Summer is here, that means the legs are out and it’s time to soak up some vitamin D. But it also means that you are more likely to get skin damage unless you’re properly protected.
The answer… sun cream of course, however not all sun creams are created equally, and whilst you might think some are protecting your skin, some also contain some questionable chemicals which could be wreaking some havoc on your insides!
First things first, there are two types of sun creams, mineral and chemical sun creams.
Mineral sun creams (often referred to as physical suncreams) use the minerals zinc and or titanium dioxide which work by forming a barrier on top of your skin which the UV rays bounce off and therefore do not penetrate the skin and cause damage.
Chemical sun creams list synthetic ingredients on the label such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, these work by sinking into your skin and absorbing harmful UVA and UVB rays, then converting them into heat.
So what’s best? Find my checklist below of what you should look out for and what to avoid and why.
What to get your hands on:
Opt for Mineral Sun cream: Mineral sun creams ability to sit on top of skin as opposed to being absorbed by the skin can protect your inner health. The ingredients in the opposing chemical suncreams such as oxybenzone when applied have been detected in bodily systems and interfere with your hormones.
Broad Spectrum: This is a must! It means that the cream protects you against both UVA & UVB rays. UVA rays are what go deep into your skin and cause damage to the tissues, if left unprotected exposure can lead to premature skin aging and cancer. UVB rays don’t penetrate the skin as deep but in fact cause sunburn to the superficial layers of your skin and can lead to skin cancer if left unprotected. Typically there are 500 times more UVA rays in sunlight than there are UVB rays.
Whilst you might think by choosing a high SPF (sun protection factor) will protect you from both these rays, in fact the SPF of a sun cream is how much the product protects you from just UVB rays not UVA rays. It also goes to show that even if you walk away from the beach being lucky enough to escape a sunburn, you could still have damaged the deeper layers, therefore always opt for sun creams that state ‘broad spectrum’ to ensure you’re best protected.
Opt for lotion: Sun cream sprays have been desirable over the years, perhaps there is a pleasing aesthetic to the application of them almost mimicking a nice perfume. Or perhaps it’s the false sense of convenience… Have we all gotten that lazy that we find squeezing a bottle so much work? Even with the push down of a spray top you have to rub it into your skin the same as you would a lotion anyway. When using a spray, due to the small amounts that are dispensed at a time, many people tend to not give themselves enough coverage compared to a lotion and thus do not protect themselves enough from those harmful rays.
The subject of convenience and coverage aside, aerosol sprays also pose other negating affects to our health, whilst the ingredients might be safe on our skin this does not mean that they are good for us when we inhale. You want to avoid breathing in all of those chemicals that end up coating your lungs that can contribute towards chronic health problems.
What to avoid:
Synthetic chemicals: These tend to lie in chemical sun creams. You want to avoid sun creams that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate, and octocrylene. These have been shown when sinking into the skin to affect people’s hormones as well as cause allergic skin reactions. Some of these ingredients have actually been banned in Hawaii due to environmental reasons, mainly because they are causing so much damage to the coral reef.
The Center for Disease Control report showed how 97% of people tested had oxybenzone present in their urine, not to mention that it has been linked to Hirschgsprung’s disease. Studies have found this ingredient also within the blood/urine of pregnant women along with in fetal and umbilical cord blood. Women with medium to high levels of this chemical in their urine were associated with giving birth to babies with the disease (DiNardo et al.2019).
Vitamin A (Retinyl Palmitate): Some sun creams contain retinyl palmitate, a derivative of vitamin A which could accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin. Researchers tested small doses of retinyl palmitate on mice exposing them to ultraviolet light and all of them were found to develop a number of tumors, much quicker than ones untreated (Boudreau et al. 2017). Many argue that there still is not enough evidence to support this, arguing that outside the laboratory environment, when the ingredient is combined with other antioxidants when applied to the skin it acts differently. What we do know is that vitamin A is widely used in skincare and is known for its many anti-aging benefits. However, such products including vitamin A often state to avoid direct sun exposure, therefore does it make sense to you that this ingredient can be found in sun cream?
The words ‘Mineral-based’: Mineral sun creams have a better reputation in the wellness space, therefore some chemical sun creams sneakily combine the key mineral ingredients (zinc and/or titanium dioxide) with their other chemical components and market it as ‘mineral-based’. It is better to opt for a mineral-only sun cream.
So mineral sun cream is the way to go but are there any drawbacks?
Natural mineral sun creams tend to have a thicker consistency, making it harder to easily glide onto your skin. This also results in a tendency for a bit of a chalkier look. Whilst this is a little inconvenient, for me personally, this is all worth it for the protection and prevention of any adverse health effects. I don’t want those chemicals in my wee!
Boudreau, MD. Beland, FA. Felton, RP. (2017). ‘Photo-co-carcinogenesis of Topically Applied Retinyl Palmitate in SKH-1 Hairless Mice’, Photochem Photobiol. (4) pp1096-1114, NCBI [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 5 June 2019).
DiNardo, JC. Downs,CA. (2019). ‘Can Oxybenzone Cause Hirschsprung’s disease?’, Reprod Toxicol,98-100, NCBI [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30831214 (Accessed 5 June 2019).
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