What is natural sun protection?
We all know that the ultraviolet rays (UV rays) produced by the sun is so strong that we need to apply protection to the skin. There are 3 kinds of UV rays – UVA, UVB and UVC. For the purpose of this blog, we will only focus on the first two as UVC is filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere before it reaches our skin.
UVA rays deeply penetrate the skin. It goes beyond the dermis, or the thickest layer of our skin. UVA ray is responsible for skin aging and wrinkles.
UVB rays tend to be shorter, so can only reach the superficial layers of the skin. UVB rays usually cause sunburn, and over time, can lead to skin cancer.
If you have been following our blogs, you will remember that about 20 minutes of direct sunlight without any sun protection do fantastic things to our body and immune system. However, prolonged exposure will mean that we will need to protect our skin from the sun.
There are 2 broad categories of sunscreens available: chemical sunscreen and physical / natural sunscreen.
Chemical sunscreen is made with a mixture of chemicals that will degrade or deactivate sunlight, causing a chemical reaction that turns UV rays into heat, and released from the skin. When applied, they usually need about 20 minutes to work, and may need to be reapplied more often. The chemicals may also be harsher on sensitive skin.
Physical sunscreen is made with natural compounds that sit on the surface of the skin. These compounds absorb and deflect sunlight so that UV rays do not penetrate the epidermis. Protection starts from the minute it is applied, and typically lasts longer. They are also less likely to clog pores and is less harsh on sensitive skin.
There are 3 most commonly used natural compounds that you can find in natural sunscreens:
Zinc oxide – derived from zinc, a naturally incurring compound that is anti-microbial, non-comedogenic and is seen as a broad spectrum protective agent for both UVA and UVB rays.
Titanium oxide / dioxide – derived from titanium, and is also non-comedogemic, so gentle on sensitive skin. Effective for both UVA and UVB rays.
Silasoma mea – a silk derived patented by-product from Japan’s patented technology. Effectively reflects away UV rays. Works in similar fashion as zinc and titanium oxides.
An additional consideration is the formulation. If zinc oxide is the key ingredient, the product tends to be sticky, is harder to apply and remains “white” on skin. Choose a formulation that offers same level of protection but is less sticky / won’t clog pores so easily.
The chemical to avoid is oxybenzone, or benzophenone, which is the chemical commonly used in UV products (sunscreen, cream, hair, cosmetics). This harmful ingredient is carcinogenic, and has proven to cause developmental and reproductive toxicity. Another tell-tale sign for chemicals is product that offer more than SPF 30 protection. This cannot be achieved with natural ingredients, and needs chemicals in the formulation. SPF30 or less is plenty for sun protection – a lower number merely means that you may need to re-apply a bit more often.