Sun: To screen or not to screen? Shedding some light on natural sunscreen.
My MuLondon motto is: I test everything I make on myself. I have very strict criteria when it comes to skincare: It has to be natural, safe and effective. So when I booked my holiday to Spain earlier this month, I was in a bit of a conundrum: Where do I get all-natural sunscreen?
I looked at a number of products, but most of them contained the following chemical sunscreens:
PABA, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Octyl methoxycinnamate or one of many other available synthetic substances. They are either toxic to humans, or not even properly tested.
I moved on to natural alternatives, and started looking into other options, but even ones claiming to be "natural" contained one or more of the following:
Emulsifiers: Cetearyl glucoside, Sodium stearoyl glutamate, polysorbate 60, potassium cetyl phosphate
Preservatives: Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, potassium sorbate, benzyl alcohol, 1, 2-octanediol
Other crazy stuff: vitamin E (usually synthetic or solvent-extracted), cyclomethicone (and other silicones), VP/hexadecene copolymer (Copolymers of vinylpyrrolidone and long-chain a-olefins)
A couple of “natural” sunscreens looked great – as instead of parabens, they were using the following lovely-sounding ingredient: Honeysuckle Flower Extract (Lonicera Caprifolium/Lonicera Japonica). An article on Organic Consumers Association website highlights that these are essentially parabens created from highly concentrated extracts of the Japanese Honeysuckle: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17679.cfm
In light of all this horror, I made the decision to make my own, all-natural sunscreen. I knew there were two minerals I could use to keep my skin from getting burned – either Zinc oxide or Titanium dioxide.
A lot of research show that Zinc oxide is the safer one out of the two, so I decided to go with it. Yay! - you hear me shout, but that's not long-lived, as you'll soon discover there's more to sunscreen than meets the eye.
Zinc oxide comes as a fine, white powder. That powder can be either regular or “micronised” Zinc oxide. Regular powder is made up of particles sized at between 200-1000 nanometer (nm). “Micronised” zinc particles are between 1-100 nm. This is what is commonly known as NANO-PARTICLES. As nano-particles can penetrate the skin, and there's not enough safety data on them, I was not going to use them. They are also not allowed in organic products.
The reason many natural skincare companies use nano-zinc is that it disperses much better than regular zinc, and it does not leave white streaks on your skin. I decided to risk looking ridiculous in the name of research, as I had to go with regular Zinc oxide.
There's a simple sunscreen recipe and an SPF chart at the website below, that I adapted to my own needs: http://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-Sunscreen/
I did not use any emulsifying wax, and I would definitely advise against using any citrus oils in the sun, as with sweet orange oil suggested in the recipe. Citrus oils are phototoxic, and should NOT be used in the sun.
I made my sunscreen using only organic Jojoba oil and regular Zinc Oxide powder, which I mixed until Zinc had dispersed in Jojoba to form a milky liquid. Make sure you follow the SPF chart – I used 15% of Zinc to get an SPF value of around 12-19.
I poured this into smaller glass containers, and added an essential oil that is not only safe to use in the sun, but is healing for the skin, and is used to treat sunburn – Lavender.
I was expecting my face to be completely white from this lotion, but that did not happen. There were some white streaks, though – in the antecubital region, more commonly known as the “elbow pit”, and the “knee pit” - basically, wherever your skin folds. This is easily removed by rubbing the excess lotion in and around the area, and white streaks are prevented by rubbing the lotion in properly and not applying too much at once. You also MUST shake the bottle vigorously before each use. I could live with this, and would rather have a white streak or two than nano-particles and chemicals on my skin.
The most important thing, however, was that my home-made sunscreen worked – I did not get burnt! Experiment: passed!
I will get a lot of questions from customers asking me if my organic moisturisers contain any sunscreen.
All my creams are based on organic Shea Butter, which has a natural SPF of between 4-6. I also use Jojoba Oil which has an SPF of 4
In our climate, this is usually sufficient for most people. However, if you have very fair skin, a family history of skin disorders or any other any skin issues, you should consult a dermatologist and your GP.
Now, some naturalists like Dr. Holick claim: "And to give you an example of how powerful putting sunscreen on is, if you put a sunscreen on with an SPF of 8, it reduces your ability to make vitamin D in your skin by more than 95%."
Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and is essential for a healthy immune system. Our Aussie friends have learned this the hard way: due to their heavy sunscreen use, “MILLIONS of Australians are living with dangerously low levels of vitamin D, putting them at risk of developing fractures, bone disease and deadly illnesses.” http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/12/08/1196813083745.html
I personally believe that there is no need to use high SPF every day, especially if you do not spend the majority of your day outdoors. When you're on holiday, or live in a really hot, harsh climate with strong sun, it's a different story. You do not want to get burnt.
I hope this sheds some light on sunscreen for you!
Are you using products with SPF on a daily basis? What kind of product do you use when you're on holiday, and do you read the ingredients list on your sunscreen? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments – let me know what you think!