Sunscreen risks and benefitsSpring is here and the sun’s shining. It’s been shining all winter here in Noosa, but now spring has come the beaches are starting to get busy. Sunbaking or sunbathing feels fantastic. The heat of the sun warming your body is divine and we all need our daily dose of vitamin D. However, damage can come from UV exposure and from sunscreens designed to protect us from UV damage.

Sun Exposure and Skin Damage

It’s a well-known fact that sun damage is the fastest way to age skin with an increased risk of potentially deadly skin melanomas too. Yet knowing that doesn’t stop people from lying for hours in the sun to get a tan.

If you’re a sun-worshipper you need to know the best products to protect your skin safely, along with exactly what you are putting on your skin for sun protection. Skin care is so important and choosing the right sunscreen is crucial.

All sunscreens and sun block products claim to ‘protect’ your skin from the suns damaging rays but not all products alike. While every brand claims to keep you sun safe, many of them contain some rather nasty chemicals.

Here’s the low down on what sun protection products actually do, how they work and what to look for (and avoid) when it comes to ingredients. Armed with this knowledge you’ll be able to make a safe choice when buying your sunscreen.

How Sunscreen Works

Every sunscreen has a slightly different formulation but there are two main types; sunscreens that offer a chemical barrier and those that provide a physical barrier.

Chemical Sunscreen and its Proven Dangers

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays but recent research by Riverside Laboratories in California has found alarming information about some of the chemicals used in chemical sunscreens. Three of the most widely used organic sunscreen chemicals to block UV-B, namely Octylmethoxycinnamate, Octocrylene and Oxybenzone, do not remain on the surface of the skin but are absorbed by the skin. In other words, those chemicals penetrate the skin and end up in your body.

Research has also proven that most sunscreens penetrate the skin’s surface and the higher the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), the higher the level of chemical ingredients.

The most disturbing discovery was that these chemicals create more free radicals when they’re absorbed into the skin, They also continue to react under the surface of the skin after exposure to UV rays.

In effect, these chemicals which are commonly used in chemical sunscreens do protect us from UV rays but in doing so they create more potentially serious skin damage by creating free radicals deeper in the skin.

Dr Des Fernandes, Plastic Surgeon and founder of Environ skin care, explains:

“When a chemical absorbs UV rays, there is a change in the energy of that molecule which can result in the formation of free radicals. If the free radical is on the surface of the skin then we don’t need to worry about it too much. However, when the free radicals occur in the depth of the skin they then set up chain reactions of free radical destruction and can do significant harm.”

According to the research study, if DNA is affected by these free radicals, then mutations may occur that can lead to skin cancer at a later date.

Physical Sunscreens

Physical Sunscreens are often called sun block. Their ingredients reflect and repel harmful UV rays instead of absorbing them. Physical sunscreens contain active ingredients Zinc Oxide and or Titanium Dioxide.

Although those might sound like equally dangerous chemicals, they are safe. Unlike the active ingredients in chemical sunscreen products, Zinc Oxide and or Titanium Dioxide physically sit on the skin and literally create an outer barrier. They provide skin protection and block most UV rays without being absorbed by or damaging the skin.

Zinc Oxide and or Titanium Dioxide remain on the surface of the skin and are not affected by sun exposure so they maintain their SPF value for longer than chemical products.

However, no sunscreen products provide 100% sun block protection because they all allow UV rays to penetrate to some degree depending on the SPF.

Recommendations

  • Use a physical sunscreen – Look for active ingredients like Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide. Titanium Dioxide is preferable because it doesn’t interfere with antioxidant activity whereas zinc oxide can.
  • Avoid chemical sunscreens – In particular sunscreens that contain Oxybenzone as well as ingredients like Octyl Methoxycinnamate and Octocrylene.
  • If you do use a chemical sunscreen choose one with a lower SPF because the higher the SPF the more chemicals are absorbed by the skin. SPF 15 to 20 are the safest.
  • Apply sunscreen more regularly rather than use a higher SPF.
  • No matter what type of sunscreen you use, choose one with added antioxidants to reduce the activity of free radicals contained in the sunscreen and through its reaction with UV rays.
  • Choose an unperfumed sunscreen because perfume is more likely to cause photosensitivity.

No sunscreen can block 100% of solar rays and free radicals will always occur, even with the best sunscreen and after only a short exposure. So, while we all enjoy time in the sun, do minimise that time and always protect yourself by wearing a shirt, rash top or hat when possible.

Do you have any sun safety tips?