Responsible Living, Skin Care

Sun Protection 101

Warmer and sunnier days are just around the corner. Now which type of sun protection should I use? Do mainstream sun protection creams cause more harm (cancer-causing) than good? What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock? If I wear sun protection, can I stay out in the sun as long as I want? These are some common questions that I’ve been concerned about. After reading some studies on sun protection, here are some of my personal findings.

While both UVA and UVB rays cause damage to the skin, UVB rays are mainly responsible for burning the surface of the skin, while UVA rays cause greater damage by penetrating deeper into your skin, causing wrinkles, aging, and in recent studies, skin cancer.[1]

Sunblocks reflect the sun’s rays, preventing them from reaching the skin. The main ingredients used in sunblocks are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens absorb UV radiation and contain many inorganic chemicals, that breakdown in the sun.[2] Generally speaking, sunblocks leave a white film on your skin because it sits on top of your skin, whereas sunscreens don’t because the chemicals penetrate your skin.

I’m going to focus primarily on sunblocks, as I do not feel comfortable using the wide array of inorganic chemicals found in sunscreens, which penetrate the skin.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), sunblocks with zinc oxide is their first choice in sun protection because zinc oxide provides greater UVA protection (compared to titanium dioxide, their second choice). Also, zinc oxide doesn’t breakdown in the sun, providing strong sun protection with few health concerns. Now there is the controversial debate regarding safety between nano vs non-nano particles. While studies seem to be inconclusive on whether or not nano particles that penetrate your skin can be harmful or not[3], I tend to err on the side of caution and prefer non-nano zinc oxide.

Now, if I put on sun protection with a high SPF, like 50 or 100, does that mean that I can stay in the sun for as long as I like? Definitely not. THE BEST PROTECTION IS TO AVOID THE SUN by covering up, like wearing a hat, or staying in the shade. Sun protection creams need to be applied generously and frequently (every two hours or less if there is heavy perspiration or when swimming). The EWG believes that any SPF higher than 50 is misleading. An SPF of 100 blocks 99% of UV rays, SPF of 50 blocks 98%, SPF of 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 15 blocks 93% – ONLY IF IT IS PROPERLY APPLIED. People who opt for the high SPF tend to have a false sense of security and stay in the sun longer. Finally, products that have a higher SPF tend to contain more chemicals that may be carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting.[4] Therefore, it is probably more important to look at the ingredient list than the SPF[5].