Sunscreen Season: Sun protection DO’S & the big DON’T

It’s now common knowledge how badly the sun can damage our skin but even the fear of melanoma won’t stop us from getting outside during the summer to enjoy some of the sun’s rays. And the truth is, the sun is good for you for a multiple of reasons and the easiest and quickest source of Vitamin D – the benefits of which we could write a whole other blog post on! But everything in moderation, right?

Protection from the sun is important for ageless skin and also staying healthy (like everything else in the world, even the sun is full of contradictions!). But DIY sunscreen though? We say No and Just DON’T do it!  While we love everything DIY (just take a look at our earth day blog with diy cleaning products as one example) there’s a lot less risk in making your own lavender loofa than sitting in the sun for eight hours lathered in what you thought was a high SPF homemade sunscreen.   

On paper, natural sunscreen recipes have all the right ingredients but the process of creating a cream is complicated. An ingredient like zinc oxide is difficult to blend and keep blended resulting in a product that gives only minimal UV protection. Even worse is the risk that an unblended recipe could end up leaving a hole that magnifies the sun’s rays. Think we are kidding? Check out realizebeauty, an Aussie blogger who specializes in natural cosmetics and is a professional chemist.  She tried and tested a number of recipes found online and writes about the process and calls them epic failures.  The blog, written in 2012, is still relevant and proves just how many people continue to search for natural sunscreen alternatives and it is still attracting views and comments in 2019.

WHY DIY SUNSCREENS FAIL:  

  • You have no idea what SPF you will get
  • Active ingredients are dangerous if inhaled
  • Coconut oil and other natural oils only block about 20% of UV rays

That said, is chemical sunscreen the best protection?  Some research shows that ingredients that make up store bought sunscreens could be risky not only to our bodies but risky for the environment as well.  Sunscreen ingredients have been detected in blood, urine and breast milk after use. One ingredient, oxybenzone, a powerful chemical in sunscreen that absorbs UV light (instead of our skins absorbing it) can be found in our bodies after use.  And, when it gets in, it can mimic estrogen and block testosterone especially in breast cells. The research isn’t clear on what specific amount and at what duration will start to cause damage in the body but one study found that adults using 4% oxybenzone in the morning and evening during a week long vacation continued to excrete the chemical in their urine for five days after use revealing that the chemical is surely being stored in the body.  

person pouring plastic tube bottle

If the jury is still out on whether Oxybenzone is bad for us (and if it is – there has been no conclusive results that years of daily use results in a toxic effect on humans) the results of it on coral reefs have proven very destructive.  “It causes weird deformities in soft tissue and also causes the coral larvae to encase itself in its own skeleton, in its own coffin.” says Craig Downs, P.h.D., the author and scientist involved in the study.  Downs also points out that zombie reefs are common in waters where there are a lot of tourist swimming in the water and yes, dutifully using sunscreen..  

FAST FACT:  Organic certification will not guarantee a sunscreen is environmentally safe.  Plant based oils can be just as toxic to reef organisms including arthropods. Oils that come from neem, eucalyptus and lavender used in organic sunscreens are also used in insect repellents and will have some toxicity to invertebrates.

If that information is enough to make you want to stop wearing sunscreen that’s probably not the best decision either.  In 2019, an estimated 96,000 new cases of melanoma are expected just in the U.S. alone and wearing sunscreen regularly is found to reduce the incidences of melanoma by a whopping 50 percent!  It seems that even a chemical that might not be very good for us is better than nothing. And, switching to mineral sunscreens has its own risks in the form of a good old fashion sunburn after findings by Consumer Reports revealed in 2017 that none, you saw that right, NONE of the mineral sunscreens they tested met their own SPF ratings.  

TRY IT:  Cooling DIY Cucumber Basil Face Toner

375486-PBE6J6-970

Instead of a diy sunscreen try a cooling face toner using cucumber and basil!

So, what to do?  Using a combination of methods seems to be best approach, meaning, don’t only rely on sunscreen for all of your protection.  Instead, it is recommended for us to reduce the amount used and apply only to your neck, face, feet and backs of your hands. This will reduce sunscreen chemical exposure to our bodies and chemical load in water by 90 percent.

Here are other ways to reduce our sunscreen use and still enjoy the outdoors…

  1.  Find shade or make it.
  2.  Plan your outdoor time in the early morning and later afternoon.
  3.  Wear clothes, shirts, hats, etc.,
  4.  Higher SPF is not better!  Higher concentrations of chemicals and people stay in the sun longer.
  5.  Read and learn about the ingredients in your preferred sunscreen and watch out for Vitamin A retinal palmitate, retinal acetate, retinal linoleate and retinol which could make you more vulnerable to cancer and can be found in lip and body products as well as beach and sport sunscreens.  

Finally, the answer to the most reliable form of skin protection might be right in your closet. Fabric has it’s own built in SPF factor. For example, a woven cotton garment can provide a minimum of a 5 on the UV spectrum and while this may be much lower than the SPF shown on a sunscreen bottle, sunscreen breaks down and wears off while clothing, as long as you keep it on, remains a constant SPF factor. Look for light colored tightly woven fabrics in your closet when going out into the sun, polyesters and nylon do an excellent job at disrupting UV light, wool and silk are moderately effective and natural fibers like cotton, rayon, flax and hemp score lower.   You can easily amp up the UV protection of your clothing during the wash cycle by using a sun protective additive like SunGuard Detergent which will add an SPF factor of 30 and lasts for up to 20 washes.   

There may be no final word on what the best sun protection is for every individual person since body types are so different in factors such as size, age, skin color, allergic sensitivities and where you live. But there is one thing we can all agree on – we’ve (thankfully!) come a long way from the days when we tried to achieve a glowing complexion from a mix of baby oil and iodine and some tin foil!

Are you worried about chemicals in sunscreen? Check out the best beach and sport sunscreens here…

Deb Fries is a freelance designer and writer, she’s worked with Julianna Rae in graphics and customer service and now writes lifestyle pieces for the blog at juliannarae.com/blog.