Natural sunlight boosts our immunity, regulates our hormones and lifts our spirits. The sun’s rays interact with our body to produce the best source of Vitamin D; Vitamin D3 is responsible for the health of our immune system, our bones, and yes – our skin and hair. Intuitively we know when it is feeding us – the warmth and brightness of the sun feels so good!
But too much of a good thing is… not so good. When we’ve been out in the sun too long we feel hot… uncomfortable – and our skin may start to burn. Everyone is different, but an average of 15-20 minutes of full exposure in direct sunlight is enough. After that, find ways to filter the sun’s rays – cover up, wear a hat, or sit in a shaded space. As another of defence, apply a broad-spectrum natural sunscreen.
WHAT IS SPF?
There is a misunderstanding out there that the higher the SPF, the more protection a sunscreen provides. This is not exactly true. SPF means “Sun Protection Factor”. The SPF number on a bottle of sunscreen refers to the amount of time it takes the average person to burn. For example, if the product protects your skin from the burning waves for 15 minutes – that would be an SPF 1. An SPF 30 means it would block the rays for over 7 hours (30 x 15 minutes). The industry has capped SPF claims at 50 (over 10 hours!).
The cosmetic industry’s response to increased incidents of skin cancer and skin damage, has been to develop chemicals to prevent burning from UVB (short burning waves). One very critical consideration if you are purchasing a sunscreen of this type, is that many chemical sunscreens do not protect the skin from the longer damaging UVA rays. In fact, the efficacy of chemical sunscreens to prevent skin cancers is now being highly scrutinized. The data is coming in from studies over the past three decades of sunscreen use, and skin cancer rates have not declined, but they have tripled; especially the most serious melanomas. Chemical sunscreens are not protecting us; they may be doing more harm than good.
Some of the flagged chemical actives you might see on the label of mainstream sunscreens are: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, oxtinoxate, or proprietary names like Parsol PABA or Mexoryl. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that oxybenzone alone accumulates in the body at high levels. It increases the production of DNA-damaging free radicals when exposed to light and is also estrogenic; a hormone disrupter. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates this at a hazard score of 8 out of 10, and also lists it as a skin allergen.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT ABOUT BEING “REEF SAFE”?
In 2015, it was estimated that approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen ended up in the world’s coral reefs; causing irreparable damage (deformations and bleaching). Eighty-five percent of the Caribbean coral reefs had died by the year 2000. The culprits have been identified so far as oxybenzone and octinoxate – two of the main chemicals used world-wide in conventional sunscreens. Many countries are now banning chemical sunscreens. Watch for a “reef safe” logo.
The main recognized active sunblock ingredients in natural sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These are non-reactive pigments that occur in nature and are now produced commercially They contribute a healing and protective barrier to the skin, and reflect not only the burning UVB rays, but also the longer UVA rays. This makes them a “broad spectrum” sunscreen. On the surface of the skin they are perfectly safe and provide a superior and healthier option for sun protection than the chemicals used in most mainstream brands. Zinc oxide has the added benefit of being the healing ingredient in many healing and protective diaper creams.
Mineral oxides are meant to stay on the surface of the skin, and they do - in their whole form. They effectively reflect back the suns rays, and block damaging penetration of UVA and UVB rays. They are oil soluble and slightly waterproof. However, they are not meant to penetrate - as in Nano particles - or meant to be inhaled - as in an aerosol product.
Shea Butter, Coconut Oil and Raspberry seed oil are amazing butters and oils that provide natural sun protection and antioxidant benefits. An approximate SPF is 7 (and up to a whopping 40 for Raspberry Seed).
Herbs like green tea, nettle and turmeric provide wonderful antioxidant effects and adjust the PH of the skin to minimize sun damage. They help to normalize DNA. Studies are currently underway to formally verify their cancer-preventative attributes.
One of the original sunscreens from many years ago was extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar. It may have smelled like a salad, but it provided sun protection, an antioxidant effect and it balanced the natural PH on the surface of the skin; effectively preventing burning.
Are they safe or not? Because tanning beds simulate UVB rays (not burning UVA rays) and result in pigmentation, people think they are healthy. A small amount is not harmful. However, consistent use of tanning beds can be disruptive to the skins DNA. Excessive use of tanning beds are considered hazardous and contributors to the rising cases of skin cancer in North America.
THE SPF OF FOOD
A diet rich in Vitamin A and antioxidant vitamin-rich foods (like those with lots of vitamin C) are sun-protective because they deal with free radicals as they happen. Eating lots of greens, especially vegetables rich in beta carotene (like carrots and red peppers) and staying hydrated with lots of pure water are all things we can all do to naturally protect ourselves from the elements.
In conclusion, for the health of you and the planet, we recommend the use of an all-natural, mineral-based sunscreen as a final line of defence against sunburns, skin damage and disease. First line defenses include sun protective clothing (including a hat), a diet high in fruits and vegetables, lots of water, and limited sun exposure.
Once you have that figured out, kick back and enjoy the beauty and life-giving brilliance our sun!
Karen Van Dyck
NEW addition: Restricted Health & Cosmetic Ingredients https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/consumer-product-safety/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredient-hotlist-prohibited-restricted-ingredients/hotlist.html
Cowichan River article on how sunscreen is killing the bugs