As the weather gets warmer, we are starting to think of skin protection so this is the hot topic for this month. As wisely pointed out in Baz Luhrmann’s 1999 hit “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” the long-term benefits of sunscreen have been robustly and scientifically proven. Regardless of motivation (safety or vanity) we’d like to discuss this and also in the context of natural skincare products.
As the moment, due to thorough EU restrictions imposed on manufacturing of sunscreens (they have to be broad spectrum, UVA & UVB) and limitations of our production methods, we are unable to create a sun protection cream to our satisfaction, though it is something we’re researching. Nevertheless, it is still extremely important to protect your skin from UV rays so here we’ve summarised the classifications.
What do sunscreens do? The portion of the sunlight that is filtered or blocked is ultraviolet radiation. There are three regions of ultraviolet light:
- UV-A penetrate deeply into the skin and can lead to cancer and premature skin aging
- UV-B are involved in tanning and burning of skin
- UV-C are completely absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere
What does SPF mean? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a multiplication factor. If you can stay out in the sun 15 minutes before burning, using a sunscreen with an SPF of 10 would allow you to resist the burn for 10x longer…. or 150 minutes. Your skin has a natural SPF, partially determined by how much melanin you have i.e. how darkly pigmented your skin is. Since sunburns are caused by UV-B radiation, SPF does not indicate protection from UV-A, which can still cause cancer and premature aging of the skin.
Although the SPF only applies to UV-B, the labels of most products indicate if they offer broad-spectrum protection of whether or not they work against UV-A radiation also. The particles in sunblock reflect both UV-A and UV-B. Therefore you should always use a broad-spectrum, UVA+UVB, sun protection on your face and body.
Depending on the mode of action sunscreens can be classified into physical (i.e. those that reflect the sunlight) or chemical (i.e. those that absorb the UV light).
Most sun-care products marketed as “natural” contain inorganic reflecting particles (such as zinc dioxide or titanium dioxide). These are sometimes referred to as sunblock and have proven to be completely inert and safe with proper use.
The chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV radiation and release it as heat. For example:
- PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) absorbs UVB
- Cinnamates absorb UVB
- Benzophenones absorb UVA
- Anthranilates absorb UVA and UVB
- Ecamsules absorb UVA
Aftersun care is important, basic moisturising and hydrating skin with lotions and cooling aloe gels (to follow soon) if you have had too much sun. And of course, night-time skin oils to lock in moisture, serums for a blast of antioxidants & actives, and weekly skin treats (such as vitamin mask) should keep you in tip-top condition throughout the summer.