The Truth About Sun Protection


There is a great deal of misunderstanding about sunscreens. So many people believe that their sunscreen has to be a minimum of 50 and they feel very secure if they use a SPF of 100. What’s the truth? Do High SPF product only give a false sense of security?

What about a sunscreen with broad spectrum antioxidants, limited organic sunscreens with a primary concentration on UV-A blocking, but also inorganic sunscreen as the dominant component and an SPF 15 -18? That way one certainly does not give the user a false sense of security of a high SPF, but rather stresses the need for re-application every 90 to 120 minutes.

I remember when I went hiking with a friend in the mountains in northern Madagascar to see the impressive Tsingy de Bemahara. We joined some sophisticated French people who laughed when they saw us applying a product with only SPF 15 while they were applying the “best” sunscreens recommended for them by their dermatologist.

Well, we walked in the fierce Madagascan sun across the amazing karst fields of stingy which are sharp shards of limestone that are very tough on hiking shoes and ooccasionally had some respite under the shadow of great trees. We reapplied sunscreen periodically while the French guys laughed saying, “It wont help because it’s just too little protection”. Two days later they begged for my sunscreen because we were unburned while they were scarlet and sore. Naturally I would have given it to them but unfortunately we only had enough for ourselves.

They learned something that I already knew: an SPF of 15, if applied evenly and re-applied every 90 t 120 minutes, gives virtually as good protection as SPF100 – if it is applied every 90 to 120 minutes.

We had added protection because ,not only did our sunscreen have additional good UVA protection, but also contained a full brigade of antioxidants that gave us even greater and broader protection from sunlight. We were all also being irradiated by infra-red rays (IR) that heated our skins up and could have caused damage. Our skins were less damaged than the Frenchies because our sunscreen contained good doses of beta-carotene which specifically reduces IR damage.

Why do we have to reapply sunscreen every 90-120 minutes?

When you apply your sunscreen, first of all you have to be certain to apply it evenly and in a much greater quantity than most people understand. Expect to get a slightly whitish haze on the surface of your skin when using the best combination of organic and inorganic sunscreens. If you go to the beach wearing a swimming costume then you will need about two tablespoons of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas of your body. Obviously bigger people need more. You should apply the sunscreen about 30 minutes before going out into the sun. Soon after applying, it happens that causal contact with clothes, rubbing of hands etc will actually start rubbing off the sunscreen you applied. Sweating will also “wash off” the sunscreen.

When you go out into the sun, you have to understand that one molecule of sunscreen generally deals with only one UV ray and then becomes inactive. That’s the main reason why we need to reapply the sunscreen because even though you walked into the sun wearing an SPF of 100, by the 90 minute mark it has been reduced to about SPF 15 at most and very likely much less than that. You will learn why we want to keep as much of the active sunscreen on the surface as possible. If you go for a swim, then you will wash off a lot of the sunscreen quite easily even though it may claim that it is waterproof or water-resistant. About 10% of your organic sunscreen could be absorbed and so there is less sunscreen activity on the surface. Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide are not absorbed. BY now you should understand why you need to reapply your sunscreen but there is a bit of science in the next paragraph.

Research shows that three of the most popularly used sunscreens do not stay on the skin

Research work at Riverside in California on sunscreens has shown that three of the most popularly used sunscreens for UV-B in the USA and most of the world (octylmethoxycinnamate, octocrylene and oxybenzone) do not remain on the surface of the skin but are absorbed into the skin.

The story gets more frightening when you realise that when a sunscreen molecule like Methoxycinnamate etc encounter a UV ray, the molecule becomes a free radical.

If this were on the surface of the skin that would be unimportant. This recent research at Riverside pointed out that these molecules are absorbed and deep in the skin they become serious free radicals that make even more damage. So they have in fact saved us from a UV ray deeper in the skin but have become a serious free radical that will make more damage to the cells in the surrounding area.

One can reduce the chance of this happening by making sure that there are adequate sunscreens on the surface of the skin. Titanium dioxide has the great advantage that it remains on the surface and is not diminished significantly by sun-exposure and keeps its SPF value all the time that it remains on the skin. It does not get degraded and the only problem is that it can be rubbed or sweated off. If about 75% of the SPF value comes from titanium dioxide then the organic molecules that have been absorbed deeper into the skin are exposed to fewer UV rays and so fewer free radicals develop. Most high SPF products do not have Titanium dioxide and rather use the standard cocktail of sunscreens and as the SPF factors get used up, there is less and less protection for the significant number of molecules that penetrate into the skin where more and more free radicals are made as a result. I should remind you that UVA rays are only poorly absorbed by organic sunscreen and they easily penetrate into the skin and cause free radical havoc.

The advantage of anti-oxidants in sunscreen

Enter the advantage of anti-oxidants: they mop up as many of those incidental free radicals that occur as possible – depending on the concentration of antioxidants in your sunscreen. You can’t control that, you can only rely on the integrity of the manufacturer. We also have to understand that free radicals can be water-soluble, oil soluble or maybe one of the less common nitrogen based or protein derived free radicals.. We need at least water and oil soluble anti-oxidants in our sunscreen.

Water-based molecules might be things like vitamin C, certain vitamin B molecules and various tea extracts. Oil molecules soluble would be vitamin E, Vitamin A, vitamin D, beta-carotene etc. There are very many antioxidant molecules. Because no sunscreen can prevent 100% of the rays, free radicals will develop even with the highest sunscreen within a few minutes of exposure to the sun. The higher the sunscreen rating, the less likely that there is sufficient space in the formulation for good doses of antioxidants.

  • You can change the sun-protective properties of your skin significantly by what you eat.

  • Tomato soup or tomato sauce will enrich your skin with lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein as well as other antioxidants and protect your skin as well as your eyes. Orange-yellow tomotatoes may be easier to absorb according to some sources. Other red fruits are also beneficial against sun-burn.

  • If you add vitamin A rich foods, you will also increase your natural sun-proptection because vitamin A accumulates in the skin as retinyl palmitate, and that is a wonderful UVA and B sunscreen. Oral supplements of 40,000 i.u. per day have been shown to be a very powerful sunscreen and will reduce your chances for skin cancer.

  • Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables like berries, and purple sweet potatoes contain high levels of photo-protective molecules.
  • Spicy coloured ingredients like chillis contain lots of lycopene which works the same as for tomatoes.
    Broccoli and bright green vegetables contain lots of beta-carotene as well as anti-cancer agents and folic acid.

  • Oral Vitamin E and C by mouth will also increase your resistance to sunburn.

  • Drink a lot of green tea which has resuscitative effects on sun-damaged cells, rooibos tea would also be beneficial.

  • And while you are drinking your tea, have some Dark Chocolate which has been shown to be photo-protective.