While we’ll be freezing our butts off in Belgium, our South-African and Australian friends - among others - are having cocktails in the sun, so while this post might be less relevant to all of you living in the northern hemisphere, I thought it would still be interesting to post it now for all of you Southern hemisphere likeronies (Hi there!).
I often get this question, and it has been something that’s on my mind - and which I read into quite extensively - since we are white folk living in a tropical region: what to do about sunscreen?
|Sun bathing by Pedro Simoes|
‘t Is true, we have all been led to believe that exposure to sunlight is dangerous and we should smear layer upon layer of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. But isn’t sunscreen chemical and thus dangerous in itself?
Here’s what I have found out about sun protection so far.
Generally, I don’t think sun exposure is much of a problem, at least if you live in a region where your skin has adapted to - evolutionary speaking. And as long as you expose yourself in a natural manner (by which I mean that hamburger style baking might be a bit much). The real problem arises when we expose ourself to sunlight which isn’t what we are used to, which is the case - specifically - for many of the white South-Africans and Australians, and for people like me, who live in a region other than their own (and of course if you’re holidaying over at the seychelles, for which I’ll be very envious indeed).
First of all, there are two types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral. The chemical ones you can find just about anywhere and in every price range, the mineral ones are generally only available within the range of organic skin care products.
Chemical sunscreens are widely used. Most often, if someone recommends you to put on sunscreen, that is what they’re talking about.
Yet chemical sunscreens aren’t without danger. They penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. They even filter through into breast milk and are thus not only hazardous to you, but also to your baby. (Even sunscreens in make-up and skin cream filters into breast milk, so check those out too, if you use them.) Chemical sunscreens might actually be increasing the incidence of cancer - the very thing they are supposed to be protecting you from - because they generate free radicals. They can carry eostrogenic substances, which interfere with the normal sexual development. The chemicals are foreign to our bodies and get stored into our fat reserves after penetration through the skin. (1)
Chemical sunscreens have shown to enhance penetration of benzene through the skin, and might do the same with other environmental contaminants.
Mineral sunscreen is made from titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, or a combination of both and would be a healthy alternative, but research on these relatively new products is limited.
Mineral sunscreen - simply put - is made by braking up minerals into very small particles and then mixing those in a pasty substance so they would bounce the sunlight back where it came from. These small particles indeed do a great job in refracting the light, but they can also bounce it back and forth on the skin, which causes radiation and - again - might increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
Application ease might also be a problem with mineral creams, they have more of a pasty texture then the conventional sun care. in order to get better application results, some companies started using nano particles in their creams, which can be absorbed into the skin and are potentially harmful.(2)
Many sun creams do not block UVA radiation. UVA does not cause sunburn but can increase the occurrence of melanoma skin cancer. Moreover, all these skin care products blocking all UVB might be the reason behind the serious vitamin D deficiency in the Western World (a UV filter might be present in your daily skin care products without you even knowing, so be sure to check this).
In a recent test, out of 500 sunscreen products, only 8 were found 'good'.
The ingredients you must be really watchful of is vitamin A (retinal palmitate), which breaks down in contact with sunlight and speeds up the development of skin tumours and lesions, and oxybenzone, which is responsible for hormonal changes.
So are there no options at all?
Sure there are options.
Stay out of the sunlight on the hottest hours (the hours where the sun is at its highest point), between 11AM and 3PM
Covered skies don’t offer protection from sunburn - half shade doesn’t either - they only refract the light, but don’t stop it from reaching your skin.
- Build up a tan. A tan is your skin’s natural protection against sun burn, by thickening the upper layers of the epidermis. Gradually build your tan without burning. In order to do this correctly and without accidents, you must of course know your skin’s limits. Start small, just a little walk outside in the evening or morning, until you have reached a healthy tan that can support a prolonged time of exposure.
- Cover up. Keep a scarf with you or wear sleeves. Parts that aren’t exposed are less likely to burn.
- Coconut: coconut is nature’s natural aid against sunburn. Adding it’s oil to your skin helps your skin defend itself against harmful sun rays and eating it’s meat/drinking it’s juice will strengthen your defenses naturally.
- Start a sun-diet. Preparing yourself for the sun starts in your plate. Prepare yourself a menu rich in anti-oxidants, vitamin E, vitamin B and selenium. (3)
- Use a safe sunscreen. If you do decide to wear sunscreen, look it up before you buy/use, a few sunscreens are safe, so go through the SkinDeep database to make sure you buy the right ones.
All in all, being careful doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself up. A healthy dose of sunrays isn’t only good for your mood, it also produces much needed vitamin D. Slowly, brands are starting to put all organic sunscreens on the shelves, which offer as much protection from sunburn as their mineral or chemical counterparts, but have the benefit of being natural and recognizable to our system.
(1) The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster, on skinbiology.com
(2) Chemical and Mineral Sunscreens: What To Choose?
(3) Hidden Dangers In Sunscreens, on Suite101
2010 Sunscreen Guide