by Emma Peters November 16, 2014

sunscreen safety

How to protect yourself from the sun and sunscreen

With summer rapidly approaching down here in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s time once again to think about being sun-safe or rather… sun-screen-safe!

I’ve been getting plenty of questions about sunscreen or more specifically, what ingredients to look out for. So i’m going to break it down simply for you.

Once you know these basic points, it should be easy to weed out the “less than healthy” products and go for the good ones.

What’s the difference between a physical and a chemical sunscreen?

Physical sunscreens work by coating the skin and reflecting the light away, whereas chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin and absorb UV rays then release the energy as heat. Both are effective at preventing sunburn, but the absorbed chemicals can have other less than attractive repercussions.

What to look for when choosing a healthy sunscreen-

Physical sun blockers which are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Zinc oxide is able to protect the skin from UVB and most UVA rays while titanium dioxide offers protection from UVB and short wave UVA, though not long wave UVA radiation.

You might be conjuring up images of being slathered in white greasy goo as a child or wearing neon stripes across your face to the beach as a teenager. But times have changed, thank goodness!

There are amazing micronizing techniques used these days to get physical sunscreens to disappear into the skin.  Note that nano technology is not one of them, but we’ll get back to that later.

It’s important to choose a broad spectrum sunscreen as this will offer protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. UVB rays are responsible for the sunburn on the surface of your skin while the UVA rays penetrate deeper causing the skin to age and wrinkle as well as a cause of skin cancer.

SPF is something else to note. A higher SPF doesn’t necessarily mean that the sunscreen is stronger. The SPF factor (15, 30 etc.) indicates that it will take 15, 30 (or what ever the indicated SPF) times longer for the skin to redden compared to how long it takes without sunscreen.

What to avoid-

Chemical sunscreens and there are many…

Here are some of the most commonly used toxins to look out for and avoid are

  • Octinoxate
  • Octyl- Methoxycinnamate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Benzophenone
  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Padimate O
  • Octyl Dimethyl
  • PABA

Some of the dangers that these chemicals present include – hormone disruption, free radical damage, DNA damage and photoallergic reactions (meaning when the chemical comes into contact with the sun, it can cause a reaction…. weird for a product that is aiming to protect from the sun!)

For more specific information on which chemical does what, check out this Dr Mercola article on Hazardous Sunscreen.

You may love the thought of sunscreen going on invisibly the instant it’s applied and staying invisible, but at what cost to your health? They may be doing more harm than a sunburn itself with repeated use year in year out.

Please be wary of nano particles! Even if an ingredient is considered “safe” to use such as titanium dioxide, it’s only safe because the particles are too big to be absorbed by the skin. Once they are made nano sized, they are able to penetrate the skin deeply and may be toxic.

In a lot of countries, it’s not mandatory to list nano particles in the ingredients so I look for “no nano particles” or something similar on the label just to be sure.

Also avoid sprays or powders because, while something may be safe to apply to the skin because it’s particles are too large to penetrate, those same particles when inhaled may be dangerous.

A great place to find a suitable sunscreen especially if you’re in North America is The Environmental Working Group‘s site.
They even have a handy little App!

If you’re down under, there are many great brands to choose from and many natural skincare brands do a great face sunscreen to compliment their range. Check out Snowberry‘s 100% Natural SPF 15 and 30 and Nahaia Active Organics‘s Facial sunscreen.

But remember, getting some sun is healthy, even essential. Exposing your skin to the sun (every day if possible) does wonders for your health – just as long as you don’t let it get away on you and cause a sunburn.

Emma Peters
Emma Peters

Emma Peters, organic makeup artist, creative director and founder of Belle & Sage, is committed to leading the conversation around beauty and wellness. With over twenty years of experience as a make-up artist, she knows you don’t have to sacrifice quality for clean.

She’ll help you find the what, learn the why, nail the how, and everything in between.

Letting you know more, wear better, and start making beautiful choices: from the inside, out.

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