Sunscreen is vital for anybody that spends time outdoors, not only to reduce the risk of skin cancer but also premature ageing. But are chemical sunscreens safe to use and are there more natural alternatives? Read on to learn more.
How Much Sun is enough?
Even though people require 15 minutes of exposure to the sun everyday for an adequate vitamin D supply for healthy bones and teeth, any more than that becomes detrimental. Too much sun causes premature ageing via damage to the skin cells. This happens when the sun’s rays penetrates into the inner layers of the skin, damaging the collagen and elastin fibres, causing wrinkles. As well as premature ageing, sun exposure also causes skin cancer, of which Australia unfortunately has the highest rate of in the world. Because of this sunscreen is now essential to prevent these skin cancers and sun damage to skin.
The Two Types of Sunscreen
Sunscreens are divided into two types – natural and chemical. Natural sunscreens use a physical barrier such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide to block UV rays. Chemical sunscreens actually absorb UV rays and neutralise them in the skin tissues. While chemical sunscreens are more easily made into bases and cosmetics, natural sunscreens are generally less irritating and less allergenic as chemical agents are often irritating to the skin and toxic to the body.
The Dangers of Chemical Sunscreens
There are several safety concerns that are starting to surround chemical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens can actually increase the risk of cancer as through the neutralising of UV rays, the agents themselves can actually be carcinogenic. Many sunscreen agents such as octyl-methoxycinnamate, octyl-dimethyl-PABA, benzophenone-3, homosalate, and 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor are known to be endocrine disrupters. The endocrine system controls the levels of hormones in the body and these agents have been shown to disrupt levels of estrogen in the body. Even young children’s hormones are being affected as traces of chemical sunscreens are found in the mother’s breast milk. The higher the SPF, the more toxic the sunscreen. Natural sunscreens are physical blocks that sit on the skin and do not need to be reapplied. Chemical sunscreens, however, rely on the chemical properties and thus need reapplying every few hours as the ingredients become inactive.
The Benefits of Natural Sunscreens
Natural sunscreen agents that use zinc and titanium minerals are better for both health and beauty. Titanium, when used for sunscreen purposes, is coated so that it does not penetrate the skin but rather performs as a shield. Zinc, as well as its sunscreen benefits, has other benefits such as anti viral and healing properties, which is of enormous benefit to the skin. It is anti-inflammatory, making it good for sensitive skin, and anti-bacterial, making it good for acne-prone skin. Many chemical sunscreens clog the pores, while natural sunscreens actually soothe, nourish and protect the skin.
The Importance of SPF
Be aware that SPF only describes how long the sunscreen is active for. It is the amount of time it takes for you to burn multiplied by the SPF number. For example, if it takes you five minutes to burn without any sunscreen on, it will take you 75 minutes to burn if you are wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen. A natural sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is more than sufficient for sun protection. It is widely assumed that the higher SPF gives you a better protection from the sun. In fact, there are actually very small differences between SPF 15 and SPF 30. The UV filtration of a SPF 15 sunscreen is 96 percent and the UV filtration of an SPF 30 sunscreen is 98 percent.Originally published on Dec 24, 2008