Finally, summer has arrived here in Ireland and I hear that it is very hot in many parts of the world. This inadvertently brings up the question of sunscreens: which one to use, what about SPF, what ingredients to avoid and many more.
Harmful not only to humans, but also to the coral reefs
And a client of mine shared this article by Bloomberg with me, which tells me that being mindful of what you put on your skin is slowly, but surely, becoming “mainstream” and isn’t considered fringe anymore. Which is great! The issue here is, though, that companies are incredibly slow (and quiet!) about removing potential concerning ingredients from their sunscreen. In other words, what we put onto our skin now- assuming it’s safe and trusting industry standards- could turn out to have been harmful in a few years’ time.
My main concern about sunscreen is obviously the toxins and carcinogenic components that are often added. It turns out they do not only do potential harm to us humans but also to the environment, mainly the precious coral reefs. This is why Hawaii and various other destinations, including Key West in Florida, banned the use of sunscreens containing chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate.
What about SPF?
There are some common misconceptions when it comes to SPF (which stands for “Sun Protection Factor“). Many people believe that the higher the SPF, the better protected we are- right? So did I for a long time! Until I read this article by the Environmental Working Group. It states that the SPF only reflects how a product may protect from UVB rays. It is mostly UVB that is responsible for sunburns and also skin cancer such as non-melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma. An effective sunscreen, however, provides equal broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Another interesting fact is that “balanced” sunscreens with SPF 20 protect against 95% of UVB radiation. Higher SPFs only marginally increase this protective factor, with SPF 50 only giving an additional 3%- but with possible detrimental effects on our health, as the EWG article above explains!
How to “vet” your sunscreens
There are various sources that I rely on to “vet” the sunscreens I use for my family and myself. First of all, the “Environmental Working Group” provides comprehensive information on sunscreens, their ingredients and safety concerns on this website.
If I want to look into single ingredients and find out what they are and what their potential impact on my and the planet’s health is, I also use the app “Think Dirty“. It is a useful companion for many other products for skin care, household or cleaning. Many common brands and products are already included there but sometimes I go through a product “ingredient by ingredient”, also as a form of education.
My favourite choice
This is what I did with the sunscreens I’ve now decided to use, produced by a small company in Austria, “Ringana”, which stands for sustainability, freshness and ethical processes. Over the years, I’ve tried many mineral-based, non-toxic sunscreens. I aways found it challenging to find one that ticks all the boxes in terms of ingredients but that is also easy to spread, doesn’t stick to the skin (the kids won’t tolerate looking like ghosts on a beach anymore!) and therefore lasts longer. I also like products that absorb quickly and leave my skin feeling fresh and nourished after application! And, most importantly, the sunscreens obviously need to protect from burning and the ultimate test for this is always my daughter, who has very pale and delicate skin that burns easily.
I use Ringana’s face sunscreen instead of day cream during the summer and when I’m outside a lot. When I know I have to use a waterproof cream with immediate protection, I choose the body sunscreen. There isn’t a single ingredient of concern and, most importantly, we don’t look like ghosts any more because the creams spread and absorb super easily! An added bonus is that because of this, it lasts longer than other non-toxic, mineral-based sunscreens I’ve tried.
Which is your favourite sunscreen, and why?