I spent a couple of hours in the sun yesterday and although I skillfully avoided burning my face, arms and legs, I have a nice strip of burned skin on the unprotected small of my back exposed while pulling weeds. Bummer. Since summer is officially here, let the sunscreen shopping begin!
First lets touch on SPF or Sun Protection Factor: What does it mean? What does it tell you about your bottle of sun screen?
Here's how it works: Say that your skin normally begins to turn red after 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure. If you use a product rated SPF 25, you could stay in the sun for 250 minutes, a little over 4 hours (25 x 10 minutes) before your skin would start to turn red. Remember, though, that SPF numbers are not absolute. It all depends on how fast or how slowly YOU start to burn. If your unprotected skin burns in 5 minutes, an SPF 25 product might let you stay in the sun a little over 2 hours without burning (25 x 5 minutes = 125 minutes).
Here's something else to keep in mind: The SPF measures only the level of protection from UVB rays, the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn, and does not measure levels for the far more dangerous UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and can cause damage at the cellular level. These are the rays that do the long term "Cancer Damage". When choosing a sunscreen, it's important to look for one that offers broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
There are two general categories of sun block in my mind. Chemical Blocks and Mineral Blocks. Chemicals are effective to block and absorb UVA and UVB rays, but they are also largely synthetic and molecular in weight so they are easily absorbed by the skin. Minerals sit on the surface of the skin to create a sun block. They do not (with the appropriate particle size) penetrate the skin.
Some might say that a chemical sunscreen is the lesser of two evils. "It's more important to be protected from the harmful rays of the sun and risk chemical exposure to the skin". With the reading I've done this morning I beg to differ. Below are 3 common synthetic chemicals found in sunscreen widely sold in the U.S.
- Oxybenzone is particularly scary as it is readily absorbed through the skin and it acts as an estrogen in the body, disrupting hormone function in children and adults. Avoiding this ingredient in your children's sunscreen is extremely important to encourage proper hormonal development.
- Octocryleneis a synthetic UV blocker and absorptive substance. It's used in blocks over 30 SPF and is shown to produce excess reactive oxygen free radicals that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease. In layman's terms this means that on a cellular level you can see changes in the cells or mutations. Mutations in the cells are bad because cellular mutations can spur cancerous cellular activity. On top of all that, Octocrylene is cumulative in the human body, this means that over time it accumulates in your tissue, blood, organs etc. Remember lotions and creams we put on our skin enter the blood stream. Since the skin is the bodies largest organ, it should be regarded with the same care of a heart or a lung.
- RetinylPalmitate(AKA Vitamin A) was shown in a recent federal government study that it may speed up the growth of skin tumors. How's that for a contradiction in terms? Sunscreen that gives you cancer! Vitamin A is an antioxidant but when it is exposed to sun it becomes a photocarcinogen. Good intentions, but it may actually have been driving up the deadliest of skin cancer for the last 20 years.
The above ingredients are 3 of many. Other commonly used synthetic sun block ingredients are Ocitnoxate, Homosalate, & Octisalate.
You can see why these ingredients don't make the cut here. Just cut and paste the name of the ingredient into their search engine and boom- every bit of info you could ask for including synonyms for the chemical, health concerns, links to studies where available, whether or not they animal test- Everything!
Body care companies use synthetic sunscreen ingredients and claim to be "natural". Brands like Kiss My Face, Alba and Jason are found in abundance at your local health food store or Whole Foods Market. Just because it's sold at Whole Foods doesn't make it safe for you and your family.
Look for a sunscreen that is a Mineral Block Only. Here's a helpful list for REALLY natural sunscreen products. I put them in the order of "natural-ness" for your convenience!
Badger Balm Badger SPF 15 Lightly Scented Lavender Sunscreen uses only Zinc Oxide as their mineral block. They even took it a bit further and started using what's called "Non-Nano Particle Zinc Oxide". This simply means that the particles are above a certain size to limit the absorptive ability of this active ingredient through the skin. It's reasonably priced and all the other ingredients besides the Zinc are completely safe. This product is my first pick hands down. It will make your skin a little white but always apply to dry skin and you shouldn't have a problem.
SPF 15 & 30 available; around $12 on Vitacost.com
Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 15 Active Lifestyle Tropical Scent is another high quality, efficacious company that has been doing a great job with "natural" since the 1970's. They have literally paved the way for companies like Badger Balm to make safe, effective, sustainable and conscientious products. They use Zinc Oxide for their blocks and remember Zinc Oxide is great because it blocks both UVA & UVB rays AND it doesn't penetrate the epidermis (skin layer). They also have a big emphasis on Organic Ingredients which I love. You gotta support Organics when possible because it's the only way to ensure safe food, body care, water and soil. Their sunscreens do apply a bit on the white side for my taste (especially the higher SPF 30) but without a doubt 100% natural.
$12.76 at Aubrey Organics Website
California Baby'sNo Fragrance Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30+ uses titanium dioxide as their mineral block. Although California Baby is more expensive than Badger Balm or Aubrey Organics, California baby does a nice job with sustainably produced ingredients and their sunscreens go on smoothly on dry skin. The main reason it's ranked number 3 is that I think it's far too expensive. Good brand, just a little pricey.
$19.99 at California Baby's Website
Devita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30 plus is a great one for facial skin protection. They also use minerals (theirs is Micronized Zinc Oxide) This means that the particle size is smaller providing better sun protection but there are some groups that argue that this particle size may be absorbed into the skin. My opinion is that the absorption is likely minimal. Companies like Badger Balm have taken it to a new level of safety with the Non-Nano Particle, however, my thought is that the Micronized (smaller size particle) is much safer than any chemical block you would put on your face. This line has reasonably priced Natural Skin Care.
$16.29 at Vitacost.com
Want more options for Natural Sunscreens? Click Here:)
I have to mention the importance of knowing your personal threshold of sun tolerance. If you start turning pink in 10 minutes, make sure you have the sunscreen on hand to apply. Getting 10 minutes of unprotected sun is a GOOD THING for natural health, as long as your not turning pink.
This is what to look for: Press your finger to your skin after 10 minutes of exposure and if you leave a white mark where you just pressed while the surrounding skin is pink, your officially getting over exposed and it's time to put on the sunscreen or grab some shade.
The reason it's important to get 10 minutes of sun exposure (based on your sun tolerance) is because this is going to encourage your bodies natural production of Vitamin D. The sun is the best source of Vitamin D production that you can get.
Relatively few foods naturally contain vitamin D, the most abundant being oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, or old-fashioned, cod liver oil. Because of limited natural sources, numerous foods, such as milk, are vitamin-D fortified. Pasteurized milk (as you may have read in a previous post of mine) is NOT a good source of Vitamin D. As a side post: If your going to drink milk- GO RAW!
Many scientists now believe we need 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D (IU = international units, a measure of vitamin potency) to avoid deficiency. For reference, a salmon serving contains about 360 IU, a glass of fortified milk about 100 IU, an egg 25 IU, and a tablespoon of cod liver oil 1300+ IU.
Carlsens Very Finest Fish Oils are one of my all time favorite supplements. They are the Fish and Cod Liver Oil Experts and they taste surprisingly good with a lightly lemon flavor. Carlsen's Cod Liver Oil is very affordable at Vitacost.com.
In comparison, full-body sunbathing for a period of time that will just make you turn pink will produce 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D! Given such copious production, relatively casual sun exposure (arms, etc) should meet Vitamin-D needs.
Vitamin D is shown to prevent cancer, arthritis, MS, diabetes, high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and infections. In other words, it enhances overall wellness.
Deficiencies in of Vitamin D can lead to some very serious conditions so getting a quick-fix by way of the sun will make you feel better and get you that skin-produced injection of Vitamin D that we all so desperately need.
The last thing I'll say about sunscreen and then I swear I'll shut up is this: If you have children, don't slap any old thing you bought at the drug store on their skin. Do your homework, spend $5 more. You can buy anything online so their are few exuses if your reading this. With the laundry list of hormone disrupting, cancer causing, toxic chemicals that are in the vast majority of sun blocks today, we can't afford to sit back and let the body care companies define what it is to be "Natural".
If you have questions about your suncreen feel free to ask a Hippie as I'm happy to take a peek at the label!
Happy Summer to you all!