May 23, 2022 | withSimplicity
GUIDE TO UV RAYS & MINERAL SUNSCREEN
The crisp, zing of the sun on your skin while sitting poolside with your favorite drink…nothing sounds more relaxing. For centuries, humans have been drawn to the warmth and light of the sun.
Without the sun, there literally wouldn’t be life. Plants wouldn’t be able to grow, animals wouldn’t be able to eat…and then where does that leave humans? (Maybe this is how the zombie apocalypse begins.)
While we could sit here for hours praising the sun, as a natural skincare brand, we do need to take a moment to talk about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays on our skin. Now, do make sure you get out in the sun at least a little bit each day. Certain amounts of UV are essential to the production of Vitamin D, which regulates calcium levels and our mood.
What are the 3 Types of Ultraviolet Rays?
The sun emits three different rays of ultraviolet light 24/7 into the Earth’s atmosphere:
- UVA - Longest light wave
- UVB - Shorter light wave
- UVC - Shortest light wave
UVC rays don’t make it all the way into the Earth’s atmosphere, so we really only need to worry about how UVA and UVB rays are affecting our skin.
How Do UVA Rays Affect the Skin?
In our opinion, UVA rays are the worst of the three because their effects aren’t immediately visible. They penetrate into the dermis (deepest layer of the skin) and have the longest lasting effects:
- Increased signs of aging
- Sun spots
- Increased risk of skin cancer
- Suppressed Immune System (inhibits antigens)
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Mutations to DNA that our cells may not be able to fight off
How Do UVB Rays Affect the Skin?
When you get a sunburn, it’s because of the UVB rays. Overall, UVB rays cause:
- Skin Cancer
Too much ultraviolet exposure is not good for your skin (if you haven’t already figured it out). It can actually lead to genetic mutations that cause skin cancer. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization list UV exposure as a proven human carcinogen.
Where & When are Ultraviolet Rays the Strongest?
The intensity of the sun’s ultraviolet rays depends on season, location, and time of day.
- Location: The further away you are from the equator, the less intense the rays will be; however, just because you’re hiking a mountain in Washington state doesn’t mean you won’t be affected. Higher elevations are prone to being exposed to more rays compared to lower elevations.
- Season: UVB rays are stronger in the months of spring and summer, but this doesn’t mean you should ditch the sunscreen in the remainder of the year. Snow and ice in the winter can reflect sun rays, increasing your UVB exposure. UVA rays are the same all year round, so make sure you incorporate sunscreen into your routine daily.
- Time of Day: Sun rays are strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Limit your sun exposure by taking a break under the umbrella or go inside for a quick nap.
Checkout our previous blog for a few of our tips for getting the sunlight you need without overexposing yourself to harmful rays.
What's the Difference Between Mineral & Chemical Sunscreen?
Even if you’re only out in the sun for a bit, it’s important to wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30. (If you’ll be inside most of the time working and only step outside for your commute or to grab lunch, SPF 15 is enough.) Also, darker skin tones still need to wear sunscreen. Burning may not be as visible, but know that UVA rays are still penetrating to the deepest layers of your skin.
SPF is the measure of the protection against UVB rays before your skin starts burning. So the higher the SPF, the more protection. However, SPF 30 does block out 98% of UVB rays, so you don’t need to go much higher than that. (SPF 50 also blocks 98% of UVB rays, SPF 100 blocks 99%)
With so many sunscreens on the market, how do you know which sunscreen to choose? There are two main types of sunscreen: Chemical Barrier and Physical Barrier.
What is Chemical Barrier Sunscreen?
Most sunscreens on the market are chemical-based mainly because of their aesthetic properties. Unlike their counterpart, mineral sunscreens, they rub in very easily and very rarely leave a white cast.
The chemicals in these sunscreen formulas absorb the ultraviolet rays that come into contact with the skin and prevent them from being absorbed. It sounds great and effective; however, there are two major downsides to chemical-based sunscreen formulas:
- They don’t last as long as mineral sunscreens. The little “chemical warriors” can only absorb a finite amount of ultraviolet light. At a certain point, they break down and become ineffective.
- Chemical sunscreens can cause a lot of allergic reactions in users. Many of the chemicals found in these formulas can be irritating to the skin and are endocrine disruptors (mess with your hormones). Not to mention, many formulas contain parabens and phthalates.
Oxybenzone, an endocrine-disruptor, is the worst of these ingredients. It absorbs into the skin relatively quickly after just one use and can be present in the body for weeks. Studies found it affected hormone levels in children and caused issues with pregnancy.
What is Physical Barrier Sunscreen?
We’re always asked , “What kind of sunscreen do you recommend?”, and we always share that we prefer physical barrier sunscreens. (They’re more commonly known as Mineral Sunscreens)
Unlike chemical-based formulas, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide create a barrier between your skin and the harmful UV rays and reflect them away from the skin. They make take longer to rub in and could potentially leave a white cast; however, you can rest assured that (1) nasty chemicals like oxybenzone aren’t being absorbed into your bloodstream, and (2) the SPF will last longer as they don’t break down as quickly as chemical sunscreen agents.
Pro Tip: Make sure the mineral sunscreen formula you’re selecting has non-nano Zinc Oxide /Titanium Dioxide particles. While a few particles will be absorbed into your skin, non-nano particles won’t. Our favorite resource to find safe products is the EWG.
How to Find a Safe, Toxin-Free Mineral Sunscreen
When looking for a good mineral sunscreen brand, look for these key features:
- Broad Spectrum (blocks UVA & UVB rays)
- Non-nano Zinc Oxide (look for this in your natural makeup products as well… they may also contain SPF!)
- Zinc Oxide formulas perform better than Titanium Dioxide
- Paraben & Phthalate-Free
- Water Resistance
- Clean Ingredient Lists