Lets get Wiser about SunCare
UV Protection and the use of Sunscreens
People who use sunscreen are doing it to responsibly protect themselves and their families from skin cancer. Yet the unfortunate irony in this is that many 'off the shelf' sunscreens contain chemicals that are themselves toxic and can alter hormone levels, which is in itself an action that could be carcinogenic. One of the most common of these chemicals is Oxybenzone, which has the potential to disrupt the Endocrine System (it also has been linked in Australian studies to ‘bleaching’ the coral reef). Many also boast added Vitamin A or Retinol; this is NOT a good thing as Retinol makes the skin more susceptible to burning. Not to mention the host of other chemicals including parabens and parfums that are not only harmful to you but damaging to the environment too. I
Skin cancer rates in Europe are still rising, despite the many warnings about over-exposure to the sun. Some of this will be down to people knowingly ignoring the advice, but also some will be due to people slapping on factor 50 and thinking they can stay all day in the sun. Also, it is now widely reported that there is a deficiency of Vitamin D across the world, even in sunnier climates like Australia. Old fashioned diseases like Rickets have made an unwelcome return, and bone health is a modern day worry; so much so that the NHS now advises Vitamin D supplementation through winter months. The dilemma is that we need sun exposure, but don't want to risk skin cancer.
Common Sense Approach to Sun Exposure
Being indoors for 75% of the year and then baking in the sun either through sunny weekends on the beach, or the annual fortnight trip abroad and parking yourself on a lounger all day is extremely harmful, and most likely to lead to over exposure and increased risk of skin cancer. This is regardless of what factor sunscreen you use. The common sense approach is to build up the skin's resistance to the sun, starting right from the point when the clocks change in Spring.
Get out for 20mins to 1/2hour (at most) with as much skin exposed as the temperature will allow, even on slightly cloudy days (not in rain though!). NEVER sit out between 11am-3pm, unless completely covered including a hat, or sitting in the shade. In fact the morning sun is often regarded as the most beneficial for a variety of reasons, including good mental health. Continue this practice every day you can through to when the clocks change again in October and there should be no need for supplementation and no burning.
If you are very fair skinned or you worry about any sun exposure on your children, then there are alternatives to the chemical sun screens which avoid the use of the 'nasty' toxins (see below). When on holiday abroad it is advisable to cover up in the sun, or put your lounger under a parasol. There is a good reason most Mediterranean people have a siesta in the middle of the day, and it's not because they want a nap! With kids jumping in and out of pools to keep cool then a complete sunblock must be used, because the water reflects suns rays and makes it even more likely that they will burn.
You can make your own sunscreens using only natural ingredients. Oils such as Carrot Seed and Raspberry Seed (anti aging) are said to have a naturally occurring SPF of 25-50; Wheat germ and Coconut have a lower SPF of 5-20; Sesame and Almond are about 4 - 8 for example. To create a complete sunblock there needs to be a barrier to the skin, usually in the form of Zinc Oxide (which is in nappy barrier creams for example). This is not absorbed but sits on the skin to prevent the harmful UVB rays of the sun penetrating the outer surface. Whilst Zinc Oxide will not harm you, as it’s not absorbed, it can be potentially harmful to the environment if you go in the sea, also we must all have a certain amount of Vitamin D to thrive.
However there has to be a disclaimer here that the SPF levels above can't be certified, as these oils have never been clinically tested.
Ready-Made Alternatives to Cosmetic Sunscreens
Products listed below are available from Chemists, Supermarkets, Health Shops or online.
Green People do an excellent and wide range of sun protection creams, including self tan, after sun and also a range for children which can be used on babies as young as 6 months. Their ingredients are around 80% certified organic and use such things as Aloe Vera, Green Tea, Rosehip and Avocado to name a few. They are rich in natural antioxidants and are non-greasy, so don't clog pores, an important factor if you're prone to spots. Can also be used by people with skin allergies and eczema. They will also donate 30p to the Marine Conservation Society for every full-size SPF30 sold (retails for £22 for 200ml).
Dead Sea Spa Magik do an excellent SPF50 (around £18 for 150ml). This can be used by all the family and is non greasy. Also easily used by people with allergies and eczema. It does state waterproof and long lasting, but I would always reapply after swimming. Bonus for this is it's often on offer in Holland & Barrett's buy one get one half price.
Badger is quite easily available online and in some health food shops, they also do a very handy lip balm to protect your lips from the sun.
Jason make a range of sunscreens, including a ‘family’ one with an SPF of 45. It’s enriched with Shea Butter and Green Tea, and without parabens and SLS. Retails for around £11.99 for 113grams.
Lavera and Green People both do excellent natural self tan, which avoids the need to tan and you can just concentrate on topping up Vitamin D early morning or late afternoon instead.
Aloe Vera gel is an excellent after sun, especially if you have gone a bit pink!
Endeavour not to purposely sunbathe your face for even short periods of time. The sun can really age your facial skin, just about as much as stress, smoking and copious amounts of alcohol and other unhealthy pursuits.
As a Medical Herbalist, I prefer to make an oil mix for each individual so that it is bespoke. We are all unique, there is no ‘one size fits all’
There will be other brands in your local Health food shop but check the label; not all have such a high level of natural ingredients and some will have a small amount of chemicals. Though they will still undoubtedly be better then commercial and well known brands.