Sun safety: the greener way

When I was in my late-teens to early twenties I was a sun-worshipper extraordinaire! I was of the “20 minutes on the front, 20 minutes on the back” brigade and one summer I even remember oiling myself up with Hawaiian Tropic – something like factor 2!! The horror! But I think we were all doing it at that time- I don’t recall a strict sun-care regime when on holiday with my parents – I just don’t think it was something people knew too much about when I was growing up and having a tan was all the rage- little did we know that having a tan meant your skin was getting damaged! According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over 65 percent of melanomas are caused by the sun while Cancer Research UK cites long-term sun exposure as the leading cause of all other skin cancers. In addition to this Dr Siân Morris, a dermatologist for skin-care range Olay, concluded from research undertaken that 80 percent of premature ageing – lines, wrinkles and brown spots – is the result of too much sun. A tan doesn’t sound too glamorous now does it!?

So in the light of the above findings, these days I’m either pasty or I get a little help from a tinted moisturiser but I find that even wearing a medium-high sun factor (I usually go for 25 SPF+) you still get a little bit of “healthy” colour. I do wish I’d known about the dangers of the sun when I was younger though, still- I’m very sun-aware now and I’m trying to pass this onto my children so that’s the main thing. You can’t change the past but you can move forward from a place of knowledge- the important thing is to use the information wisely….

Living in the UK, wearing sun cream is hardly a daily necessity for most of the year, however, when it gets hot we can burn like the rest of them and with complexions that don’t see much colour for most of the year – if you discount fake bake and the rest of it – then it is even more important to have a good sun-care routine.

I personally just popped to my local health food shop yesterday to stock up on some sun cream for myself and my family as you have to remember that sun cream from last year most likely won’t work this year. The majority (if you check the label on the back of the bottle) have a short-ish shelf-life- usually 6 to 12 months so be careful with this. I learned this the hard way. Wearing sun factor 25 sitting on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia in my twenties only to go home that evening and then wake up with what seemed like 3rd degree burns! Simply horrific – I couldn’t work out why this was as I’d applied and reapplied my sun cream but then I realised it must have been because the sun cream was out of date. Unfortunately for me I had to steer clear of the sun for the remainder of my 3 weeks there (not easy in Australia!) but I learned my lesson- that’s for sure!! So always either check your sun cream to make sure it’s still in date – usually just given as 6, 12 or 24 months since opening – or buy new sun cream each year.

So with the sun basic of applying cream covered now I can turn to “which” creams to use and this is where the “greener” element kicks in. At the end of the day- the most important thing is to protect your skin – the decision to go green on sun cream is entirely yours – this is my first year in fact as I have done a little more research into it recently and have thus decided this would be the best option for me and my family moving forward.

Protect your skin naturally

Okay, so I could compile a 10-page+ report on this topic as there is so much information available- but as I don’t have enough time and I’m sure you have better things to do, I am going to try with my “in-a-nutshell” approach again and hopefully if this interests you, you can use the internet to do a little more reading around.

5 reasons to choose natural (organic) sun protection

1 – The majority of “conventional” sun-care brands contain a variety of harsh chemical compounds that have been linked to cancer risks, reproductive harm and organ system damage. Remember that everything you put onto your skin will eventually make its way into your bloodstream (which is how the chemicals “get” to you). These chemicals include (to name but a few):

– Oxybenzone (linked to to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage, and reproductive complications);

– Para-amino benzoic acid (PABA) (linked to DNA damage and an increased risk of skin cancer);

– Retinyl palmitate (which reacts negatively with the sunlight (photoinstable) thus becoming toxic to your body);

–  Benzophenones = UVA filters (endocrine disruptor, produces free radicals that increase skin aging, environmental toxicant);

– Cinnamates  =UVB filter (lead to cell death, a penetration enhancer, cause skin irritation and contact allergies);

Natural suncreams are mineral based and are thus free of the harmful chemical ingredients found in most conventional sunscreens.

2 – The chemicals in conventional sun-care products can actually age your skin as every time you rub synthetic oils, artificial colours, and processed preservatives into your skin, you’re damaging its cells and aging it.

Instead of ageing your skin natural sunscreens contain herbal and plant extracts that have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and soothing effects that provide benefits for the skin.

3 –  The chemicals in most conventional sun creams block Vitamin D absorption – which is believed to be one of the causes of a widespread vitamin D deficiency – this vitamin being attributed towards slashing the risk of flu, fighting cancer as well as improving the health of your skin and and since it is available in few foods, most of us don’t get enough of it and must rely on sunrays to soak up a healthy intake.

Natural sunscreens do not contain these harmful chemicals and thus do not block Vitamin D absorption.

4 – Extended use of conventional sun care products formulated with harsh chemicals also has a negative effect on natural plant and aquatic life living in our oceans, rivers and lakes. According to scientists up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers every year and the chemicals then pollute aquatic life. Coral reefs in particular are being affected which are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. Scientists have reported that chemical-based sun creams may be accountable for dying coral reefs with reports that some sun-care product ingredients activate viruses that kill the algae that feed off the coral.

Natural sun creams do not contain these harmful chemicals and are made from biodegradable ingredients that decompose naturally and easily with time.

5 – Our children’s skin is more sensitive and delicate than ours and their bodies too – if sun cream is toxic (to whatever degree) to our bodies as adults then imagine the toxic effect on our children.

Natural sun creams are free-from parabens, lanolin, phthalates, artificial perfumes, petrochemicals and colourants  – so they are perfect to use on our children.

At the end of the day there’s no obligation to do or use any particular product- but for me I found it difficult to find out all this information and then cover my children in potentially harmful products. I didn’t find them to be any more expensive than conventional sun creams (considering sun care products are already expensive on the whole) and I think it’s worth switching if only for peace of mind! (I hope this doesn’t sound like a lecture- this is all new to me too but it’s so much better to make decisions based on knowledge!)

As with any product it’s good to shop around and find a good deal and there’s a multitude of online retailers selling organic sun care products and as I said I got mine from my local health food shop. I chose the products in the photo above from the ranges sold by Green People, Alba Botanica and Jason, but I know there are also ranges sold by Lavera and many other organic brands. Whether you decide to “go natural” or not, enjoy the sun and its energising and life-giving properties but most importantly be sun safe!

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6 thoughts on “Sun safety: the greener way

  1. What a lovely piece of research work, I always look at the expiry date on food etc, but somehow overlooked when suncream is concerned. I was shocked to find out the suncream in my cupboard expires on 01/08; well, straight in the bin; will get some with natural ingredients. Thanks so much for taking time to write the article and share it with us!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article. It’s so easy just to carry on using products we’ve used for years ignoring this kind of information but it’s the accumulation of all these silent pollutants that leads us to problems I think. I feel happier knowing I’m doing the best I can for my children xx

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