Summer Loving

Organic Sun Care

Nothing beats that feeling of the warm sun on your back, children laughing in the distance, waves crashing yonder, the coconut smell of sunscreen and a cool breeze playing in your hair, nothing that is until the reality of your sunburn starts to kick in…

The Australians have coined the general precaution to sunburn perfectly – “slip, slop and slap” – Slip on a Shirt, Slop on a Hat, Slap on some Sun cream. Sounds simple enough but even though most of us have heard this hundreds of times before we still walk away with red, irritated skin after most sessions in the sun. Unfortunately this is no laughing matter either, as although the blisters, redness and peeling eventually disappear the damage from the sun leaves its legacy in the form of cancer, photoageing and photocarcinogenesis.

We have decided that one way to try and change this would be to shed some light (sorry we could not help ourselves) on the matter of how sunscreen actually works and what one should look for when choosing a sunscreen. Along the way we have also been able to dig up a few interesting tid-bits and tips to help you get through the summer season without any post-tanning regrets.

How Does Sunscreen Actually Work?

Sunlight consists of a wide range of different wavelengths of radiation. Some of these we can sense such as the warmth we feel in sunlight which comes from Infra-Red radiation, and the light we can see which comes from radiation in the visible spectrum. However there are other wavelengths in sunlight that we cannot see, the most relevant being ultraviolet radiation, generally referred to as UVA, UVB and UVC.

Did You Know?

As a physical sunblock, zinc oxide sunscreen is extremely effective in blocking both UVA and UVB rays naturally, it is very potent in protecting the skin from both sun damage and the chance of developing skin cancer. Because it is not absorbed into the skin, it is considered non-irritating and non-allergenic.

UVB radiation is responsible for causing the appearance of a tan after sun exposure. It does this by stimulating the formation of the pigment ‘melanin’ in the deeper layers of the skin and activates its movement to the outer skin layers. It is in fact part of our natural defence against sun damage as it acts as an antioxidant and skin protector. Excess UVB radiation is what causes sunburn as the outer layers of the skin is thickened by over exposure. This should be avoided at all costs, particularly by children, as it is thought that sunburn in early years may lead to an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.

UVA radiation is potentially the most damaging form as it penetrates deeper into the skin with the ability to damage the DNA that makes up the blueprint of each cell. This could result in mutated cells that no longer reproduce properly and even though they may take years or even decades to manifest themselves, these mutated cells could be the cause of cancer. UVA also damages structures made from or containing Collagen and Elastin. This is one of the main causes of wrinkles and premature ageing in skin that is frequently exposed to sunlight.

UVC has the shortest wavelength and although it is potentially very harmful to our skin, it is completely filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere and so does not affect us.

Sunscreens protect us from UVA and UVB by blocking or absorbing the ultraviolet light from the sun. UV rays reach your skin at a rate that depends on the sun protection factor (SPF) listed on the bottle. Sun creams earn their SPF rating by including ingredients which filter out UV radiation and reduce its effect on the skin. For example, a sunscreen labelled SPF 15 permits 1/15th of the sun burning energy to hit your skin, versus the time it would take to suffer minimal sunburn completely unprotected.

As an example, if someone would normally start to burn after 15 minutes in the sun when unprotected, by using an SPF8 sun cream they should be able to stay out for 2 hours without visibly burning. If they use a Factor 20 sun cream, in theory they could stay in the sun for as long as 5 hours without visibly burning.

Factors to Take into Account when Choosing a Sunscreen

Want Proof that Sun Damage is the No.1 Cause of Ageing?

Look at the skin on your breast or under your armpit and compare it the skin on your face. The unexposed skin is probably in much better condition than the skin that is more often exposed to the sun.

How Can You Tell if You have had Too Much Sun?

Just press on the skin. If nothing happens then you are still fine, but if the skin turns white and then returns back to its normal colour, then your skin is sun burnt. Why? The extra blood in the capillaries causes the redness and so if you press on sunburned skin it will turn white and then return to red as the capillaries refill.

  • Always choose a sunscreen providing both UVA & UVB protection.
  • Naturally derived UV-filters are always preferable. Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are natural pigment substances that work by reflecting the UVA radiation and a recommended group of UVB filters is Cinnamic Acid Esters, derived from Cinnamon Acid.
  • Use a sun protection product with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Note that if you choose a chemical sunscreen, a SPF higher than 15 may provide minimal additional protection, but might mean a higher concentration of chemicals in the product; the FDA has advised that increasing SPF from 30 to 40 requires 25% more active ingredients but provides only 0.8% increased protection.
  • Look for products rich in plants/herb extracts known for their UV protection such as Shea butter and Edelweiss.
  • Avoid products containing PABA or derivatives of PABA like Padimate-O. Researcher Dr John Knowland from Oxford University reports that the sunscreen material Padimate-O generates free radicals which could attack DNA strands and increase the risk of cancer.
  • Look out for sun care products rich in natural antioxidants such as Certified Organic Avocado Oil or Virgin Coconut Oil to protect the skin from free radicals.
  • Choose a product rich in moisture binding substances such as Certified Organic Aloe Vera or Cucumber which prolong the tan and prevent the skin from drying out and peeling.
  • SPF15 is normally recommended. There is no need to go to a higher factor. Not only does it discourage the activation of the skin’s own natural defences against the sun but the higher the factor the longer you think it safe to stay in the sun and therefore still receive too much UV radiation.
  • Use a sunscreen that is water resistant.
  • For further inspiration and some positive education, check out another recent article on why a natural sunscreen with organic ingredients is important for you

Something to Think About

Sun blocks with high SPF’s may actually be a linked to a rise in skin cancer due to the fact that the user has a false sense of security that they can indulge in more prolonged sun exposure without consequences of sun damage. Nothing is further from the truth as sunscreens do not fully protect the immune system.

A Parting Word of Caution…

A number of studies in Europe, the UK and the US have shown that sun blocks that give a high level of protection against UV radiation do not fully protect the skin immune system. It is not sufficient to only use sun screen as a defence against the sun – it really is important to monitor how much time you and your family spend in direct sunlight without protection from clothes, hats or umbrellas.
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