Making Sense of Sunscreen

Jan writes: “Hello, I’m looking for an invisible, lightweight, non-greasy, non-toxic/organic facial sunscreen that can be worn under makeup.”

Aaaaargh, sunscreen!

This is one of the gnarliest subjects in beauty. Before I make a recommendation, there are a few things to know, briefly: 

1. SPF refers only to the product’s ability to filter UVB rays. UVB is implicated in the development of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. UVB also causes sunburn.

2. To filter UVA rays we need a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen. UVA is implicated in DNA damage that can lead to malignant melanomas. UVA does not cause visible sunburn.

3. The SPF scale is held to be so misleading that in Australia, the home of sunscreens, products may only be labelled to an upper limit of SPF30.

4. Sunscreen must be applied throughout the day in order to be effective. There is no such thing as ‘all day protection’.

5. Many chemical sunscreens are not only toxic to humans they also cause a great deal of damage to marine environments. Two common chemical sunscreens are Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. New ones are being developed all the time but they are largely untested. Another common ingredient to watch out for is vitamin A (found on the label as retinyl palmitate or retinol). Vitamin A is an effective antioxidant but an American FDA study has indicated that it has photo carcinogenic properties, in other words it may actually promote the growth of tumours when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

6. The most effective, non-toxic physical sunscreens (as opposed to chemical) are Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. These are the minerals that make you look white. Therefore, manufacturers finely grind or ‘micronise’ the minerals to make the sunscreen appear less white on the skin. This leads us to another potential hazard: nano particles – particles so small that they may be absorbed through the skin. There has been little research into the long-term health effects of nano particles.

So you pay your money, you make your choice. In the light of current evidence I am inclined to go along with the Environmental Working Group’s recommendation and opt for a sunscreen that uses micronised (nano) minerals.

On my face I use Trilogy vital moisturising cream SPF15. It contains zinc oxide, antioxidant rose hip seed oil and soothing aloe vera.

For everyday broad-spectrum body protection I use Green People SPF15 with tan accelerator. It is very light and not greasy at all.

For greater protection in high summer, I use Green People No Scent Sun Lotion SPF 25.

Do you have a Chemo Chic summer beauty tip to share? We would love to read it.

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