I am often asked by clients about ‘natural’ sun protection products so I thought I would share with you my responses to some of the most commonly asked questions. We haven’t seen much of the sun in recent days, but the one great thing about the British weather is that it can change overnight for the better as well as the worse. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
What is the difference between ‘regular’ and ‘natural’ sun protection products?
Regular sun protection products are usually petroleum based and will contain other synthetic and possibly some natural ingredients.
Natural sun protection products are plant based with no or minimal synthetic ingredients and rely entirely on natural ingredients to provide protection from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
How do they work?
Regular sun protection products work in a variety of ways. Many are absorbed into the upper layers of the skin where they react to sunlight when it strikes the skin preventing the UVA and UVB light from passing through. Several brands have their own patented formula. Sometimes a blend of the natural minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are used in addition to other synthetic chemicals.
Natural sun protection products create a barrier to the sun’s ultraviolet light using ingredients that are derived entirely from natural sources. The ingredients most commonly used are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These natural minerals sit on the skin and act as a ‘reflector’ through which the light cannot penetrate. Some plant oils such as red raspberry seed and carrot oil offer some protection against ultraviolet light and are often added to natural sun protection creams.
Do natural sun protection products work?
Whilst there are no guarantees that every natural sun protection cream on sale will do what it claims, I personally always go for a product that states it is ‘broad spectrum’ in other words it can protect against UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF rating displayed. The SPF (sun protection factor) is a standard test that basically shows how much protection the product will give you from harmful UVB rays and it would be against the brand’s own interest to be misleading about this.
What does SPF mean?
Sun Protection Factor is a scientific measure. It gives an indication of how much lower the risk of sun damage is due to the use of sunscreen. It focuses on the time it takes for UVB rays to get through a sunscreen and cause the skin to go red, compared to the time this takes when there is no sunscreen. Laboratory tests are carried out on an untanned patch of skin. The number of seconds it takes a patch of skin to slightly redden when covered in sunscreen is divided by the number of seconds it takes to slightly redden when there is no sunscreen applied. This will determine the product’s SPF and illustrates how sun protection cream is not a magical formula that will block out all the sun’s rays but rather something that buys us a little more time outdoors.
Which type of sun protection should I use regular or natural?
This is entirely your choice. The points in favour of regular products are that they are easily accessible and sold at supermarkets, chemists and other stores. A huge choice of product type is on offer gels, creams and lotions in every SPF strength. They also come to fit every purse from inexpensive to luxury high end.
Natural products may be more difficult to source and tend to be sold at health food and specialist stores. The types of sun protection product on offer, may be more limited and they may be more costly. However, if you have a sensitive skin, suffer from skin allergies or prefer to limit your contact with synthetic ingredients you may prefer to go for a natural product.
If you are concerned about the ingredients in your skin care products it is advisable to check the ingredient list and do a little research. This way you can feel confident you are using a product that does not expose you to any chemicals you would prefer to avoid. A US based website - the Environmental Working Group - is a reliable resource if you need to check the safety of cosmetic ingredients.
We are now more educated than ever about the potential harmful effects of the sun, and my advice would be to always utilise the various products available, whether they be natural or otherwise.
If you are looking to make the most of sunnier days, here are some suggestions of ways to enjoy the sun safely.
You should take extra care in the sun if you;
Whatever our skin tone it is always advisable to wear sun protection cream if you are outdoors in the UK from March to October, even on overcast days.
Sun protection of SPF 30 used on the face from childhood will save you a lot of money on anti-ageing creams as an adult!
Check the expiry date on the product. Never be tempted to use last year’s sun protection cream. It may not be as effective, especially if you have opened it.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, make sure you apply the product thickly enough. Most manufacturers will also recommend you reapply every two to four hours.
Avoid exposure when the sun’s damaging rays are at their strongest from 11. to 3pm.
Hats and sunglasses will help stop the sun directly striking your face if you are walking or hiking. Loose, thin cotton clothes, long sleeves, long dresses or trousers will give additional protection. Protective clothing that will not allow UV light to pass through is now available.
The environmental impact of sun protection products is another consideration and there are now marine friendly sun creams available that do not harm sea life or coral reefs.