When did it get so complicated to choose a good sunscreen? Nowadays, one needs to zigzag between traditional brands taking advantage of our lack of information and so-called “natural” brands trying to sell us organic but not so organic products. In the end, is there a good solution to protect yourself from both the sun and false advertising? The answer is yes. The outcome of this article offers a real guide that we hope will become your standard to avoid heatstrokes between shelves.
What is a good sunscreen anyway?
Ideally, it’s a product that is going to protect you from the harmful part of the sun rays and restrict the environmental impact of the product once it enters the water. The sun radiates 5 different types of ray: visible light, infrared, X rays, gamma rays and UV rays. Those last ones are the most harmful because they are highly energetic and can reach the skin, which makes them the first cause of skin cancers and skin ageing.
UV rays are made out of three ultraviolets called UVA, UVB and UVC. However, they don’t all reach our skin and the Earth in the same way. UVC rays are the most harmful ones, but luckily blocked by the ozone layer which acts as a protective barrier. UVA and UVB are the most known. 95% of rays penetrating our skin are UVA, which have a high wavelength but a smaller energy than UVB. The other 5% are UVB, they have a medium wavelength and only have an effect on our first layer of skin. They are the ones responsible for sunburns because their energy is higher.
Choose the right SPF
The Sun Protection Factor is the protection level brought by sunscreen: the higher the SPF, the more blocked UVB. A 50 SPF protects against roughly 95% of UVBs for a limited period of time for example. This is why it’s usually highly recommended to apply sunscreen and wear heats, sunglasses, light clothes etc. We advise you to choose your SPF according to your skin type and exposure time. A 30 SPF will be enough on matte and dark skins that plan on having a medium exposure, but a 50 SPF will be more suited for lighter skins at any exposure.
Be also aware of “very high factor sunscreen” mentions, because no sunscreen offers total coverage and protection. Such mentions have been banned from the cosmetic industry since 2006 by the European Commission.
UV filters: chemicals or minerals?
It is the key ingredient in sunscreens. UV filters form a barrier preventing sun rays to be too harmful as they penetrate our skin. There are 2 types of UV filters: chemicals (said organic) and minerals (said inorganic). However, some of them are a possible threat to our bodies and for the environment.
Each year, thousands of tons of sunscreen end up in our oceans and threaten corals among many other living animals. While they only cover 1% of our beautiful planet, corals shelter 25% of marine life. Also, some of those UV filters are known to be the cause of cancers and are endocrine disruptors. It’s best to take precautions before buying because brands are overflowing us with marketing and greenwashing allegations to make you think that their products are healthy.
- Chemicals UV filters: Out of the 27 existing UV filters, 25 are petrochemicals. Polluting to produce, non biodegradable, forbidden in organic labels, some of them even represent a risk for our health, such as benzophenone for example. Sunscreens containing chemical UV filters are going to penetrate the skin and can disrupt your hormones. INCI Beauty has made a list of those UV filters if you already wish to investigate your own sunscreens.
- Mineral UV filters: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Mostly biodegradable, accepted in organic labels, they are not absorbed by the skin because they form a protective barrier that will reflect a part of the sunrays. Their only inconvenience would be that they can leave your skin a little bit white by applying it. To correct this, industrials thought about transforming those filters into nanoparticles. It means less white marks but a new problem appeared: nanoparticles could penetrate our bloodstream at this scale and cause harm.
We recommend you avoid sunscreens in spray with mineral UV filters because a high dosage of titanium dioxide can cause cancers if inhaled.
Favour a sustainable packaging
Beyond the impact of a sunscreen on the oceans, the packaging that contains the product is just as important in terms of sustainability. And since it’s not recommended to reuse a sunscreen from the previous year because the quality of UV filters can decrease, you get one more reason to choose one with a reusable, recyclable or refillable.
Therefore we advise you to avoid any plastic, because even recyclable ones are just recyclable a couple of times. Nowadays some brands use aluminum, solid cardboard and refillable glass for example, infinitely recyclable and a perfect container for sunscreen.
To put it simply, one has to avoid flirtatious spoke heads that mention “ocean friendly formulas” and really analyze the ingredients and the packaging. In the end, it will reveal the transparency of a brand pretty quickly.
Forego sunscreen, a possible alternative
It is totally possible not to use sunscreen at all, but you will have to be extremely cautious to avoid heatstrokes and sunburns. However, if your skin tone is light and you’re not used to sun exposure, we highly recommend the use of a sustainable sunscreen on top of the advice below.
- Fill up with fruits and veggies
Vitamins A, C and E improve cutaneous microcirculation, contribute to healing your skin and fight against cellular ageing. They are ideal to prepare your skin for sun exposure. On the menu: carrots, lamb’s lettuce and tomato salads as well as arrays of orange fruits (melon, apricot, orange and nectarine). Favour local, seasonal and organic fruits and veggies if possible to maximize the effects!
- Exfoliate and prepare your skin
To prepare your skin for sun exposure, using a soft scrub turns out to be incredibly effective, especially to preserve your tan as long as possible. Exfoliating your skin allows you to get rid of dead skin cells, which will fasten its renewal and favour a consistent and long lasting tan. A homemade sugar and honey scrub will very much do the trick, but you can also try out organic and labelled scrubs to discover other scents.
- Hydrate and supplement
It sounds pretty logical, but logical doesn’t mean ineffective. A correct hydration at least 3 weeks before an extended exposure by drinking at least 1,5L of water per day will help your body synthesize all the vitamin D it’s going to receive. To prepare your skin you can also take food supplements made from beta carotene, apricot kernel and annatto. A 15 days cure before exposure should suffice to prepare your metabolism for the holidays.
Did you enjoy this guide? At Ecogarantie®, we have in store a month of June devoted to the sun! Follow us on Instagram to discover our post on the best sustainable sunscreens. We also created an infographic summing up all the advice above to help you remember and raise awareness.