All of us know we need to protect ourselves from the sun to avoid skin cancer, and to slow down the aging process. But do we really know all there is to know about practicing safe sun protection on ourselves?
Are we using sunscreens wisely? Or are we just applying more chemicals to our faces daily, but actually not protecting ourselves from the sun at all?
The amount of information out there on sunscreens is baffling, and the Australian cancer council says that we are so concerned about the SPF factor, that we are not concentrating on the bigger sunscreen issue… The fact that most of us do not use it correctly, that we are only using a third of what we should be applying daily to protect ourselves.
So many of our top moisturizers contain a SPF factor that we, religiously apply to our faces every morning. Many of us, complain of congestion, milia, irritated and inflamed skins, and breakouts which we cannot clear up no matter what we do externally or internally, till we stop using moisturizer with sunscreen in it.
But why are we using a moisturizer with sunscreen anyway? By the time sun protection is needed between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm (11am and 3pm daylight saving) the sunscreen applied at 7 am is null and void, as even a broad spectrum 30 plus sunscreen only gives us a protection for no more than 2 hours! So it has worn off by 9 am. We have happily applied a layer of toxic chemicals to our face for no reason at all, as by the time we head out into the sun shine at lunch time, the sunscreen has done its dash.
Ultra Violet Rays
There are two types of UV (ultraviolet) rays from the sun; UVA and UVB. UVA rays are the most responsible for skin damage,that can lead to cancer and skin aging. Although UVB rays also cause damage and sunburn, they cause more surface damage than deeper skin damage. UVB rays are those necessary for the body to produce its own cancer protective vitamin D via the skin.
UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Although they are less intense than UVB, UVA rays are 30 to 50 times more prevalent. They are present with relatively equal intensity during all daylight hours throughout the year, and can penetrate clouds and glass.
UVA, which penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB, plays a major part in photo ageing. It causes significant damage in areas of the epidermis where most skin cancers occur. But UVA also damages skin cells called keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. UVA contributes to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers. It is the most dominant tanning ray, which until recently was why most tanning beds used it over UVB rays.
UVB, the chief cause of skin reddening and sunburn, tends to damage the skin’s more superficial epidermal layers. It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer and a contributory role in tanning and photo ageing. Its intensity varies by season, location, and time of day, which is why we burn in summer and not in winter. Although in so saying, the sun’s reflection from the snow is higher than the sun’s reflection in the sand, and the UV radiation factor increases by 4% each 1000 foot increase in altitude! UVB is also responsible for vitamin D production in our bodies.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It refers to the ability of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which causes us to burn, but not UVA rays. Most sunscreens only protect us from UVB rays. You need to use a Broad spectrum, sunscreen to protect you from UVA and UVB rays, and again, it needs to be reapplied multiple times per day
The real truth is, that SPF actually stands for how effectively the product protects you from UVB rays, but it does not rate how well it protects you from UVA rays, as yet, there is not way to measure this.
Then there is the SPF protection debacle.
Is a 100+ or a 90+ sunscreen really that much better than one with an SPF of 30? Not at all really.
A SPF 15 product blocks about 94% of UVB rays; an SPF 30 product blocks 97% of UVB rays; and an SPF 50 product blocks about 98% of rays. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings block slightly more UVB rays, but none offer 100% protection.
Also be aware, that in most cases, each time you go up a SPF you are doubling up how many chemicals you are applying to your body. SPF 15 – SPF 30 usually means a 100% increase in chemicals whilst only giving you 3% more protection.
The good news is, that there are now more and more companies bringing out high protection products based on more natural ingredients. More later.
To get the best out of your sunscreen protection, you need to apply it 20 – 30 minutes before you go outside, and then it needs to be reapplied every 1 and ½ – to 2 hours to keep you totally protected, depending on how much you sweat and how wet you get. If you are swimming, you must reapply your sunscreen as soon as you leave the water.
The difference between water resistant and waterproof sunscreen is, water resistant protects you for up to 40 minutes after exposure to water, waterproof protects you for up to 80 minutes.
In actual fact, the average person does not need to apply sunscreen every day to go to work. As ideally we should be getting 20 – 40 minutes per day for us to keep our vitamin D levels up, preferably before 10 am and after 2 pm (11am and 3pm daylight saving). Sunlight is the optimal source of vitamin D. By blocking UVB rays daily, you may be increasing your cancer risk.
Getting sun, without sunscreen, is actually really important. Recent studies reveal that people who spend more time outdoors without getting sunburnt, in fact decrease their risk of developing melanoma, and protects them from multiple forms of cancer; including breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, ovarian, bladder, gallbladder, gastric, pancreatic, prostate, rectal, and renal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Indeed, more people die of Vitamin D deficiency-based cancers than from melanoma. But this is another whole article!
One of my personal concerns is how many chemicals we are applying to our skin. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens.
There are two types of sunscreens available; physical block outs and chemical block outs.
Chemical Block outs
- Dioxybenzone and oxybenzone. These two are free radical generators which can disrupt hormone function.
- Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) is common in many sunscreens, acting as a dye that absorbs UVB light in the same way as oxybenzone. PABA contains a benzene ring in which electrons can shuffle, or resonate, between different locations within the six-sided structure. This electron dance matches that of the lightwaves of UVB rays, absorbing and blocking UVB energy by converting the light to heat. PABA releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people.
- Octyl methoxycinnamate: Is the main chemical used in chemical sunscreens to filter out UVB light. OMC kills cells in mice even at low doses, and is particularly toxic when exposed to sunshine!
- Benzophenone: Is an ingredient which prevents sunlight from breaking down the products in the sunscreen. It is a hormone disrupting chemical that interferes with thyroid function and lowers testosterone, which raises serious concerns about its impact on male fertility.
Personally I prefer the physical block outs which are non invasive and natural, and they also work from the moment they are applied.
- Zinc oxide; is often found in lip balms and foundations. It looks white on the skin until worked in, and Titanium dioxide is also often found in natural sunscreens.
I personally prefer Zinc Oxide as it has UVA and UVB protection and I have never found it to cause any congestion on problematic or sensitive skins, whilst Titanium Dioxide I have found to do so.
The American Environmental Agency’s graph below features chemical and physical sunscreen ingredients, as well as the type and amount of ray protection that they provide and their class
Many natural skin care ingredients give a certain amount of protection from the sun on a day to day basis.
Vitamin C, extra virgin olive oil, and extra virgin coconut oil all contain a natural sunscreen factor. Extra virgin coconut oil has the highest, it has a rating of SPF 10.
Bruce Fife, ND, author of Coconut Cures, explains that coconut oil applied to the skin protects against sunburn and cancer. Unlike sunscreen, unprocessed coconut oil doesn’t completely block out the UVB rays that are needed for vitamin D synthesis. It protects the skin and underlying tissues from damage due to excessive exposure.
Many natural and sustainable health practitioners recommend not only applying sunscreen on the outside to protect the skin but to also eat to protect the skin. Eating foods such as extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, foods high in antioxidants, omegas, especially fatty fish and lycopene etc, will help our skins naturally protect itself from the suns rays.
My other half is actually walking proof of this. At 60 he will not and has never worn sunscreen. He lives out in the garden most weekends during the hottest hours of the day. He more than often chooses to swim between 20 and 60 laps of a outdoor 50 metre pool in the middle of the day. He burns, turns brown, then burns, turns black, and to this day has not had one skin cancer. He is often thought to be 10 years younger than he is.
He loves fish. Every day he eats fish, fresh, tinned or pickled or all three. Always has and always will. Cooks with huge amounts of olive oil and eats avocados the same way most of us demolish mangos. He drinks tea as if his life depends on it, as well as water and takes chlorella whenever he remembers.
He drinks and drank too much red wine and trashed himself most of youth, as well as spending his life on the beach surfing and swimming. There is more and more proof, that controlled amounts of sunlight increases your bodies natural sun protection as Vitamin D protects us from the sun!
If you would like to protect your face from the sun daily with some sort of protection that you can apply in the morning and know that you are protected all day, use a mineral makeup, or a foundation with a zinc oxide base. The best protection is still mineral makeup. But if you like me do not want to wear mineral makeup as it settles into your wrinkles, use a foundation with a zinc oxide base, or a mineral base to it. It will give you physical protection from the sun.
But if you are really serious at keeping the sun off, there is nothing that beats a hat, and clothing, or just stay out of the sun, remembering that UVA rays will penetrate your glass car windows unless you have UV tinting in them.