Choosing a sunscreen is complicated, which is why we've compiled these 9 essential sunscreen facts for keeping you safe in the sun.
Generally, we want an easy-to-use formula at a good price, but as we discover more about the safety of ingredients in sunscreen, along with an increase in allergies, prickly heat and the impact on marine life, it is no longer a case of picking up the best value product you see.
At Amaranth, we have done a lot of research to bring you this guide to the most up to date facts about sunscreen.
Before reading these essentail sunscreen facts, you should be aware that in general, there are two types of sunscreen, chemical based (the form of the majority of sunscreens on the market) and mineral based which contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Chemical based sunscreens absorb UV rays, but these chemicals have also been found to be absorbed into the bloodstream which has raised recent concerns. Mineral based products, in contrast, reflect the UV rays. Based on current knowledge, we recommend only the use of mineral based sunscreens. Read on to find out why.
1. Is your sunscreen safe?
In May 2019, the FDA in America published a study that gave evidence that some of the ingredients mostly commonly used in sunscreens, enter the bloodstream at levels that far exceed levels beyond which a government safety inspection is required. Of 16 sunscreen ingredients, only two were recognised by the FDA and safe and effective - these are the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Two other ingredients PABA and trolamine salicylate were deemed unsafe. For the remaining 12 ingredients, the FDA has proposed more testing before stating whether they are safe or unsafe.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has now updated its guide to sunscreens to reflect the most up to date information. You can read the full guide here.
In Europe, the position is quite different. In Europe, sunscreens are classed as a cosmetic and the EU have approved more sun protection ingredients than have been approved in the US. Supporters of this argue that the products available in Europe have better UVA protection, and that the formulas are easier to use and feel better on the skin. There is however still evidence that these ingredients enter the bloodstream so it will be interesting to see whether they are approved by the US or whether further safety questions are raised.
2. More about Oxybenzone
You may have seen the recent reports in the papers regarding safety concerns with oxybenzone. According to the EWG guide 2021, Oxybenzone is found in more than 30% of non-mineral sun creams (although I think this will now be less as manufactures are moving away from the ingredient). The EWG raise the concern that Oxybenzone is allergic, can be absorbed through the skin in large amounts, has been detected in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood and is a potential endocrine disruptor. Until more information is available, we would advise that you avoid using products containing oxybenzone.
3. Sunscreens may be damaging to marine lifeDo you ever wonder where all the sun cream you use goes when you swim in the sea? A percentage of it is washed off and goes into the oceans. As Charlotte Vøhtz, founder of Green People, says,
“It is estimated that 10,000 tons of UV filters are produced annually. On average about 25% of the sunscreen ingredients applied to skin are released in the water over the course of a 20 min submersion. Gender altering chemicals that mimic the effect of oestrogen are common in sunscreens and can have a dramatic effect on aquatic life, for example turning fish into hermaphrodites. Certain sunscreens promote viral infections in coral reefs, potentially playing an important role in coral bleaching in areas with low water renewal where many tourists visit”.
One study found that chemicals in sunscreen caused bleaching, deformities, DNA damage and death in coral. Oxybenzone was found to be particularly toxic to young corals. As a result of this, in 2018 Hawaii became the first state to ban sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate which are harmful to coral reefs. This ban was followed by Key West and other states are thought to be considering a ban.
4. The SPF rating does not offer protection against all sun damage.
SPF is a measure of the level of UVB protection. Put simply UVB rays are the ones that cause the skin to burn and have been associated with the rise in skin cancer cases. During the 1980s, however, more focus was put on UVA rays and it was discovered that these UVA rays are responsible for aging and damage to the skin. The advice from the European Cosmetics Association COLIPA is to choose a sun cream that is offers at least one third of the reported levels of UVB protection. Sun creams that comply to this and therefore offer a broad-spectrum protection, can be identified by the logo containing UVA in a circle. You can also look for the star rating, however, please be aware that this was established by Boots and Boots now offer this licence to other manufacturers for a nominal fee (i.e. they have to pay Boots if you want to display the star rating). Not all manufactures will choose to do this so our advice is to look for the UVA seal (as above) – this way you can be assured that the European standards are met without a commercial interest.
5. What does SPF actually mean?
SPF is only related to UVB rays, which are the type that cause sunburn. SPF is a guide to how much longer you could stay in the sun without burning than without sunscreen but there are factors to consider including how strong the suns rays are, skin type and how much cream you have applied.
For best protection, experts recommend using a minimum SPF 15 sunscreen, applying the proper amount and reapplying every 2 hours. The World Health Authority recommends 35ml for the total body – that’s around seven teaspoons: one for the face/head and neck, one for each arm and each leg, and one each for your front and your back. Using half the required amount of sunscreen only provides the square root of the SPF. So, a half application of an SPF 30 sunscreen only provides an effective SPF of 5.5!
When it comes to UVB, there is actually not much difference between SPF15 and SPF50 – at least a lot less difference than the SPF figure appears to represent. The key is re-applying regularly and applying enough product.
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
That said, you should also remember that UVB protection should be one third of the SPF, so the UVB protection of a factor 15 is 5 which is fairly low. My advice would be to choose a factor 30 for this reason.
Also be aware of the date of your sun cream, it will start to loose effectiveness after 12 months so maybe it’s a good time to clear out your cupboards and holiday bags. Storing at high temperatures may also reduce the useful life of the sun creams so ideally replace at the end of a sunny holiday.
6. The label ‘sensitive’ is not the same as ‘natural'
It is a sad fact that there are no regulations when it comes to marketing and labelling on cosmetics. Misleading claims are often made, and it can be impossible for us to understand the truth behind them. A sunscreen labelled as sensitive can still contain chemical ingredients. The only way to be assured of a natural sunscreen is to check the label and look up the ingredients for their source. A quicker way is to look for a certified product. Products showing the Soil Association or COSMOS organic or natural logo must meet the high standards set by these independent bodies. At Amaranth we have a selection of sunscreens that are certified organic and are also free from PABA, parabens and artificial colours and fragrances.
7. Some sunscreens may contribute to prickly heat and or dermatitis.
We can’t and won't, claim that our sunscreens can cure prickly heat. This is a medical condition that can only be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Our experience at Amaranth, however, is that we see a lot of customers reporting that their symptoms of prickly heat clear or reduce significantly, when they switch from a chemical to a natural cream. Prickly heat is caused by sweat glands in the skin becoming blocked. This stops the sweat from escaping the body and instead leads it to leak into nearby skin, causing redness and irritating rashes. Babies and children quite commonly suffer from prickly heat as their sweat glands are not properly developed yet and can produce sweat too quickly for their skin to cope with.
In addition to staying cool to reduce sweating, and staying hydrated, using a natural sunscreen may help. Chemical based waterproof sun creams can contain pore-clogging ingredients such as silicone which may contribute to blocked sweat glands. These ingredients are like wrapping your skin in cling film and they can aggravate your prickly heat, as they reduce the amount of sweat that can escape your skin. The resulting build-up of sweat inside the skin can then create prickly heat rash symptoms.
8. And what about animal testing?
The Ethical Consumer Magazine has provided a guide which includes a rating for animal testing in suncreams. Odylique, Badger, Green People, Neals Yard, Pure Nuff Stuff and Aesop all get the best rating whereas traditional chemical brands including Piz Buin, Boots, Superdrug, Garnier and Loreal all got the worst rating. There were several reasons for the rating which including the fact the parent company sell their products in China which exposures them to animal testing, or that suppliers of the raw ingredients for the products are associated with animal testing.
9.Are nanoparticles harmful?
Nanoparticles are tiny particles of matter that are often used in cosmetics and makeup as UV filters. Nanoparticles may enter the body through the skin or through inhalation. Research has shown that inhalation of nanoparticles may lead to DNA damage and lung inflammation. With regards to skin exposure, in the case of mineral sunscreen ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, many studies have shown that nano particles do not penetrate healthy skin and pose no human health risk from skin exposure.
The important thing to be aware of here, is to choose only cream or stick based formulas that are applied directly onto the skin. Nanoparticles from powders or sprays give a risk of inhalation and potentially harmful effects.
It is complicated. There is probably a lot that we have yet to discover on the impact of sun and sunscreens on our health and the environment. The recommendation from the Amaranth team is that you consider using a natural mineral based cream. We recommend and stock the certified organic range by Green People, along with UpCircleBeauty and We Love The Planet SPF 20. These non pore clogging, chemical and fragrance free creams offer UVA and UVB protection without an environmental impact.
These non pore clogging, chemical and fragrance free creams offer UVA and UVB protection without an environmental impact. Green People work with the Marine Conservation Society which is a charity dedicated to protect our seas, shores and wildlife read more here
We have sample sachets of suncreams so call in to pick one up so you can take them home to try.
Find us at 19 Bramhall Lane South, Bramhall SK7 1AL
0161 439 9856
References available on request
Do you understand your sunscreen? It is not easy to understand what you are putting on your skin. Hopefully our guide and facts will help you make an informed decision