Sun Protection 101: Everything You Need to Know About SPF

natural skincare sun protection zinc oxide

Guess what? The sun shines year round .... kinda.... maybe for us Canadians it doesn't always feel like that but it is actually true! That being said, we really should pay attention to suncare as part of our daily skincare routine. Totally okay though, if you only think about it when the days get long and hot (who am I to judge, when that is when I get my own act together - every year!)

Sunscreen Myths

So first things first, let's get some myths out of the way! Terms like "waterproof" and "sweat resistant" are misleading labels. Sunscreens/Sunblocks are gradually removed by water or sweat, naturally. There is literally no way to avoid this. 
Now let's simplify what you need to know to STAY adequately protected. 
First thing first, I am only a fan of mineral blockers. Keep reading to find out why. One thing you should know is that red-flag chemicals like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, thought to be potential hormone disruptors can actually make skin damage more likely. Yah, literally, watch your back! 
Mineral blockers - you ask, what are those? There is basically 2 categories of sun protection: sunscreens and sunblocks. Sunscreens, commonly recognized as “organic filters” such as avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, absorb the sun’s UV rays and convert them to heat within the skin to keep you protected. Sunblocks or mineral blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, actually create a physical block between the sun and your skin, so the rays never penetrate.  

Ingredients to Know

Let's keep going with this definition exploration, continuing with chemical sunscreen ingredients that I like to avoid are:

Oxybenzone: It is the most widely used and most suspected of disrupting the endocrine system since it bioaccumulates in the body. Some studies have found this ingredient in breast milk.

Benzophenone: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this ingredient can cause mutations in corals by disrupting their DNA. Corals contain the most diverse ecosystem on the planet, they are necessary for the marine ecosystem's proper functioning as they are a source of essential elements for the marine food chain and provides habitat for many species.
Also beware of these ingredients: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-2 Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide*, nano-Zinc dioxide* (*note: the nano precursor is what is problematic as there simply is not enough research done that shows the long term effects, both on the body, as well as for the environment of using nano-sized particles of these ingredients).

These ingredients perform a chemical reaction when they come in contact with UV rays and absorb them. They are preferred by the masses because they are easy to use (meaning they soak in quickly and leave no residue) but most folks don't realize the ingredients are derived from toxic petrochemistry.  

So what do I like to see you ask? 

Natural SPF Sunscreen Sunblock Zinc
Physical Filters!

Considered as true shields, these act as mirrors that bounce UV instead of absorbing them and because they are not bioaccumulative in the body, nor do they affect the endocrine system, they naturally minimize the negative effects on health, comparatively to chemical sunscreens. 

Look for: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. (Note that titanium dioxide can be in nanoparticles form that bioaccumulates in the body and is therefore harmful to health. Always look for a non-nano mention).

Both Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide are responsible for the white look that is associated with mineral sunblock The larger the molecule, the more it will leave a white deposit. This is certainly not a pleasant effect, but the advantage with this is that you can see exactly where the sunscreen was applied! Always try to find the bright side, folks! 

Both ingredients offer sun protection but titanium dioxide may be carcinogenic if inhaled so do avoid aerosol products made with titanium dioxide.

What About 'Broad Spectrum'?

What does that mean and why do we want it? It is the type of protection being offered with respect to the damaging rays, known as UVA and UVB. 'Broad Spectrum' means it protects from both: UVA is usually what causes what we think of as skin aging, sun spots and wrinkles, and even skin cancer, UVB is that immediate burn and reddening of the skin. 
UVB rays reach us less when it is cloudy, but UVA has a longer range and even when the sun is not shining, it can penetrate through the clouds and windows. 

What Does SPF Really Mean?  

To add to the confusion and the pressure of finding the perfect sunblock, let's throw in SPF - the sun protection factor, commonly known as SPF. Keep in mind that this label only takes into account protection from the UVB rays, but we know that UVA rays are equally as harmful.

And ... get this ... there isn't actually a hard rule for how SPF is calculated. For example, if it takes you 10 minutes to burn and you use SPF 30, you can stay out, protected for 300 minutes (take the amount of time it takes YOU to burn and multiply if by 30 - the SPF factor). However, say it takes ME 20 minutes to burn and I use SPF 30, I can stay out, protected for 600 minutes! How do we figure out how long it takes us to burn? Generally, the paler the skin, the quicker we are to burn. Regardless, I like to err on the side of caution and apply every 2 hours. Again, how to calculate SPF? Take the amount of time it takes YOU to burn and multiply that by the SPF factor.
What do the higher SPF's mean then? Below is a small comparison of the current SPF and the percentage of UVB that they can each block. Regardless of the sun protection factor, it is essential to ensure the homogeneity of the product when applying. 

SPF 30: 97%
SPF 50: 98%
SPF 100+: 98.3%

Between SPF 50 and SPF 100, there is literally no difference (0.30% - not even a whole percentage!). Choosing a sunblock between 30 or 50 should be your aim; the higher SPF is simply a powerful marketing ploy that suggests that it's far more powerful BUT in reality is only slightly more effective. And remember, a high SPF does not guarantee broad spectrum! 
Now that you have the lowdown on sun protection.. it's time to head outside and enjoy the summer!
Which beaches are you headed to this summer? Are you staying close to home or doing some serious wanderlusting? Share below! 
(I am sneaking away to some Ontario beaches with the kiddos and the man... and also just a trip for the two of us to Prince Edward County to for a Lover's Getaway at the June Motel and some canoodling at the beach). 

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published