Summer is here! I live in a beautiful lake community and I love seeing so many people take advantage of the lovely weather and the gorgeous water. The sun at this time of year is great for boosting our vitamin D levels, but practicing some sun safety can go a long way!
If you’re like me and only have two shades (pale or red!) then you likely aren’t going to go outside before applying your sunscreen. With all the options out there, how do you know what sunscreen to buy and what kind of protection you have?
SPF stands for ‘sunburn protection factor’ and is a rating system for how well a sunscreen blocks UVB rays. This is the radiation that causes sunburn and can damage the skin. Currently, dermatologists recommend using an SPF 15 or 30. What this means for you is that if you would normally burn after 5-10 minutes in the sun, if you used SPF 15 sunscreen you could extend that time theoretically to 75-150 minutes without burning. In addition to the SPF, you should also choose a sunscreen that offers ‘broad spectrum’ coverage, as these sunscreens will also filter out UVA radiation.
If SPF blocks harmful radiation and prevents sunburns, the higher the SPF the better, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as this because the scale is not linear. Higher SPF ratings are actually misleading because they don’t necessarily change the amount of time you would last in the sun without burning. Often people think they have more protection when they use a higher SPF. Higher SPF does block more radiation but the actual difference is quite small. For instance, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%.
If we look at this concept another way, the amount of radiation each SPF lets through is as follows:
So, it is true to say that SPF 30 will block half the radiation that SPF 15 lets through (4/7 = 57%), and SPF 50 will block 1/3 the radiation that SPF 30 lets through (3/2 = 1.5). So, even though SPF 30 blocks only 4% more radiation than SPF 15 (7-3 = 4), it would still be correct to say that SPF 30 will block more than 50% of the radiation that SPF 15 lets through (4/7 x 100 = 57%). And even though SPF 50 only blocks 1% more radiation than SPF 30 (3-2 = 1), it would still be correct to say that SPF 50 blocks 33% of the radiation that SPF 30 lets through (1/3 x100 = 33%). However, the numbers are so small that they may not equate to much difference in reality (if we were talking 40% radiation vs 20% radiation this would also be 50% more protection and would be an entirely different discussion). Higher SPF sunscreens tend to be higher in price and don’t always offer as good UVA (broad spectrum) protection as the lower SPF products.
What is more important is to ensure that whatever SPF you use that you apply the proper amount (people often use too little and under-apply) and reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours when out in the sun.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor, so any discussion of body products would be incomplete without discussing the health risks of using products laden with harmful chemicals (disclaimer – I am a consultant with Beautycounter as I personally use and love their products!). Most commercial sunscreens contain less than desirable ingredients that can interact with your body on a number of levels, but most markedly with your endocrine/hormone systems. Your skin is your largest organ and what you apply to the outside does get absorbed and make its way into your blood stream and throughout your body. Often we can detoxify chemicals and remove them from the system but our world has become such a toxic burden these days that our detoxification systems cannot keep up with the constant exposures. This is what eventually leads to hormone disruption and can contribute to a number of chronic conditions.
The Environmental Working Group analyzes a number of skin products and rates them based on how harmful they may be for you. To find out what sunscreen brands to avoid, visit the Skin Deep database (www.ewg.org). If you choose a natural form it works as a physical barrier versus a chemical barrier. Often the best coverage is with products with the active ingredient being zinc oxide at 18% or higher.
One thing to consider when choosing your sunscreen is whether to buy a lotion, a stick or a spray. A spray is generally an aerosol that uses a chemical propellant. Because of the nature of a spray the product can be inhaled and has been linked to an increase in developing asthma in children. An alternative if you like the convenience of a spray is to choose the Beautycounter Mineral Sunscreen Mist. This product is air powered and doesn’t use a chemical propellant. It also uses non-nano sized zinc to minimize the risk of inhaling.
Choose natural sunscreens when available. My current favourites are the Beautycounter Countersun products and the Badger line. Choose SPF 15 or SPF 30 broad-spectrum formula to cover both UVA & UVB rays. Reapply often if out in the sun continuously, sweating or in and out of water. Apply the recommended amount and don’t skimp!
Remember that when you are out in the heat it is important to stay well hydrated, cover up and take breaks.
July 19, 2018
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