All the latest natural skin care, anti-aging and healthy lifestyle tips from Marie Veronique Organics.
Natural Sunscreen Myths
At this time each year, there is a lot of discussion about sun protection, and there is growing acceptance that it is an everyday affair. This is great, but a lot of misinformation remains when it comes to deciding which sunscreen to wear, and what it really means to be “sun safe.”
A respected dermatologist has listed some sun safety myths she thought important to dispel, and then Marie added some informative myth-busters of her own.
Myth #1: Natural sunscreen is not as effective as conventional sunscreen
Natural sunscreens are classified as those using minerals like zinc oxide that work by reflecting the UV rays. Conventional sunscreens contain chemicals which absorb UV rays, break them down and release the energy as heat. Common chemicals are oxybenzone, aka benzophenone-3, and octyl methoxycinnamate, aka octinoxate.
A real measure of effectiveness takes into account two factors, 1) UV protection capabilities and 2) stability. A sunscreen with an SPF 30 will prevent about 97% of UVB rays from penetrating, either by reflecting or absorbing the UV rays.
The problem with chemical UV absorbers is that, because of the way they work, they do not have the stability of UV reflectors. In fact, studies show that some sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone break down so quickly that they can begin releasing more free radicals that damage skin than if you wore no sunscreen at al! In order to protect against free radical damage you might have to reapply the sunscreen as often as every hour.
Myth-buster:While sunscreens containing chemicals often offer high SPF ratings, their lack of stability can ultimately create as much damage as the sun itself. Natural sunscreens containing non-nano zinc oxide are much more effective over the long run because they are much more stable.
Myth #2: All sunscreens claiming to be natural are safe
“Natural” sunscreens in general are those that use mineral reflectors like zinc oxide in the place of chemicals. Unfortunately minerals like titanium dioxide are lumped in the same category as zinc oxide, even though their main activity is to act as an absorber. Because TiO2 is highly unstable in the presence of UV, coated nanoparticles are generally used. This highly processed ingredient certainly pushes the definition of natural. Should it penetrate past the epidermal barrier how or if it breaks down and its ultimate disposition in the body are all unknowns.
The use of TiO2 is defended because it does not penetrate past the epidermis of normal skin, but the FDA, which gave TiO2 its stamp of approval, does concede that more studies need to be done on damaged skin. Children have thinner skins, and a lifetime of exposure to a potential unknown is probably not a good idea.
Myth-buster:When shopping for a mineral sunscreen, your best bet to assure safety is to avoid titanium dioxide and opt for sunscreens made with zinc oxide only.
Myth #3: Natural sunscreens don’t provide UVA protection
Everyone agrees that UVA protection is just as, if not more, important that UVB protection. Unfortunately there remains a great deal of confusion about what constitutes UVA protection, or even what UVA is. UVA rays are the longer wavelengths in the spectrum, from 320 to 400 nm. UVA 1 is 340 to 400 nm and UVA 2 is 320 to 340 nm. UVA 2 is associated with photoaging, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Most dermatologists recommend using Mexoryl, giving consumers the impression that this and similar synthesized UVA sunscreen agents are the only ones to give adequate protection in the UVA range.
The problem with Mexoryl (and even avobenzone stabilized with octocrylene) is that it still breaks down fairly rapidly in the presence of UV, requiring frequent reapplication. It is interesting to me how often zinc oxide gets overlooked as a UVA protector. Titanium dioxide protects up to 360 nm, while Mexoryl and other chemical sunscreens peak at 380 nm. Zinc oxide protects across the whole UVA and UVA range, from 230 to 400 nm.
Myth-buster:the best protection against UVA rays is zinc oxide found in natural sunscreens.
Myth #4: Higher SPF means better protection
With all that we are learning about the connection between photoaging, photosensitivity reactions, melanoma and UVA rays this myth may turn out to be the most potentially harmful of them all. SPF refers only to protection supplied only in the UVB range, 290 to 320 nm. If you are wearing a sunscreen with a very high SPF rating chances are you are not getting protection in the higher ranges, as super high SPF sunscreens tend to have high concentrations of chemicals with an absorptive peak around 300 nm. The EWG says high SPF ratings can be misleading, tempting you to stay out in the sun too long and incurring damage not immediately visible. The American Cancer Society recommends going with a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 15 to 30 and “reapplying often.”
Myth-buster:Mineral sunscreens with broad spectrum protection AND an SPF of 20- 30 protect better against photodamage and serious skin cancer than products with higher SPF ratings. An additional advantage of lower SPF sunscreens is that you are more likely to remember to apply sunscreen more frequently—this is not a drawback!
Myth #5: I only need to wear sunscreen during the summer months
UVA rays, the aging rays, are present all year long, from sunup to sundown, and they penetrate glass and clouds. They also penetrate into the dermis, where they cross link collagen and elastin, damage DNA and turn melanin darker. This is why they are called the aging rays. UVA rays are also carcinogenic, so it is very important to have protection year round, even if you are inside on a rainy day. The trick is to find a moisturizer with broad spectrum protection with an SPF around 15-20 that you can tolerate wearing on a daily basis.
Myth-buster:For those serious about photoaging and skin cancer prevention protecting from UVA damage is a daily, all-season affair. Skin safety is not just about preventing sunburn!
Myth #6: Getting a “base tan” will help prevent sunburn
You often hear of people going to tanning salons to get a “base tan” before they go on vacation, the theory being that this will protect them from burning on the beach or the ski slopes. There’s little evidence that this is true, while a growing wealth of evidence suggests that the tanning or UVA rays increases your risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer.
Myth-buster:There is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Any sign of change in skin color is a sign of damage from UV radiation.