To read part one of the sunburns posts please click here.
The next logical step after the last post is to talk about how to protect yourself against the sun. The first way you can protect yourself really isn't something you can control. In yesterday's post I talked a little bit about melanin. Just as a recap, melanin protects our cell's DNA from being damaged by ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Melanin is also what gives our skin brownish/tan pigmentation. Now there are two ways our body reacts to UV rays. When UVA reaches our skin it immediately oxidizes the melanin already in our skin and triggers melanocytes to release more melanin. This creates a quick tan that can last for days. When UVB reaches our skin it stimulates our body to actually produce more melanin. This means that we can still tan from UVB rays but it takes around 2 days for us to see the tan. (source)
All in all, melanin is our body's way of naturally defending itself against UVR. But this only works in moderate exposure. When we are overexposed to UVR we become vulnerable to the damages that it can cause. Which brings us to the second way to protect ourselves: not coming into contact with UVR/minimal contact. This is probably the best way to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of UVR. But it can be pretty unreasonable to never go outside. Therefore when you are outside, try to stay in shaded areas. Or wear hats and clothing that protect your skin. It is my personal belief that exposure to the sun is good for us but just like everything else in life, it's all about moderation. So next time you go to the beach, bring a big sun hat or sun umbrella to lay under when you're not swimming.
The third way to protect ourselves is to wear sunscreen. Now there is controversy online about sunscreen vs sunblock but for the purposes of this post I'm going to generalize it as sunscreen. Sun Protectant Factor (SPF) is the quantitative measure of a sunscreen's ability to protect you against the sun. The easiest way to explain how it works is to give you an example. If your skin burns in 5 minutes then a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will protect you for 30 times longer (2.5 hours). The higher the SPF the better in my books although I did find an interesting article online that talks about how SPF factor doesn't really matter since the differences in protection are so minimal. Some sunscreens claim to be water resistant/sweat resistant but I recommend reapplying after swimming or physical activity. You should also reapply after prolonged exposure to the sun (for me it's about every 2 hours). When purchasing sunscreen make sure to get a "broad-spectrum sunscreen" as these are the ones that will protect you against both UVA and UVB rays. Some sunscreens will protect you against UVB rays and not against UVA rays. This can be deceiving since UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburns. So just because you don't have a sunburn doesn't mean you were completely protected against both types of radiation.
Two of the most common compounds in sunscreens are titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide.
Titanium dioxide is found in almost every sunscreen with a physical blocker because of its high refractive index, its strong UV light absorbing capabilities and its resistance to discolouration under ultraviolet light. This advantage enhances its stability and ability to protect the skin from ultraviolet light. The titanium dioxide particles used in sunscreens have to be coated with silica or alumina, because titanium dioxide creates radicals in the photocatalytic reaction. These radicals are carcinogenic, and could damage the skin. (source) I was able to find an article on titanium dioxide that states that studies have shown it as being non-carcinogenic unless in the form of ultrafine or nano particles.
From what I have been able to find on zinc oxide its function in sunscreens is to absorb UV light. It does not get absorbed into the skin, instead staying on the outer surface. One natural sunscreen company states that they put ingredients that are high in antioxidants to counter any free radicals that can be created by the zinc oxide. Another thing you can do to help fight against free radicals is to eat foods that are high in antioxidants like blueberries and acai. Overall it looks like zinc oxide is better than titanium dioxide in toxicity testing.
Compounds like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are found in mineral sunscreens. They stay on the surface of the skin. Chemical sunscreens however are absorbed into our skin and can cause other damaging effects. To read more on chemical sunscreens please go here. For the most part I would stay away from chemical sunscreens whenever possible for a few reasons:
1. They are powerful free radical generators.
2. They often have strong estrogenic activity.
3. They are synthetic chemicals that are alien to the human body and accumulate in body fat stores.
When I went down south last Christmas I stocked up on a bunch of sunscreen. Therefore I am still working my way through the current stash at home and haven't been able to test out any of the products listed below. I have found the below products using google searches and with the help of Ecoholic's article "What’s the greenest sunscreen on the shelf?".
1. Aveeno Sunscreen Lotion with SPF 55. This is the sunscreen stash I am currently working my way through. Taking a quick look at the label it has zinc oxide in it and no parabens. This formula does leave a bit of a white film on my skin but since I'm pale it doesn't bother me. The reason I liked this one so much is because it is non-greasy and provides really good protection. I missed a spot when I went to the beach lately and you could tell big time.
2. Aveeno Natural Protection Sunblock Lotion with SPF 30. This one I found on Aveeno's American website as it is not available in Canada. Although the website does not have an ingredient list posted the description states "contains MINERALBLOCK Technology with 100% naturally-sourced active ingredients...". I would read the ingredient list before purchasing though to make sure there aren't any nasty chemicals.
3. Green Beaver Certified Organic SPF 30 Adult Body Lotion. Only available in Canada Green Beaver's line of sunscreens are made with zinc oxide as the main protection agent. What impressed me about this product is that the website states it is "Organic Certified, Health Canada approved, Non-whitening, Waterproof, Fragrance-free, Non-nano, non-silicone coated". The website does also have the ingredient list posted so check out the link for more information as to what is in it and where you can purchase it.
4. Badger SPF 30+ Unscented Sunscreen. Again, uses zinc oxide as the active sunscreen ingredient. Website does have the ingredient listed posted and a quick skim through shows that it does not have any parabens in it. It also has cocoa butter and shea butter in it which will help keep your skin moisturized preventing wrinkles. This one is probably the next one I will test out.
Edit: My lovely friend Lisa reviewed Badger Sunscreen on her blog. Check it out here. Basically, it sucks. Don't get it!
5. Kiss My Face Oat Protein Sun Screen SPF 30. Another paraben free, zinc oxide based sunscreen. Website has the full ingredient list posted. The description states "combines Oat Protein and Oat Beta Glucan, a dynamic duo of ingredients that help reduce irritation and inflammation and fight against damaging free-radicals as they moisturize your skin.". This is pretty cool in my books.
All in all there are lots of options out there. The best thing I can recommend is for you to go to your dermatologist for recommendations as they can assess your skin type and recommend something specific for you. You can also visit your local health food store. Just be careful to check ingredient lists as sometimes the products are listed as "natural" but actually have some nasty chemicals in them.
I learned a lot writing these last two posts and hope you have too. If you have a favorite sunscreen that you recommend me testing out please comment below.
(edited to include the following)
I have found that there aren't any products that will make your sunburn heal faster but there are some that help with the pain of sunburns. I always drink lots of water to keep the skin moisturized. This will definitely make you feel better and make your skin feel less like it's going to crack. I also recommend using 100% aloe which can be found and your local health food store or pharmacy. This literally cools your skin and helps treat the pain of the sunburn. Times when I have had a really really bad burn I have also used Vitamin E. This can get messy since it is a sticky oil but it again helps to keep the skin hydrated which will help with the healing process. I find the best thing to do is to put this on before you go to bed at night and wash it off in the morning. My only warning is that you might stick to your sheets.