Sunshine is an essential part of our lives. It nurtures the growth of the plant kingdom at the bottom of our food chains, it warms us and our environment and it provides vitamin D, which is essential to our health and growth. But what we have all seen, and has become more prevalent in our awareness over the last few decades, is that too much of a good thing can be potentially harmful. Unhealthy sun exposure (too much, too intense, too long) can contribute to skin damage (wrinkles, sun spots) and of course skin cancer. So it goes without saying that sunscreen and sun protection products are a good idea – but how do you know that what you are putting on your skin is safe and healthy for you at the same time? So for the times when you can’t simply cover up with a hat and long sleeves, here are a few considerations when choosing a safe, effective natural sunscreen.
Check ingredients and do some research
If you are looking for a “natural” sunscreen, then you’re looking for medicinal and active ingredients that are typically minerals, rather than synthetic chemicals. The natural mineral terminology you are looking for in most natural products is zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. There are so many products out there that it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of research into which products have the safest biological ingredients. Check out the Environmental Working Group Sunscreen Guide, as a source for ranking the ingredient safety of both natural and synthetic sunscreen products.
Sensitive skin might do better with organic ingredients
A natural, or organic sunscreen, generally means that it contains mostly food-grade ingredients, although this does not mean that you should be eating it! Some of these ingredients include natural moisturizers and antimicrobials like coconut oil, jojoba, shea butter, aloe and essential oils. If your skin is sensitive to chemical irritants, the non-organic chemical ingredients in regular sunscreen might be irritating, particularly when adding heat and sun exposure into the mix. In contrast, some of the naturally skin supportive ingredients in some mineral-based sunscreen can actually help to moisturize and calm sensitive skin.
If you wash off, reapply
Zinc oxide- and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens work by forming a thin, physical barrier on top of your skin, keeping the sun’s UV rays out. And although some natural sunscreens may be water resistant, they do not fully absorb and so they can wash off more easily. Most natural sunscreens will not be truly waterproof, unlike synthetic sunscreens, which do come in many effective waterproof varieties. This means that if you go swimming or if you do sweat heavily from sports or the heat, you will probably need to reapply any mineral-based sunscreens, so take this into account when planning your activities and sun exposure for the day.
Stay sun protected, natural or not
If you have ever used natural, mineral-based sunscreen on your face or body, you may have noticed a white tinge or film left behind. This is because of how mineral-based sunscreens work – they physically create a layer on top of the skin to block out UV rays, whereas the ingredients in most regular or synthetic sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays. And even though it may look adorable on children and remind us of beach pictures from days gone by, in this day and age, not everyone wants a white film on their face (or body for that matter)! If you are considering skipping the sunscreen because of the look but you know you are in need of it, then this is a good time to consider a product – even (gasp) a non-natural one – that will go on clear. At the end of the day you do need to protect your skin from prolonged or intense sun exposure, and whether it is natural or not, make whatever choice you need to keep your skin young, healthy and damage free.
Dr. Courtney Campbell is a Naturopathic Physician and co-founder of Aurora Integrative Medical in Vancouver, Canada. Her professional passions including working with patients on their journeys towards weight loss, hormonal balance, digestive health and improved stress and anxiety.