Every day we become more aware of the damage that sun exposure can cause to our skin, mainly premature aging and skin cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) light causes sunburn and solar damage by affecting cellular DNA. UVA rays (long wave) cause premature aging, while UVB rays (short wave) are responsible for sunburns. Both the U.S. Department of Health, the Ministry of Health, and the World Health Organization have identified UV rays as proven human carcinogens, so we should always avoid them whenever possible.

One thing we must be clear about is that the sun damages our skin, and there is no such thing as a "safe tan." A tan is a sign of damage to the DNA of our skin. Tanning is the result of a chemical reaction in our body when it tries, unsuccessfully, to protect itself from ultraviolet light. Brands that sell sunscreen creams using the term "safe tan" are, at best, deceptive.

Another thing we must understand is that, at worst, the damage is already done and irreparable. But at least don't make it worse! Most sun damage occurs in the first 20 years of life. Age spots or pigmentation that appear in adulthood are the result of those teenage vacations, not just last year's tan.

PHYSICAL SUN PROTECTION VS. CHEMICAL SUN PROTECTION

We have talked on other occasions about the difference between physical and chemical filters. Generally, it is said that physical sunscreens (which many natural cosmetic brands sell as "organic" or "natural") reflect ultraviolet light, while chemical sunscreens absorb it. However, the truth is more complex.

Physical or mineral sunscreen, contrary to popular belief, is not 'natural,' 'organic,' or 'chemical.' Scientifically, physical or mineral sunscreens are classified as "inorganic," with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide being the most common. On the other hand, "chemical" SPF is "organic." What irony! Chemical filters are organic compounds, and physical ones are inorganic.

For all these reasons, we prefer to talk about mineral sunscreens and organic or chemical sunscreens (although the latter have nothing to do with organic cosmetics, quite the opposite!). Mineral protectors create a "screen" that reflects light, while chemicals absorb light and transform it into heat (converting ultraviolet radiation into infrared).

Zinc and titanium dioxide, the most commonly used compounds in physical/mineral protections, are not biodegradable and sometimes employ nanotechnology, which is questioned by cancer research organizations due to its possible links to cancer in humans. Therefore, if you are looking for a "natural" sunscreen, your best option would be these 'non-nano' mineral oxides, that is, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide without nanoparticles. The disadvantage of these non-nano mineral filters is that they leave an unaesthetic white film on the skin when they reflect light.

GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES ON SUN PROTECTION

FDA standards differ from those in Europe and Australasia. In the U.S., SPF labeling is a requirement because the FDA considers sunscreens as drugs. In Europe, sunscreens are classified as cosmetics, so indicating SPF classification is not mandatory, it's only informative.

Furthermore, European manufacturers can use seven tested UVA filters, while the FDA in the U.S. only allows three, meaning that technically, a European product could be more effective than one manufactured in the United States.

On the other hand, SPF is only relevant to UVB light. Previously, the PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) was used to measure UVA light, but now it is considered obsolete. The PA++ system, developed in East Asia, is another method used.

To talk about broad-spectrum sun protection (UVA and UVB), in vitro tests of critical wavelength should be performed to measure the absorbance of ultraviolet light in the skin. A critical wavelength of 370 nm is recommended to look for in a sunscreen. However, few brands bother to label that information.

SPF30 or SPF50? WHICH SPF SHOULD I CHOOSE?

When traveling outside the EU (where SPFs higher than 50 are prohibited), you have probably encountered products with very high protection factors such as SPF 90+ or 100+. But, is an SPF 100+ or SPF 90+ really much better than one with SPF 30?

The SPF rating measures the time it would take for you to burn without sunscreen compared to the time it would take with sunscreen. Because it's a numerical scale, it's easy to think that SPF 30 is twice as good as SPF 15, but that's not the case.

In reality, it's more important to reapply the product every two hours than the SPF itself. An SPF 15 product blocks about 93% of UVB rays, an SPF 30 product blocks about 97% of UVB rays, and an SPF 50 product blocks approximately 98% of rays. The difference doesn't seem like much!

That is, the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is only about 1% more protection. To go from the 98% offered by SPF 50 to 99%, you would have to use SPF 100, which would involve twice as many sun filters to achieve only 1% more protection.

SUN PROTECTION FACTOR (SPF)

The Sun Protection Factor or SPF represents a time factor that delays the appearance of sunburn or erythema under standardized conditions. For example, if redness occurs due to UV radiation after 5 minutes of exposure without protection, with an SPF 10 sunscreen, this redness will not appear until after 50 minutes, under the same exposure conditions.

Choosing the right factor will depend on the sun exposure conditions, such as the time of day, the location (where beach sand reflects rays more intensely, and snow even more), and the time of year.

Therefore, it is crucial to look for a factor that allows us to be protected for at least 120 minutes without burning, as it is recommended to reapply the product every 2 hours.

Theoretically, with an SPF 50, if you have to renew it every 2 hours (120 minutes) because the product is disappearing or losing effectiveness, you could be exposed to a UV source that would burn you in less than three minutes without protection. However, it is uncommon for normal skin to burn in just 3 minutes, even in the snow.

Regardless of the product chosen, experts recommend using a water-resistant sunscreen and applying it generously (half an hour before exposure in the case of organic filters, while minerals act immediately). Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours or after swimming, drying off, or sweating.

In general, an SPF 30 is recommended, and in case of intense sun exposure, an SPF 50.

WHY ARE THERE NO SPFS HIGHER THAN 50 IN SPAIN?

In Spain and across the European Union, SPF ratings higher than 50 aren't permitted, and terms like "total screen" aren't allowed either. There are several reasons for this.

One reason, as mentioned earlier, is that with SPF 50, if you have to reapply every 2 hours due to the product's effectiveness diminishing, theoretically, you could expose yourself to UV radiation that would burn you in less than three minutes without sunscreen. However, it's uncommon for normal skin to burn in such a short time, even in snow.

Another reason for limiting SPF is to avoid a false sense of complete protection. A higher SPF doesn't mean total protection against UV rays. Proper and regular application of sunscreen is essential for effective protection against sun damage.

These regulations aim to promote responsible sunscreen use and educate the public about the importance of proper application and regular reapplication, rather than solely relying on SPF numbers to determine the level of protection.

UVA AND UVB

The distinction between UVA and UVB rays is often misunderstood by many people when seeking sun protection, as they tend to focus solely on high SPF, believing it will offer greater protection.

It's important to understand that SPF only indicates the level of protection against UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer. However, to ensure complete protection, we must also protect ourselves from UVA rays.

UVA rays, although they don't cause sunburns, are equally harmful as they can cause photoaging by damaging elastin fibers in the skin. Additionally, they are one of the causes of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. That's why it's crucial to look for a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, meaning it protects against both UVB and UVA rays.

When choosing sunscreen, make sure the label indicates "broad spectrum" and look for the symbol of a circle with the letters "UVA" inside. This will ensure you're protected against both types of solar rays and reduce the risk of long-term sun damage. Remember, tanning caused by UVA rays is simply the skin's defense response to exposure to these harmful rays.

SUNSCREEN: CREAM OR SPRAY?

Recently, spray sunscreens have emerged in the market. However, we don't recommend them. The reason is quite clear: most of these products contain chemical filters, and their spray application poses a risk of inhaling these substances.

The chemical filters in these sunscreens can be harmful if inhaled, especially if done regularly. Although studies on the long-term effects of inhaling these filters are limited, it's prudent to take precautions, especially concerning respiratory health.

Therefore, if you're looking for sunscreen, we suggest opting for traditional cream or lotion versions. These options are equally effective and don't pose the same risk of inhaling chemical products.

HAIR SUN PROTECTION

Hair protection is primarily an aesthetic concern rather than a health issue. This is because hair, unlike the scalp, is composed of dead cells that form keratin, so the sun can only affect its appearance.

Exposure to the sun can cause loss of lipids and hydration in the hair, resulting in increased porosity and the appearance of split ends. To protect your hair from these damages, it's advisable to wear a hat or other accessories that block direct sunlight.

Additionally, good nutrition plays a crucial role in hair health. Incorporating natural oils and using nourishing masks can help maintain hydration and vitality in the hair, thus protecting it from the adverse effects of the sun and other environmental factors. In summary, taking care of your hair with appropriate products and protecting it from the sun with preventive measures can contribute to keeping it healthy and looking radiant.

SUN PROTECTION FOR CHILDREN

Protecting children from the sun is essential for their health and well-being. Here are some key tips:

  • Cover them up and keep them away from direct sunlight as much as possible, especially during peak sunlight hours, which are typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Apply sunscreen to children every 90 minutes or more frequently if they get wet, even if the product is water-resistant. It's important to choose a sunscreen specifically formulated for children and follow the application instructions.
  • Pay attention to often overlooked areas such as the back of the neck and ears. These areas are vulnerable to sun exposure and can suffer damage if not adequately protected.
  • If you have children with short hair, make sure to apply sunscreen to the tops of their ears and exposed scalp. Many people experience significant sun damage in these areas due to lack of protection.
  • When choosing sunscreen for your children, consider concerns about nanotechnology and opt for products that use chemical sunscreen filters that are safe for their skin. However, it's always advisable to consult a healthcare professional before applying any products to children's skin. Remember that protecting children from the sun from an early age can help prevent long-term sun damage and reduce the risk of health problems related to excessive sun exposure.

APPLICATION OF SUNSCREEN

To make the most of your sunscreen, it's important to use it correctly. Here are some tips for using sunscreen effectively:

  • Choose the right SPF: Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher if you plan to spend long periods of time in the sun.
  • Apply enough: It's important to apply enough sunscreen to achieve full coverage. Make sure to apply it to all exposed areas, including the face, neck, ears, and hands.
  • Reapply regularly: Sunscreen can wear off over time, especially if you're swimming or sweating. Reapply every two hours, or more often if you're in the water.
  • Use it every day: UV rays can cause damage even on cloudy days, so it's important to use sunscreen every day, even in winter.
  • Choose the right type: If you have sensitive skin, a physical sunscreen may be a better option. If you prefer a lightweight, easy-to-apply formula, a chemical sunscreen may be your choice.
  • Consult a specialist: If you're unsure about which type of sunscreen is best for your skin or if you have any specific concerns related to sun exposure, don't hesitate to consult a dermatologist. They can offer personalized recommendations and additional advice for effectively protecting your skin.

In conclusion, sunscreen is an essential part of protecting the skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun. By choosing the right type of sunscreen and using it correctly, you can help prevent sun damage, premature aging, and even skin cancer. So the next time you go out in the sun, don't forget to apply sunscreen and enjoy the outdoors safely.

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