Protect Your Skin this Summer
For our August edit, we thought it best to focus on suncream. With rising temperatures and August being the height of summer, it's the perfect moment to brush up on your knowledge about filters, and we don't mean the ones on Instagram. You probably already know you should apply it 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply throughout the day, but do you know the difference between chemical and physical, or what a nano filter is? No worries, we've got you.
Let's start with a quick recap on UV rays: UVB rays are the ones responsible for your freckles, tan, and sunburn but the real villain are UVA rays. These penetrate the clouds and windows. They also penetrate your skin, releasing free radicals, photo-aging, collagen breakdown, and cancer- the silent killers, affecting skin cells with delayed consequences. That's why, while buying sunscreen, you should get one with a high UVA protection factor- it doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with a high SPF, so read the label carefully.
Chemical vs Physical
Active Ingredients in sunscreen- the stuff that protects your skin from the UV rays- comes in two forms: chemical or physical. The former is a group of substances that work by absorbing the UV rays and transforming it into heat. They tend to feel lighter and absorb easier. The latter are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, acting like a shield deflecting UV rays. These are unlikely to cause an allergic reaction or irritation, and therefore recommended for children and sensitive skin types, but tend to leave a white residue. Zinc oxide has great UVA protection, but some sunscreens include a mix of both chemical and physical filters.
Sorry to break it to you, but "natural sunscreens" like raspberry seed oil, shea butter or carrot oil are not sufficient sun protection. They haven't been tested for photostability and don't offer protection from UVA rays. Feel free to use them as an anti-oxidant boost under a real sunscreen though.
Are Chemical Filters Bad for You?
There is no short answer to that. Some experts are concerned about these substances possibly being absorbed through the skin, leading to hormonal disruption and even cancer. Over the last 12 years EWG, a non profit organization dedicated to protecting human healthy and the environement has been compiling evidence against a common sunscreen chemical called oxybenzone. While it offers broad UV protection, it absorbs through the skin, and some studies found detectable levels of it in human breast milk and blood. There is no conclusive research on whether it interferes with hormones, but several animal studies suggest so. The research proved that oxybenzone is harmful to coral reefs, causing the ban of chemicals in Hawaii. It scored 8 on EWG's Hazard score. Other filters with a high toxicity concern include oxtinoxate, sometimes found under the name octyl methoxycinnamate (reproductive system and thyroid alterations found in animal studies); homosalate (disrupts estrogen, androgen adn proesterone) and octocrylene (high rates of skin allergy). The best rating, 2 on the Hazard score, was awarded to avobenzone, which offers the best UVA protection of all chemical filters-but is not photostable and needs mixing with stabilizers.
What About Nanoparticles?
Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide are used to formulate more transparent lotions. In contrary to popular belief, they don't penetrate the skin-a study from 2010 tested penetration of zinc oxide particle on volunteers who applied sunscreens twice a day for five days. Research found that less than 0.01 percent of zinc entered the bloodstream. European regulators decided it was most likely harmless zinc ions.
The international agency for research on carcinogens raised a concern that nanoparticles or titanium dioxide are carcinogenic when inhaled in large doses. Don't worry, you don't need to throw your mineral powder into the trash- the risk of inhaling it during application is minimal. However, if you're using a spray sunscreen, don't apply it directly on your face: spray it into your hands first.
Here are some of our recommendations: