By Anna Soref, Natural Solutions
OK, so the days of carelessly sunbathing on the beach for nine hours are gone. But that doesn’t mean you have to hide in the shadows, either. Sunscreens with new formulations and antioxidant ingredients are making it easier than ever to enjoy time outside, safe from the sun’s harmful rays. Fortunately, these new formulations mean that you no longer have to look like a lifeguard circa 1970—with a white nose plastered in zinc oxide—to have the ultimate sun protection. Researchers have discovered how to pulverize sun-blocking minerals so they are colorless and glide on.
Many experts consider these blocking compounds to be safer than sunscreen chemicals. The blocks, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, work by reflecting the sun’s rays away from the skin; while sunscreens, such as benzophenones and cinnamates, work by absorbing the sun’s rays before they enter the skin. The problem with sunscreens is that they contain chemical particles small enough to enter the bloodstream. “Sunblocks like zinc have molecules that are too large to pass through the dermis; their reflecting action is like putting tinfoil on your skin,” says Terry Grossman, MD, author of Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Rodale, 2004).
The sun emits three types of ultraviolet (UV) rays, all of which have the potential to damage skin. UVA rays, the most prevalent, penetrate skin the deepest and can cause skin cancer and aging. UVB rays are the most potent and cause sunburn. The sun protection factor (SPF) listed on sunscreen products relates to UVB only. There is no currently regulated SPF for UVA rays. (SPF works on a factor of 30 minutes. For instance, if you typically burn in 30 minutes, an SPF of 15 will protect you for about 450 minutes.) The third type of rays are UVC, which are absorbed completely by the atmosphere—although thinning of the ozone is raising speculation that they may ultimately reach the planet. Most experts recommend a full-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Natural product manufacturers who make sunscreens face a difficult problem. Sunblocks are the only natural alternative, but both zinc and titanium are so thick that a lotion with these as the only ingredients would be too thick to be practical. Enter in sunscreens that include synthetic chemicals. The advantage of sunscreens sold under a “natural” label is that they use fewer chemicals and usually don’t contain artificial fragrances, petroleum products or, the worst offender, para-hydroxybenzoic acids (parabens)—which can mimic the hormone estrogen and have been linked to cancer. In an effort to be practical and effective yet as natural as possible, most natural product manufacturers use a cocktail approach, combining sunblocks for safer protection with sunscreen for easy application.
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