Sunscreen: A Pale Person’s Perspective
I was born a fair skinned, outdoor loving red head with plenty of memories hiding from the sun on warm spring and summer days. I also had plenty of days where I blatantly did not hide from the sun and suffered extreme sunburn…for several years. I was an organic gardener, construction worker (seriously), public gardens intern and landscaper for enough years to realize that wasn’t sustainable for my body. Over the past 28 years, I’ve tried every type of sunscreen under the sun (no pun intended) and it’s only been in the past 6-7 years that I really took interest in the ingredients. I was using SO much sunscreen for half of the year, realizing how TOXIC most sunscreens are just gave me the creeps. Now that I’m confident in my sunscreen selections, I can continue going out camping, hiking, canoeing, tubing, beaching, swimming and just generally walking out to my car without fear of sunburning or toxic chemicals seeping into my skin.
*Disclaimer: Just get over the fact that some of these mineral ingredients or sunscreens make you look white or leave a thin white coating. Sunscreens are not lotions. They’re not moisturizers. They’re not meant to absorb into your skin. It’s their sole purpose to sit on top of your skin and act as a barrier. Embrace the white.
Here is my easy to recognize (pretty short) list of decent natural sunscreen ingredients:
1. Zinc oxide – best to look for non-nano zinc oxide. This is a just the Zn particle that has been oxidized (ZnO). Non-nano means that the particle size of the mineral is too large to be absorbed through the skin, hence the reason it will sit on top of your skin as a sunscreen barrier. For more information check out Badger’s research and reasoning on using non-nano zinc oxide: http://www.badgerbalm.com/s-33-zinc-oxide-sunscreen-nanoparticles.aspx
2. Titanium dioxide – is an inorganic compound with a very low ability to penetrate through the skin while acting as an effective sunscreen. It has a very high refractive index and absorbs UV light very effectively. Often, this will be in a sunscreen at a lower percentage than zinc oxide.
I’m not advocating any one brand, and I’m certainly not affiliated with any of the ones mentioned below, but I wanted to pass on some of the sunscreens that I absolutely love and are my go-to’s for most of the year:
- Babo Botanicals Clear zinc sunscreen – best for little kids and my favorite for my face.
- Badger – excellent all body sunscreen. Goes on thick, so don’t expect it to rub in like lotion. Stays on for active outdoor activities and is seriously effective. I keep this one with me at all times.
- Alba Mineral sunscreen – more emollient and “lotion”like – rubs in more easily without leaving a thick white coat. Best for more swanky outdoor occasions rather than hardcore hiking or water sports.
This is by no means a complete list of amazing sunscreens out there. Check out what Ellwood Thompsons has to offer in their Nourish department – all of their sunscreens meet rigorous product standards and are completely natural, non-toxic ingredients. I always stick to SPF 30 and reapply every 2 hours or so as needed. SPF 30 will block 97% of UV rays. Also, don’t forget the tops of your ears and the tops of your feets! These are the most easily overlooked, highly burnable areas.
Here is my abbreviated list of sunscreen ingredients to AVOID:
- Oxybenzone: “Oxybenzone is one of the few FDA-approved ingredients that provides effective broad spectrum protection from UV radiation, and has been approved for use since 1978,” said Dr. Daniel M. Siegel, president of the American Academy of Dermatology. However, the Environmental Working Group and other agencies believe that this chemical can sink through the skin (as it is known as a penetration enhancer), potentially leading to hormone disruption and cell damage…
- Retinyl Palmitate – when exposed to UV rays, retinol compounds will deconstruct and produce free radicals what are destructive to cells and even to DNA (potential cancer risk). Having this ingredient in a SUN screen is introducing it to the very source that breaks it down and makes it toxic. Very counter productive.
- Octocrylene – once exposed to UV light, it can oxidize (produces oxygen radicals) which can drastically alter cells and lead to potential cell mutations. The body is not savvy at processing this chemical and it can accumulate within your body, potentially leading to toxic buildup.
If you’re ever unsure of an ingredient, check out the Environmental Working Group ratings for ingredients to see what they have to say from their research: http://www.ewg.org/2013sunscreen/
Yes, I love having fair skin and freckles all over my shoulders and yes, I want to take care of my skin now more than ever. I know it’s annoying and time consuming to constant reapply sunscreen all over your body but you know what – it’s worth it. It’s worth it. Its worth it. Even if you’re not a Irish pasty, protecting your skin from excess sun exposure will only benefit you in the long term. Just remember – anything you put on your skin has potential to absorb into your blood stream within a matter of seconds. What you put on your skin is just as important as what you eat!
Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN | HealthCoach@EllwoodThompsons.com