After writing the last Dermis Love post I knew that I was going to have to get serious about UV protection. With this in mind I started looking at various sunscreen products. As I started comparing different SPF levels and UVA vs UVB vs broad spectrum protection I quickly learned that this wasn't going to be as easy as just picking up some sunscreen and heading outside.
What Is SPF
SPF stands for sun protection factor and it represents the amount of protection afforded by a sunscreen compared to using no sunscreen at all. For example, if you would normally start to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, using a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 means you will start burning in approximately 300 minutes. This does not mean you can just slather some SPF 30 on and go bake for 6 hours. Kimberly Mallett, research associate in the Penn State Prevention Research Center recommends reapplying sunscreen "every one to two hours when outdoors, especially if swimming or sweating a lot. Even if the sunscreen has a SPF of 100, claims to be sweat proof and waterproof, and provides all-day protection, it needs to be reapplied to provide optimal protection." Note that SPF is largely referring to protection from the effects of UVB radiation and the consequent damage from sunburn. There is currently no good way to measure protection from the long term effects of UVA rays.
How Sunscreen Works
Sunscreen works in two different ways. Some sunscreens include ingredients that absorb the sun's UV radiation while some contain ingredients that actually block UV rays. The sunscreen's that block UV rays are more effective at protecting against both UVA and UVB rays which is critical for short and long-term skin health. With no measurement for protection from UVA rays provided on the label it is important to ensure your commercial sunscreen contains avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for sufficient broad spectrum protection.
The best form of natural protection is to avoid being in the sun during the middle of the day and to stay covered up with a hat, some light weight pants and a shirt. However, I realize that this is nearly impossible and for many folks, just plain undesirable. That having been said there are some natural alternatives that can help to keep you safe while you're having fun.
Red Raspberry Seed Oil - Red Raspberry seeds contain high levels of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids in addition to antioxidants and natural vitamin E. This nutrient rich oil has an SPF of between 28 and 50.
Carrot Seed Oil - Carrot seed oil is an essential oil with significant antioxidant, antiseptic, antifungal and fragrant properties with high levels of vitamin A. This oil can be diluted into a carrier oil and provides natural sun protection. Natural products containing carrot seed oil can have an SPF of up to 40 according to a study published in "Pharmacognosy Magazine" in 2009.
Wheatgerm Oil - As one of the best sources of natural vitamin E, wheatgerm is also a good source of vitamins K and B. In addition to moisturizing the skin wheatgerm oil acts as an antioxidant, reducing free radical damage. Sun protection products with wheatgerm can have an SPF of up to 20.
Other Oils - A variety of other natural oils contain varying amounts of SPF protection including soybean, macadamia nut, jojoba, olive and sesame oil. While the SPF levels are fairly low they can be combined with the some of the other ingredients above to make home remedies that provide protection as effective as some commercial sunscreens.
There is a wealth of information on natural sunscreen. We encourage you to research and experiment with a variety of ingredients, making sure you err on the side of caution.
Using Sunscreen Properly
So now that you have read every sunscreen label on the shelf and have picked out or made your own perfect sunscreen for you and your family it is critical to apply your sunscreen properly. First, revisit the label and follow the instructions. These instructions should include the following basic points:
- Apply at least 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun
- Apply liberally (most individuals use less than half of the recommended amount of sunscreen)
- Reapply every two to three hours, more often if you are sweating heavily or in the water
With the above information and recommendations in hand we hope you are able to make better informed decisions about sunscreen that will lead to better skin health for you and your family.
What's Up Next: The Skin Deep database is a great resource for learning more about the products you use. The next edition of Dermis Love will explore the ins and outs of this greats tool.
Disclaimer: Ok, so we are not doctors. None of the statements have been vetted by the FDA or any other government or regulatory agency. We strongly recommend that you discuss your skin health with your physician.