydration etc.)
- Consider loading up on antioxidants after a day in the sun