Being a carry-on only kind of person, and 100 ml fluid being the max of what you can bring into the cabin on commercial airplanes, I usually buy my sunscreen at the final destination, which somewhat limits the options; a tiny out island in the Bahamas harbours a rather limited selection. But I have found it to be smart in more than one way; You don’t have to carry a heavy load of fluids, risk using something that has expired in your drawer, and sunscreens designed in and for countries where the sun actually shines are often more trustworthy – some are even eco friendly.
Using a sunscreen is critical for shielding us from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet rays, and there are a few important factors to pay attention to when choosing a sunscreen: Skintype, age, location, SPF, brands, ingredients etc. A good sunscreen, for me, should be safe and trustworthy, it should feel like applying a moisturiser, rather than a sunscreen; light-weight, smooth and non-greasy.
How to choose
There’s a wide variety of sunscreens on the market for you to choose from, but they are not all the same. I find that some are much better in terms of ingredients, texture and the range of ultraviolet radiation they protect against. Some are very oily, thick and sticky, some leave a white film on the skin when you’ve been swimming, some make your skin break out in acne – some even remove your nail-polish or change the colour. I wouldn’t want to slather a sunscreen that removes my nail-polish all over on my child’s body. Or my own, for that matter. A good sunscreen should protect you, but it’s equally important to choose a sunscreen that is safe for your own health.
What to avoid
I try to avoid products that contain oxybenzone, a hormone disrupting chemical, products that contain vitamine A (a study by U.S. government scientists suggests that retinal palmitate – vitamin A – may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight), and I never buy spray products as they pose an inhalation risk and may not cover the skin completely. Scientists review more than 1400 sunscreen products and rank them on a hazard scale of 0-10; 0-2 is low-hazard, 3-6 is moderate hazard and 7-10 is high hazard. You can review the complete list at www.ewg.org
What about nanoparticles?
Nano-technology is used in sunscreens and other personal care products and have been for decades. In sunscreens they are used to reflect or absorb cancer-causing ultraviolet light. Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide score well in EWG’s ratings because they are low irritant and low allergen materials, they don’t break down in the sun, they are more stable in comparison to other UV-filters, require less application and they provide excellent protection against UV-rays.
Although studies suggest that nano particles in sunscreen lotions don’t penetrate the skin in such amounts that they hurts living cells – IF they penetrate at all – there are still some concerns; When zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles wash off skin, they enter the environment, with unknown effects. An estimated 4.000 to 10.000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off human bodies annually with the potential to cause damage to fragile ecosystems.
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. But most people don’t know what it really means. People often think that SPF 70 is twice as protective as SPF 35. But that’s not how it works. If applied properly, a sunscreen with SPF 15 blocks circa 94 percent of the sun’s dangerous rays. SPF 30 blocks circa 97 percent of such rays, and SPF 45 sunscreen shields against circa 98 percent of rays. And there’s really no need to go any higher. But there’s a need to re-apply often, especially if you sweat or swim – and no matter if your sunscreen is broad-spectrum, multi-spectrum, waterproof, water resistant or what not. If you used SPF 15-30 and got burned, it’s because you didn’t use enough sunscreen or didn’t re-apply often enough. I go as low as possible; somewhere between SPF 20-30, and that goes for my son as well. He’s spent 1/3rd of his life under the blistering Bahamian sun and never had a sun burn. Sunscreens use a number of chemicals to protect our skin from UVA, UVB and UVC rays, and some people (like myself) are sensitive or allergic to certain ingredients. High-SPF products require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low SPF sunscreens. Some of these ingredients may pose health risks when they penetrate the skin. Some may trigger allergic skin reactions. And because of the way SPF values are calculated, errors are most dramatic for high SPF products. EWG believes that manufacturers should stop selling high-SPF products altogether.
If you are going somewhere near the tropics this summer, my best advice is to stay out of the mid-day sun. Always wear a sunscreen, light clothes, a hat and sunglasses (they protect your eyes from harmful UV rays). And don’t forget that you can get burned on an overcast day, too, as 80 percent of UV rays do penetrate the clouds.
When the damage has been done
If you do happen to get a sunburn after all, get out of the sun and take an anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin, wrap an ice pack in a cotton cloth and cool down the sunburned area immediately – and keep doing it for a couple of hours. NEVER put an ice pack directly on your skin – you have to wrap it. Take a cooling shower and whilst the skin is still damp, apply a thin layer of moisturiser (non oily – oily products will make your sunburn worse). Aloe Vera may also help. Repeat. And repeat. You’ll heal. But remember that the damage has been done and must be avoided in the future.