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What do you know about 'safe' suncare?

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

You may have many questions about the products you use, especially suncare products, because they have had a less than fantastic history since their arrival onto our supermarket shelves in the mid eighties. Choosing the right product has become more difficult unfortunately, and many people struggle to understand the various chemicals in the sun protection they are buying. In reality, it should not be difficult. You are entitled to understand (easily) what is in the products you are using on your skin. It should be so simple. But it isn't is it...

Firstly, we need the sun for health.

We all want to enjoy fun in the sun, soak up some rays and get that Vitamin D factory chugging inside our body. The knock on effects of good sun exposure are factual, radiating out into our endocrine system and regulating most of our important bodily functions. So when it comes to 'suncare' I'm referring to your perception of what going out in the sun means to you. Psychologically many of us have a perception that the sun is dangerous and to be avoided. While overexposure is and has always been, dangerous, we now know that sun exposure in small amounts, regularly, at a time of day that has a low UV level, is the best medicine ever.

With the influx of sun creams onto the market in the early days of this product, we saw the reliance on newer chemical sunscreens that promised invisible application with maximum protection, but the reality is that these early formulations were particularly harsh, untested and dangerous in themselves. Take a look at a little more information and you begin the descent down the rabbit hole...

Q1: How do they work and what is the difference between a chemical sunscreen and a mineral sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the skin and in turn 'absorb and scatter' UVB rays.

Mineral based formulations with Zinc Oxide and *Titanium dioxide powder, reflect both UVA and UVB rays.

Mineral suncreams 'block' the rays whereas the chemical ones 'screen' the rays. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed by our skin, therefore our bloodstream and lymph fluids will have those chemicals floating within and around our body. Accepted scientific studies confirm the presence of oxybenzone chemicals, routinely used in chemical sunscreens, to have been found in breastmilk, proving that these chemicals are not benign...they travel into our bodies. In comparison, minerals like zinc oxide (in a cream or oil formulation) stay on the surface of the skin and do their job, reflecting UVA and UVB rays. It's another reason why Enviro Protection Lotion and Everyday Solar Balm are oil based, forming a barrier for protecting the skin and our bodies.

Q2: Why is it that sunscreens rely on chemicals to protect you against the sun but when tested for their SPF rating they are only measuring the amount of UVB rays deflected?

It's one of the startling answers I found after researching why and how chemicals are used in mainstream sunscreens. The reason I began? Simple, my Mother had started to use sunscreens when they first came on the market in the 80's and within 5 years she was being treated for skin cancers. The prolonged and often aggressive treatments and surgery she had over the next 20 years proved to be a shocking experience for her, and in essence, her family too. I eschewed wearing sunscreen very much at all as a kid and early adult. I got burned now and again, but generally I avoided getting very burned because I disliked the aftermath: pain, discomfort, cold-tea bag soothing sessions and the embarrassment of looking like a cooked lobster. But what I think about was her trauma. Not just the trauma of having suncancer diagnosed, but also the trauma of the 'treatments' given to her.

Only a broad spectrum sunblock like Zinc Oxide will reflect both UVA & UVB rays. B rays burn... A rays go deep into the dermis...they're the ones responsible for long term damage and 'ageing' (A). But we need the sun to make Vitamin D...which is an endemic process (occurs inside the body where it is used) 'switched on' by UVB rays. So we need sun exposure, but not overexposure. And if your sunscreen is only 'rated' for it's UVB screening effect, then what about the damaging UVA rays? How are you protecting yourself from them?

Q3: Why are only two chemical sunscreens passed as 'safe' (but not GRAS 'generally regarded as safe') for cosmetic use by the EWG when there are approximately a dozen in use (and more available for use) in commercial products all over the world?

YUP, that is correct. Mind-blowing isn't it? Here's the link. Please read it, then check your labels, then take a deep breath. As a consumer, you are the last line of defence when it comes to the quality of the products you use.

'They' will put things on the shelf even though the safety of ingredients is questionable from the scientific research carried out, or, from anecdotal evidence that has yet to be verified by scientific research. It's like saying "We're not 100% sure a fall from that height will kill you but until someone actually does it and we can, with scientific conclusiveness, agree that it results in death or injury, then we're not going to advise you not to jump. Here, by this bottle so you can have 30 minutes of fun in the sun". It makes you stop to consider having the 'fun' doesn't it?

Unfortunately, for some people the fact that there is a product that's invisible when applied makes it desirable; without any need for further investigation. This is exactly the kind of thing that raises flags for me, and it should for you too. Questions arise like,

"why is it invisible?"

"how is it invisible?"

"what substance/chemical is used to enable it to be invisible?"

"are the ingredients safe for use?"

The biggest question I'd have is, "What are the implications of slathering that stuff on my baby-toddler-child-teenager-adolescent for the next 18 years or so while their body grows and matures?"!

Yes, there's also an issue with the chemicals used in sunscreens having an effect on our hormones.

The outcomes of our choices should be part of our decision making process, because it's not just about you, it's not just about 'now', or about 'convenience' ... this stuff is going to accumulate in your body (or their body). Your choices now can affect your children, your environment and life on the planet.

But before you go out to get a 'safe' chemical sunscreen, consider the filler ingredients used in them. Some of these are known skin allergens...for example:

"The FDA must also look closely at the so-called inactive ingredients in sunscreens. These typically make up 50 to 70 percent of a sunscreen. One ingredient in particular is a cause for concern: the preservative methylisothiazolinone, which is used alone or in mixtures with a related chemical preservative called methylchloroisothiazolinone. Lab studies indicate that methylisothiazolinone is a skin sensitizer or allergen. Over the past several years, physicians have reported serious cases of skin allergies, most notably in children exposed to methylisothiazolinone, by baby wipes and products meant to be left on the skin (Chang 2014). In a study published in 2014, researchers at Baylor University surveyed the ingredients in 152 children’s body care products labeled “hypoallergenic” and found methylisothiazolinone in 30 of them (Schlichte 2014). The American Contact Dermatitis Society named methylisothiazolinone its “allergen of the year” in 2013." EWG

Choosing a safe alternative is becoming easier.

Thankfully the message of safe suncare, safe ingredients for skincare, and safe SPF products IS getting more traction. It still has a fair way to go, but there are now a number of good to great suncare products out there that will do the job, sans toxic chemicals with dubious outcomes.

MEM uses a formulation with a Shea Butter base and botanical oils to provide the bulk of the product and also to disperse the zinc powder evenly throughout the lotion. Shea Butter is a beautiful ingredient that nourishes and protects the skin. Every ingredient is there to perform a beneficial function...there is no 'filler'.

EnviroProtection Lotion is the new smoother, silkier, more luxe version of the popular Everyday SolarBalm from MEM is suitable for sensitive skin and babies. 100% natural and vegan with 85%+ Certified Organic Ingredients. I make it in small batches in my studio, in SE Queensland, Australia.

The hydrating formulation provides a light covering with an approximate UV protection of 15+. The luxurious silky matte cream is enriched with Shea Butter, Hemp Seed, Tamanu Oil, Macadamia, Camellia Seed, Pomegranate Seed Oil, Frankincense and Lavender, which help to nourish, protect and repair. This totally natural suncare/sunprotection lotion is developed using pure grade non-nano Zinc Powder that reflects UVA and UVB rays, with a formulation to assist in preventing sunburn, nourishing and protecting the skin when outdoors in direct sunlight and exposed to the elements.

Wearing an everyday sun protection lotion helps to reduce skin damage and premature ageing caused by over exposure to the sun's rays.

Everyday Solar Lotion or Balm is not SPF rated. I trial my products on willing humans with the outcome of a 25mins+ no-burn time. However, the BEST sun protection is thick-weave clothing and a hat. Never rely upon any lotion or cream to protect you for more than 25mins in direct sunlight. Always apply to moisturised skin to maintain the best possible broad coverage.

Enjoy the sun with safe sun protection and enjoy the outdoors with less stress.

My best advice for sun protection?
Cover up everywhere if you are going to have prolonged sun exposure. A long sleeve rashy vest for swimming/body-surfing, a thick shirt if gardening or walking etc.
Enjoy your time in the sun and limit direct exposure for long periods of time. Cover up when spending lots of time outdoors and look after your skin.
Your skin is the one thing you'll wear your whole life, so it's worth the effort to look after it well.

* I've got reservations about using Titanium dioxide in my products because...(read link information) and you should too if you're using a spray on sunblock with Titanium dioxide because you've read it's 'one of the safe one's'... it is, but size does matter, and so does the way it's the link to establish why.

The risks associated with using nano particle sized powders is real. Therefore MEM does not use them in any products.

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