"Wait, what exactly is SPF?!"
Has that question ever crossed your mind?
Perhaps in line at the checkout just before purchasing your promising “SPF 100”. SPF (sunburn protection factor) is the most common criteria that people use when choosing a sunscreen. However, most of us have been misguided when assuming that higher SPF numbers are better. In reality, high SPFs don’t necessarily offer greater protection from UV rays.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) issues an annual guide to sunscreen, highlighting key research about the products and the industry. This post will summarize some of their 2018 findings for you and then recommend some healthier options, including Rose Botanica’s favorite sunscreen, so you can feel protected this summer with no second thoughts!
Let’s begin with the basics. What happens when the skin absorbs product?
Our skin is the largest organ in the body and will absorb whatever is topically applied. The skin then carries it into the bloodstream, seeping its way into various organs which will then try to utilize the compounds, store them, or eliminate them from the body. It goes without saying that any chemical entering the body can be toxic to our health, and unfortunately far too many of us suffer unknowingly from harmful ingredients contained in the sun protection products we choose. Ironically, these products that claim to protect our skin from environmental threats seem to be actually contributing to the problem!
The goal is to try to avoid unhealthy substances altogether!
The majority of sun protection products on the market, mostly non-mineral sunscreens, contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disruptor, or retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin. Oxybenzone poses a hazard to human health as well as the environment. It is an allergen and a hormone disruptor that soaks through skin and is measured in the body of nearly every American, including children.
Sunscreens using a base of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide tend to rate best in the clean factor, since they don’t often contain potentially harmful additives and also offer a good balance of protection between the two types of ultraviolet radiation – UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin like a toaster. Too much exposure to either can cause skin cancer.
SPF measures how well sunscreen protects against UVB rays but not UVA rays. SPF is calculated based on how long it takes to sunburn skin that's been treated with sunscreen as compared to skin without sunscreen. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will provide only slightly more protection from UVB rays than does a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, meaning that the SPF 30 product isn't twice as protective as the SPF 15 product. Also, sunscreens with an SPF of 50 and higher provide only a small increase in UV protection, (which means that you can step out of the checkout line and place that SPF 100 back on the shelves!)
The best sunscreens are “broad-spectrum” which give protection from all UV light. However, most sunscreens, even those labeled “broad-spectrum”, don’t offer adequate UVA protection. This is because the standard for being considered “broad-spectrum” has been set too low by the FDA, and far more importance has been placed on protection from UVB rays.
Sunscreen sprays are a blessing in a bottle, right?! No mess, easy to apply, not to mention the fulfilling scents that signal summertime and a good time. But our trusty guide, EWG, is concerned that these products pose an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on the skin to ensure accurate protection. Therefore, EWG cautions people to avoid these products until sunscreen companies can submit more data to disprove all concerns.
There is still little scientific evidence to suggest that sunscreen alone reduces the risk of cancer, particularly for melanoma - the deadliest type of skin cancer. Melanoma rates have tripled over the past three decades, despite a growing awareness of the dangers of sun exposure and a multi-billion-dollar sunscreen industry. It’s tricky to pinpoint why this has become the reality of recent years, but we’re confident that more research and answers are on the way!
As of today, about half of the sunscreens acceptable here in the U.S. would not offer enough UVA protection to be sold in Europe. Shocking! Have you ever wondered why most Europeans, particularly those surrounding the Mediterranean, have amazing skin? How is it that their sun-bathing culture can boast flawless skin while our sun-fearing culture still seems to need more help?
There are many answers to this puzzling question ranging from diet to stress levels and general attitudes toward life. Part of the reason is because the European Union sets a higher bar when it comes to product regulation. They are not as accepting of the thousands of harmful ingredients that the FDA accepts here in the U.S. For sunscreens, the E.U. requires UVA protection to rise in proportion with SPF (UVB protection).
Another potential explanation is because Europeans value protecting their skin as much as possible. Many emphasize the importance of lathering the skin with sunscreen before a day out in the sun. Their skin-care regimen also consists of applying natural oils, providing nourishment and further protection for the skin after soaking up some serious Mediterranean rays!
In Italy, it is not uncommon to find people moisturizing with olive oil, which packs a ton of beauty benefits, like anti-aging vitamin E and hydrating squalene. It has proven to be one of the best all natural, alternative after-sun moisturizers. Coconut, almond, and hazelnut oils will do the trick as well! There’s no wonder this ancient culture continues to radiate natural beauty even in these environmentally challenging times!
To take beauty matters further, it might prove worthwhile to indulge in healthy habits this summer, while good weather and good times are abundant. Yes, indulge! We must shift our perspective by embracing the fact that healthy habits actually make us feel good. "I think that overall the greatest difference between American and Italian beauty is that American women might go for what makes them look good, but Italian women go for what makes them feel good," says Italian model Mitzi Peirone. It’s time that our culture embraces positive discussion and action about feeling good.
With all the work that still needs to be accomplished in reforming our sunscreen industry, the point is to not avoid the sun completely. It has much to offer and should not be perceived as solely emitting UV rays that are out to get you! As Peirone puts it, “Wrinkles are gonna get you eventually either way, so you might as well enjoy the sun.” And there are still plenty of all-natural sunscreens on the market that are indeed safe and healthy for your skin and body that you can feel confident about using. Our favorite here at RB is The Organic Pharmacy’s Cellular Protection Sunscreen (SPF 30).
This is the holy grail of sunscreen. If you are looking for ultra sun protection combined with hydration, this sun cream will not disappoint! This sunscreen is specially formulated to prevent sun damage and deliver age-fighting nutrients deep into your skin. Micronized zinc blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays that can lead to premature aging and hyperpigmentation, while aloe and rosehip nourish and protect. Plus, it has a highly absorbable formula that leaves behind no white residue. Did we mention it smells amazing? Trust us in saying that you’ll want to apply this cream even on cloudy days when the sun in nowhere to be seen!
To reap the full benefits of sunscreen, be sure apply a thick coat to ensure proper coverage and then reapply after swimming and throughout your time in the sun because some product can come off through perspiration. Remember that sand, water, and snow reflect sunlight and make it even more important to use sunscreen. Since UV light can pass through clouds, use sunscreen even when it's overcast.
To sum it up, we hope that all our readers can now feel like sunscreen experts and enjoy the sun wisely this season!
by Rose Botanica Wellness Contributor, Michelle Castro