The Sunscreen Debate

Sunscreens are a controversial issue. Should we use them? Shouldn’t we use them? Is there any such thing as a natural sunscreen? What’s the best choice for you?

Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is now commonly recognised as a widespread problem, particularly in the UK where the sun just simply may not shine for long enough throughout the year to give our bodies time to create the vitamin D we need. Sunscreen does inhibit our body from making vitamin D so it may be advisable to allow yourself a limited amount of exposure, always being careful not to burn.

SPF factor
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating on sunscreens is a measure of how long it will remain effective on the skin. Effectiveness is determined by multiplying the SPF by the length of time it would normally take a person to burn without sunscreen. The SPF is not a measure of protection against UVA radiation (responsible for the permanent DNA damage to the skin).

UV radiation (ultra-violet)
There are 2 types of UV radiation. UVA sunscreen and UVB (responsible for sunburn and long term aging). Sunscreens filter out both types of radiation by using 2 main types of active ingredients discussed below…

Mineral sunscreens and nano-technology

These contain inorganic particles such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They work by creating a physical barrier which reflects, scatters or absorbs UV waves. This explains why some sunscreens may appear like white paint when applies. More modern sunscreens use nano-technology to produce clear sunscreens. Nano-technology reduces the size of inorganic particles so that they become invisible.

Many people are concerned about the use of nano-technology as nanoparticles are believed to be absorbed into the skin’s cells where they may even react with sunlight to cause even more damage. The EU Scientific committee on Consumer Safety, however, has concluded that the particles remain on the surface of the skin and as such there are no restrictions on its use. Companies do not need to declare that they have used nanoparticles or not. A good rule of thumb is that if a physical sunscreen is clear when applied, it is likely to use nanosized particles.

The most recent research suggests that zinc oxide is superior to titanium dioxide for broad spectrum UV protection. Also, the form of zinc oxide most frequently used in sunscreen has larger particles in comparison to titanium oxide.

Despite concerns about nano-technology, mineral sunscreens are still believed to pose much less of a risk than chemical sunscreens.

Chemical sunscreens

In chemical sunscreens, organic chemical compounds absorb UV rays and release energy as heat thereby preventing damaging rays from reaching the skin. Some of the ingredients found in chemical sunscreens are not believed to be good for health, posing risks to the hormone or endocrine system, allergy tolerance and the accumulation of non-biodegradable substances in the tissues and organs.

So opinion is divided over what is the best option. Medical authorities generally agree that using a sunscreen is better than not using one.

And the safest option when choosing a sunscreen would probably be to opt for a zinc or titanium oxide based cream with reflective properties (which may mean it appears white when applied to the skin). You can also opt for a wide-brimmed hat, longer sleeves and a shady spot to sit in!

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This information on the sunscreens we choose to sell may help you make your choice:

Mineral sunscreens
Lavera – titanium dioxide
Green People – titanium dioxide (nano – please read Green People’s stance on using nanoparticles)

Chemical sunscreens – some of the more natural ones on the market
Jason – titanium dioxide, homosalate, octocrylene, ethylhexyl salicylate, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
Yaoh – octocrylene, octyl methoxy cinnamate, bernel ester dcm, oxybenzone (benzophenone-3)

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Information provided by the Health Food Institute, 2014.

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