Naturally... skin friendly sunscreen

Choosing the right sunscreen is essential in order to protect yourself from harmful rays

 

I was introduced to natural skincare when I was in my teens, hiking with family and friends in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains on a hot summer afternoon. While on an exposed stretch of trail, the family friend leading our little band of amateur mountaineers – a man who knows a thing or two about roughing it in rough places – asked if we had applied sunscreen. When I apathetically replied that I had not, he suggested I rub my hands on one of the nearby aspen trees to collect the white powder that coats their trunks and spread it over my skin. It was no SPF 50, but it was better than nothing.

I’m not suggesting we all start relying on tree trunks instead of supermarket shelves to find protection from the sun’s harmful rays, but I do recommend choosing a sunscreen that works to protect your skin in the same way.

But first things first: why cover up? While we can all do with 15 minutes in the sun for a daily dose of vitamin D, overdoing it is risky. Short-wavelength UVB rays penetrate the superficial layer of the skin and cause sunburn, while long-wavelength UVA rays go deeper and break down the collagen and elastin fibres in the skin – they give you a tan now and wrinkles later.

To ward off potential burning, wrinkling, sagging and even the development of skin cancer, you want a broad-spectrum sunscreen, and there are two basic types: chemical and mineral (or physical). Chemical sunscreens act as a filter by absorbing harmful rays, while mineral sunscreens act as a shield by reflecting them. Like the powder from the aspen tree, mineral sunscreens create a physical barrier on top of your skin.

Chemical sunscreens, which usually contain a combination of various active ingredients, are the most common. Some of these chemicals are believed to pose a low risk to human health, but others have been found to cause allergic reactions and even act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they mess with your hormones. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), oxybenzone is particularly concerning; the public health nonprofit recommends avoiding sunscreens with this ingredient and opting for mineral sunscreens instead.

Mineral sunscreens use either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or a combination of the two. Both provide coverage against UVB and UVA rays and are less likely to cause irritation or penetrate the skin. Zinc oxide is a particularly great UVA shield, and is the EWG’s first choice for sun protection.

They may be the safer option, but mineral sunscreens do pose a problem: the dreaded white cast. While formulations have improved, many mineral sunscreens still leave a chalky white tint on the skin. If you do end up pasty, try blending it with a tinted moisturiser, but not too much – you don’t want to dilute its sun-blocking goodness.

Organii offers mineral sunscreens in a range of SPFs, including a formulation specifically for the face, that won’t leave you looking even a little bit ghostly. For most people, regularly applying SPF 15 – which blocks about 92 per cent of UVB radiation – provides enough protection, but if you need maximum coverage, try Organii’s new SPF 50 Baby Solar Fluid Cream (€20.79).

My go-to sunscreen for years has been Jason’s Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30, available in Nourish for €16.75. With this stuff applied to my body and face, my skin has escaped afternoons hiking and swimming in midday sun without more than a slight sun-kissed glow.

The gentle, fragrance-free sunscreens from both these brands, which are available in select health food stores, contain both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and are packed with skin soothing agents. And both look much better on the skin than aspen.

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