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Guide to Buying Safe Sunscreens

After a Canadian winter, it is such a pleasure to finally let the sun kiss our skin. The soothing warmth feels so right, how could it be wrong? While we benefit from the vitamin D that it provides, sunlight can also do serious damage to the skin. Too much exposure to UV rays causes cellular damage and slows down collagen production and skin cell turnover and can create uneven pigmentation. It can also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.  It’s important to have protection when you are outside for extended periods of time but it’s becoming increasingly confusing to know what to use, especially when some commercial sunscreens have chemicals that are a concern for our bodies and the environment. I know some people just avoid them all together and put their bodies at risk of too much sun exposure so that’s not the solution. There are very safe and effective sun protection products out there. You just need to know what to look for.

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens work by converting UV rays into other energy such as light or heat. This type of protection can cause inflammation and is not ideal for people with sensitive skin, eczema or rosacea.  It also BURNS when it gets into your eyes. Chemical sunscreens are preferred in the conventional beauty industry because they are easier to incorporate into formulas and are transparent on the skin. They range in toxicity and ecological impact and some are easily absorbed through the skin.

Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are called physical or mineral sunscreens. They act like tiny mirrors to deflect light off the face and are considered safe, non-toxic and are a good option for sensitive skin. They feel cooling and very protective, almost like a very thin mask over your skin. They can be whitening but formulators tend to work with smaller particles to combat this. There have been concerns about nanotechnology versions (very small <100 nanometres) of zinc and titanium but current evidence does not point to any safety issues. If you are still uncomfortable with this, look for ‘non-nano’ on the packaging.

To see what is being used in a sun protection product, look for ‘Medicinal Ingredients’ on the label.

Broad-Spectrum Protection (UVA/UVB)

The sun emits three different ultraviolet (UV) rays called UVA, UVB and UVC (the latter of which barely penetrates the ozone layer so we don’t have to worry about it). While UVB rays are responsible for burning the skin, UVA rays damage it on a deeper level that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer and attacks collagen leading to wrinkles and sagging skin. It’s important to look for a sunscreen that protects you from both forms of radiation so look for ‘Broad-Spectrum’, ‘Multi-Spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB’ on the label. Fortunately, both zinc and titanium offer broad spectrum coverage so most natural brands offer complete protection.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

The sun protection factor (SPF) of a sunscreen is the measurement of how long you can be exposed to sunlight before redness appears on the skin. An SPF of 15 means you can be in the sun 15 times longer than if you had no protection at all. This measurement focuses on UVB rays, which are damaging to the surface of the skin rather than UVA rays that penetrate deeper to attack collagen and contribute to skin cancer.

Ingredients to Avoid

Oxybenzone This common petrochemical sunscreen is easily absorbed through the skin, which explains why it can be found in 97% of Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has endocrine disrupting properties meaning it can interfere with hormonal functions in the body. It is also eco-toxic to aquatic life and is responsible for killing reefs by bleaching the algae.

Octinoxate This ingredient has similar hazards to oxybenzone. It can be absorbed through the skin, is persistent and can be found lurking in our bodies and in breast milk. It is also a hormone disruptor.

Retinyl Palmitate Studies have shown that this common antioxidant, found in a staggering 1 in 4 sunscreens, accelerates the rate at which skin tumors and lesions grow.

Reminder: Having a good sunscreen is the first step to protecting your skin but it doesn’t permit you to sit in the sun all day. You must be sensible and look for ways to keep out of it while still enjoying the outdoors.  Find a tree, a gazebo, an umbrella or a porch and enjoy the beautiful day from a safe place out of the sun.

Hope you have a beautiful sun-kissed summer full of camping, beach days, sports, parks, and everything else that makes this season awesome without having to worry about burns, redness, and peeling.

Cocoon Apothecary now offers Reflector Facial Sun Protection SPF 30, a non-whitening, non-greasy, non-toxic product that is perfect for sensitive skin.

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