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Sunscreens, SPF and taking care of our skin in the sun

 

Whether you’re a natural sunscreen user or someone who chooses to use more synthetic chemical based sun protection, it’s important to be aware of how the sun’s rays affect you and how best to look after the skin of yourself and your loved ones when you’re out and about in the sun.

 

Sunbathing

 

First, the basics – UVA & UVB light are the two that we are most concerned about when exposing our skin to the sun but, you may be surprised to know that an SPF rating is only calculated based on protection from UVB light!

 

UVA is longwave ultraviolet light emitted by the sun

  • It accounts for 95% of the UV radiation which reaches the earths surface.
  • It is a major player in skin aging and wrinkling.
  • It is the main tanning ray and penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB.
  • It is now believed to damage cells in the skins basal layer which is where most skin cancers occur.
  • It penetrates clouds and glass.
  • It is the main UV light used in tanning beds, often at 12 times the strength of rays emitted by the sun.

 

 UVB is shortwave ultraviolet light emitted by the sun

  • It is the main cause of sunburn and skin reddening.
  • It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer.
  • It is a contributor to tanning and skin aging.
  • It can penetrate glass, but not to the extent that UVA does.
  • It helps us make vitamin D!

 

Vitamin D deficiencies

Coming to the fore more recently are reports that we are becoming deficient in Vitamin D and that reported cases of rickets in children are increasing.  Why?  Because the body can only make Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun (more particularly it’s the UVB light) so, our increased used of sun protection whenever we or our children venture into the sun means that our bodies are prevented from being able to manufacture this important vitamin.  We’ve learnt that calcium alone won’t give you strong bones, you need Vitamin D too.  Though Vitamin D is important for many health reasons, not just bone strength.   Some foods can provide a small amount of vitamin D and foods supplemented with it are starting to appear but the best way to make it ourselves is sun exposure.  This page on the Cancer Research UK website gives plenty of useful information on sun exposure and Vitamin D: http://www.sunsmart.org.uk/UV-the-sun-and-skin-cancer/vitamin-d/

 

SPF –  what does it mean?

Did you, like us, think SPF 30 is twice as effective as SPF15 and that SPF50 must be miles better than SPF30?   Unfortunately, as the song goes, that ain’t necessarily so……….

 

SPF15 blocks approximately 93% of UVB rays

SPF30 blocks approximately 97% of UVB rays

SPF50 blocks approximately 98% of UVB rays

 

Surprised???  So, the high factor (and usually higher price) doesn’t actually equate to a significantly greater degree of protection and whatever SPF level you use it won’t give you 100% protection from damaging UV light.

 

To work out how long you will be protected for you need to know how long you can stay in the sun without burning, multiply that by the SPF and that will give you the time in minutes.  E.g. 20 minutes without burning x SPF30 = 600 minutes or 10 hours.  Yipee!! you might think.  However, this calculation is far from an exact science.  Time of day, cloud cover, environmental UV reflections, how much sunscreen you’ve applied and how often you reapply all affect how long you are protected.  Don’t think that one sparse coating will give you the full amount of SPF you’ve purchased.

 

We’ve already mentioned that SPF calculations are only based on exposure to UVB light.  However, in the EU, sunscreens have to provide a level of protection for UVA too. This is why you will see ‘broad spectrum’ and UVA and UVB symbols on products.  The downside is that the UVA protection is only required to be a minimum of a 1/3 of the SPF declared on the label of your sunscreen.   It’s important to remember that those non-reddening UVA rays are hitting you too and you’re not going to be protected as from them for quite as long.

 

Applying sunscreen

Our top tips for safe sunbathing

  • Know your skin, if you burn easily and quickly go for a high SPF but don’t take that as permission to sit out all day!
  • Apply generously and well. Don’t skimp on how much sunscreen you use.   For an adult you need to apply approximately 2 tablespoons of sunscreen each time and try not to miss any bits (don’t forget your ears, neck and the top of your feet!).
  • Reapply!  Regularly (every 2 hours) and always after swimming or exercising and if you’ve been sweating.  Water is your sunscreen’s enemy and water resistant sunscreen is not the same as waterproof.
  • Keep out of the sun when it’s at it strongest.  This is usually between 11 and 3.  Get in the shade or go indoors.
  • As well as being 100% natural, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are physical blockers and will tend to work as soon as applied which is reassuring if you don’t remember to apply your sunscreen the stated 30 minutes or so before going out in the sun.
  • Children under 6 months of age should not be exposed to the sun, their skin is very sensitive to the suns rays and chemicals in sunscreen.  Keep them covered and in the shade.
  • Don’t forget your hat and UV protecting sunglasses!

 

We are I Choose What I Use, the 100% vegan natural and organic beauty and skin care online store.  You can find our selection of natural sunscreen and sun care products right here:  I Choose What I Use – Sun Care

 

Further reading/references

http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb/understanding-uva-and-uvb

http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/what-is-vitamin-d/

https://www.cosmeticseurope.eu/using-cosmetics-colipa-the-european-cosmetic-cosmetics-association/sun-products/sun-protection-.html 

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/archive/sectors/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/sunscreen-products/index_en.htm

 

 

 

 

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