Now that summer is in full swing, New Zealanders are spending more time in the sun and more money on sunscreens. But is it money well spent? Maybe not.
There has been an explosion in sales of sunscreens with a high SPF, such as factor 50, which people assume will keep them safer from the damaging effects of the sun than products with a lower SPF. What’s not as widely known, however, is that products with a high SPF expose the skin to a greater amount of chemicals…
What’s in them?
Sunscreens can be broadly divided into two groups – physical blockers and chemical absorbers.
1. Physical blockers
Physical blockers (such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) work by reflecting or scattering UV radiation and are effective at protecting against both UVA and UVB radiation. A downside is they leave white marks on the skin, although some physical sunscreens now use nanoparticles – tiny molecules with one or more dimension less than 100nm – which makes the sunscreen transparent.
Are nanoparticles safe?
There is debate about the safety of nanoparticles and whether they can penetrate the outer layer of skin (which has been shown in lab studies) and damage living cells. The answer in short is – depending on the source of the nanoparticle! Some are benificial, some are harmful.
In January 2017, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration updated its review on the safety of zinc oxide and titanium oxide nanoparticles. The review looked at both in vitro (studies on skin cells) and in vivo (studies on humans and animals). It concluded the majority of studies found nanoparticles didn’t penetrate “or minimally penetrated” the skin, suggesting “systemic absorption, hence toxicity, is highly unlikely”.
The European Commission concluded available evidence suggests zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles can be considered safe for use on the skin as sunscreens up to a concentration of 25%. This does not apply to sprayable products, which might be inhaled.
With cosmetic products, which include sunscreens, nanoparticle ingredients are required to be labelled. The word “nano” must appear in brackets after the ingredient. However, if a sunscreen complies with Australian regulations, this isn’t required and products don’t need to declare the ingredients’ particle size.
2. Chemical absorbers
Chemical absorbers (such as octinoxate or oxybenzone) work by absorbing UV radiation and can be further differentiated by the type of radiation they absorb – UVA or UVB. Chemical sunscreens will often have a combination of ingredients to protect against UVA and UVB.
Some people choose to avoid certain chemical absorbers, such as oxybenzone, because of concerns they are endocrine disruptors. However, these effects have been only shown in animal and tissue tests with doses vastly greater than you’d be exposed to when using a sunscreen. Studies in humans have shown no evidence of endocrine effects.
However, oxybenzone (also called benzophenone-3) and octinoxate (aka octyl methoxycinnamate) are chemical absorbers that are emerging as an environmental concern, especially in beach regions where they’re washed off. Studies have shown some chemical blockers are toxic to coral and potentially harmful to other aquatic organisms.
A 2015 study published in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology identified oxybenzone as toxic to coral. Baby coral exposed to oxybenzone showed signs of coral bleaching (a condition that leaves it vulnerable to infection and prevents it getting nutrients), DNA damage, and growth and skeletal abnormalities.
Other studies have shown the chemicals are potentially harmful to other aquatic organisms such as fish, sea urchins and shrimp.
Due to the evidence showing these ingredients impact negatively on marine life, the New Zealand Dermatological Society recommends using sunscreens without them. From 2021, sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate will be banned in Hawaii, except on prescription.
The use of oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens is regulated. At present, it’s allowed to be used up to a maximum concentration of 10%. Regulators in Europe have recently reduced this to 6% for oxybenzone.
What do the SPF numbers mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and measures how well a sunscreen protects the skin from UVB rays, but sunshine is actually made up of three distinct light rays:
UVA (ultraviolet-A) rays are a longer wavelength of sunlight. UVA penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB, where it increases collagenase, and will cause immediate suntan, not sunburn. UVA also generates free radicals in living skin, which contribute to skin damage, wrinkling, and pre-mature ageing as this collagenase is the primary factor in deteriorating the collagen of your dermis .
Unlike less powerful UVB rays, UVA passes right through clouds and glass, and it is essentially at the same strength 365 days a year. The SPF of a sunscreen doesn’t measure how much UVA protection it offers.
UVB rays cause sunburn and damage the skin, and can contribute to melanoma (skin cancer).
UVC rays are of no concern. They do not penetrate the ozone layer and thus do not reach our skin.
An SPF15 sunscreen that’s properly applied is meant to give you 15 times the protection you’d get with unprotected skin.
So if you were outside in the sort of sun that burns unprotected skin in 10 minutes, then SPF15 would give you 150 minutes of protection. For SPF30 sunscreen that time would extend to 300 minutes.
That’s the theory. These times vary from person to person because of skin type, activities (such as heavy exercise or swimming) and how well the sunscreen is applied. No matter how high the SPF, any sunscreen should be reapplied regularly – every 2 hours you’re in the sun.
No sunscreen blocks 100% of UV rays: SPF15 blocks 93% of UVB, SPF30 blocks 97%, and SPF50 blocks 98%.
Sun safety tips
- Look for sunscreens with an SPF 30, plus water resistance and broad-spectrum protection. Don’t choose SPF 50 as it is required to use harmful chemicals to formulate such a product, therefor SPF 30 is much safer option.
- Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside.
- Apply plenty – about one teaspoonful (5ml) for each arm, each leg, your back, your front and your face (which includes your neck and ears). That adds up to about 35ml for a full-body application.
- Ignore “once-a-day” claims. Sunscreen should be reapplied often – every two hours you’re outside.
- Mopping up sweat or towelling dry reduces protection: apply another coat of sunscreen immediately.
- Remember – a sunscreen is only one part of your defence against UV radiation. The New Zealand Dermatological Society also recommends you cover up with suitable clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. When the sun’s rays are most intense (between 10am and 4pm September to April or when the Ultraviolet Index (UVI) is greater than three) it’s also a good idea to limit your time in the sun.
What products do I recomend?
Of course Dermaviduals SPF 30!
Protect the skin from UVA and UVB-radiation.
Fast penetrating matt cream for face and body.
The sun protection cream SPF 30 contains DMS® components and the sun protection filters ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (UV-B filter), octocrylene (UV-B filter), titanium dioxide (physical filter), bisethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine (UV-A/UV-B filter), butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (UV-A filter).
dermaviduals® sun protection cream SPF 30 complies with the European Commission Recommendation for a high level of protection.
Creams with SPF 30 provide about 96.7 % protection from UVB-radiation or in other words, they allow to stay about 30 times longer in the sun before an erythema (sun burn) will develop. Since the thermal radiation of the sun (infrared) is quite stressful for the skin it is recommended to expose the skin in moderation despite the sun screen. Excessive sun exposure is a serious health threat. Particularly babies and toddlers should not be exposed to direct sun light.
My Sunshine – mineral Zinc based sunscreen;
enriched with natures natural sunscreens Red Raspberry Seed Oil and Sea Buckthorn Oil, to further protect your skin from the sun. To nourish your skin it is loaded with Organic Aloe Vera, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Shea Butter and Chamomile. Also, with mega antioxidants Green Tea, Vitamin E and Olive Oil to fight free radicals and help repair your skin.
SPF 30, containing 13% zinc oxide
High broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection
Infrared (IR) – bluelight protection from our computers & phones
Up to 2 hours water resistant
Transparent application for face & body
Perfect for sensitive skin
Safe for babies 6 months +
Aids in the prevention of premature skin ageing and sunspots
No nasty chemicals
No parabens, no oxybenzone, no octinoxate, no homosalate, no vitamin A, no avobenzone, no 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, no sulphates, no phenoxyethanol, no glycols, no artificial fragrance or colour, not tested on animals. Ocean and reef safe. Total ingredients are 97% from natural origin & 30% organic.