Today’s post is courtesy of Gwen Leron. Gwen is the owner of Nayla Natural Care, an online store that specializes in carrying the best organic, natural and eco-friendly products.
Many people are confused by sunscreen and just can’t figure out what is safe and what is not. This confusion may lead to buying the brand being touted as the best and safest…even though it may not necessarily be what it claims.
Educating yourself on sunscreen can be a very daunting task because there is so much to learn, but keeping your family safe while enjoying the sun is essential for long-term skin health. The following Q&A was put together to help you make a little more sense of sunscreen terms and to help make you more confident in your next sunscreen purchase.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The most common SPF factors are 15, 30 and 45. The SPF tells you approximately how long your sun block/screen will protect you from the sun. For example, if you normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, multiply 10 minutes by the SPF. Therefore, an SPF15 will protect you for 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) before you have to re-apply. It is important not to go exactly by the SPF calculation though. Sweating, clothing rubbing against the skin and water can all reduce the “safe time” so it is always a good idea to re-apply well before the calculated SPF time. A good rule is to apply once every hour.
What is the difference between sunscreen and sun block?
A chemical based sunscreen is known as a chemical block. These types of sunscreens do not leave a white film on the skin and rub in as a regular lotion would. The chemicals in these sunscreens filter sunlight and reduce the ultraviolet penetration to the skin. Chemical sunscreens usually contain chemical preservatives such as parabens to lengthen shelf life. It is a good idea to stay away from chemical ingredients and preservatives because they easily absorb into the skin and can cause a multitude of problems.
A sun block that is not chemical based is known as a physical block. These types of blocks contain an active natural mineral ingredient, either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. After applying, the sun block physically blocks the ultraviolet penetration to the skin and do not use any chemicals to do so. Physical blocks usually leave a whitish tinge to the skin after application and contain natural preservatives that in turn give them a shorter shelf life than their chemical based equivalents. To combat the unappealing look of the “white sunscreen” sitting on the skin, some companies turn to nanoparticles.
What are nanoparticles?
Defined, a nanoparticle is a solid particle measuring between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is equivalent to a billionth of a meter. Manufacturers using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide must break down the natural particles before adding them to the sun block. If they didn’t, the particles would remain large and your sun block would go onto your skin as a thick and very white paste. Think of the pictures of lifeguards with thick white strips of sun block on their noses and ears. Not the most visually appealing look right? To lessen this “white” look, natural sun block manufacturers use a process called micronization. Micronization is the process that breaks down the particles so they are smaller and will give the applied sun block that more appealing look once applied. Most natural sun blocks will still leave a whitish tinge to the skin, but because of micronization, you will not look like the lifeguards :)
What is broad spectrum?
A sun block/screen is broad spectrum if it protects against Ultraviolet-A (UVA) and Ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays. UVA and UVB rays together cause skin cancer, premature aging, sunburn and more, so always be sure that the sun block/screen you choose is labeled broad spectrum.
Note: The sun also emits Ultraviolet-C (UVC) rays but they are of little concern because the majority of UVC rays are filtered by the earth’s ozone layer before it reaches us (a little bit more incentive to protect the environment).
What is the difference between water resistant and waterproof sunscreen?
Water resistant means that that the sun block/screen will retain its SPF after 40 minutes of any type of moisture exposure. Keep in mind that water exposure also includes sweating.
Waterproof means that the product will retain its SPF after 80 minutes of water exposure.
What is the best choice for my family?
In the end, the decision is yours. The most important thing to remember is that you always need to do your homework. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has come out with the 2012 edition of their safe sunscreen guide which is designed to help you choose the best sunscreen for your family.
In conclusion, when it comes to sun exposure, it is always best to use common sense:
- Always take the proper precautions when enjoying the sun.
- No matter what your skin tone is, we all need to use sun block! No one is immune from skin and eye damage.
- Even though you may have a sun block on, be sure that your eyes are protected with a good pair of sunglasses and that you wear a hat (the scalp is another vulnerable place on the body)
- A natural or organic broad spectrum mineral sun block is the safest option because it sits on top of your skin rather than getting absorbed into your skin (as a chemical sunscreen does). Look for one containing micronized particles that measure 100 nanometers or larger.
- Look for a sun block that does not contain parabens, fragrance or any other nasty ingredients.
- Do not forget your lips! Your lips are one of the most sensitive parts of your body and can burn very easily if they are not protected from the sun. SPF lip balms are not a good idea for younger children, so to protect their lips, use a wide brimmed hat that will keep their faces properly shaded.
- Remember that your skin is not only vulnerable in the summer months. The sun may not be as strong during the winter, but it can still be damaging. If you will be in the sun for extended periods during the winter months, be sure to apply a sun block.