Having lived in Australia from the age of 18 I’m very aware of the dangers of sunburn. My very first Christmas in the ‘sun burnt country’ involved many hours of midday sun exposure with what I thought was protection on my lily white skin. Within a short space of time I realised my delicious coconut scented Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil was no protection at all! In fact, I was ‘basting’ myself.
Sunburn is nature’s way of telling us to get out of the sun. We ignore this natural warning sign in search of that ‘healthy glow.’ We all know that we should avoid the midday sun when it is at its most intense - but walk along any popular beach in the height of summer between 11am and 2pm and do a body count!
Sunscreen is surely the answer to all our prayers then – or is it?
While first researching cosmetic ingredient toxicity almost fifteen years ago it became apparent that some of the most toxic and irritating ingredients used in skincare were found in sunscreens.
The first controversial sunscreen ingredient that came to our attention back in the 1980’s was PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid). A once very popular sunscreen ingredient, PABA was withdrawn because of problems with allergic dermatitis and photosensitivity.
To add to this, we now have a long list of additional concerns including nano-particle safety, alarming low levels of Vitamin D, widespread misunderstanding of correct application, the common use of Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) in sunscreen and its potential to accelerate cancer in the presence of sunlight, global inconsistencies in approved chemicals for use in sunscreens along with the issue of free radical generation and other skin-damaging by products of sunscreen.
The Environmental Working Group says “both UV radiation and many common sunscreen ingredients generate free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer.”
All of the above concerns are documented on the Environmental Working Group website. Take the time to read the EWG sunscreen guide for 2016 here for more information and research findings. This website has the latest on ingredients and a list of sunscreens to avoid along with a plethora of information to help you make a more informed decision.
The unnecessary layering of products containing SPF
As a skin therapist I’m asked on a daily basis my opinion on sun protection and for the past decade I have given the same answer. If you work in an office 9am-5pm, DO NOT use sunscreen. That includes moisturisers with an SPF and foundations with an SPF. You will be very lucky to see the sun for more than 30 minutes each day – possibly 5 minutes while waiting for the bus and another 15 minutes when you pop out for lunch.
Dangerously low levels of Vitamin D
We all need at least 15-20 mins of sunshine each day for Vitamin D synthesis. Given Australia has one of the lowest Vitamin D levels in the world this is something to be concerned about. We know Vitamin D is important for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis but new research shows it could be vital for a healthy heart.
Minimising chemical overload
Remember your moisturiser and foundation (if commercial) contain more than enough nasty chemicals, so adding toxic sunscreen ingredients into the mix will only increase the chemical load on your body and the underlying skin tissue. Only expose yourself and your family to these chemicals when you absolutely have to.
If using a sunscreen on your face remove it as soon as it’s possible to do so. Sunscreens generally contain comodogenic ingredients which means they tend to clog the skin.
With an increased awareness of cosmetic ingredient toxicity there are now many more ‘natural’ alternatives available to us. At MV, we offer two great natural sunscreens SunJuice & Eco Tan - both brands have a choice of tinted and non-tinted.
Diet is also worth considering as certain foods naturally protect you from the sun such as carotenoids and lycopene. Foods rich in carotenoids are green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale in addition to, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and orange fruits including mangos and apricots. Foods rich in lycopene are tomatoes, red bell pepper and watermelon.
Beneficial plant oils
Many plant oils including Avocado, Camellia and Rosehip are rich in antioxidants and can be applied to the skin daily for nourishment and resilience. Jojoba oil is a natural wax rich in Vitamin A, D & E which is similar to the skin’s own oil in structure. This may also give a degree of natural protection and contains antioxidants which help minimise free-radical damage through sun exposure.
Minimise unnecessary exposure to chemicals + keep your sunscreen for the weekend
I personally prefer not to use one at all, instead opting to cover up and wear a hat and sun glasses.
If this is not for you follow these 2 simple steps when shopping for a sunscreen:
1. Always buy a sunscreen that contains a natural (mineral) light reflector ie zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Avoid chemical (non-mineral) sunscreens at all costs as these usually contain high levels of oxybenzone, avobenzone and octisalate. Ingredients which penetrate the skin easily are known skin irritants and suspected hormone disruptors.
2. When purchasing a zinc based sunscreen first test on your skin. If it contains regular zinc oxide it will be noticeably white (this is good). If it contains micronized zinc (nano-particles) it will absorb without leaving an obvious white film. If in doubt call the company and ask for clarification.