Living on a sailboat and serving as First Mate of Seas Life means this redhead is out in the sun. A lot. That can be a wonderful thing, but it comes with a lot of risk.
Redheads have a mutation to the MC1R gene causing red hair and light skin (also a stronger immune system). But "pheomelanin, the pigment found in the skin of red- and blond-haired individuals, provides less protection against sun damage than eumelanin, the predominant pigment in people with dark hair and dark skin" according to research by the National Institute of Health (Yikes!)
Needless to say, sun protection becomes critically important for this full-time, sailboat-living redhead. I need sunscreen on from the moment I pour my morning coffee to the moment I'm slipping into bed. That is a lot of sunscreen! That is a lot for my skin! When the amount of sunscreen increased, and the amount of time I was wearing sunscreen increased, I started to worry about what I was putting on my skin. I dove into extensive research to find the right products that would protect my skin but also not pollute my skin with chemicals.
Here's what I've learned. Here's what to pay attention to. Here's what to know.
When you feel the sun warming your skin, you're experiencing two different waves: UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B). UVA is the long wave, and UVB is the short wave on the light spectrum. What does this mean?
UVA waves are 320-400 nanometers (nm, or billionths of a meter). UVB waves are 290 to 320 nm. UVA rays are more prevalent and because they're longer waves, they penetrate the skin deeper.
UVB waves are what cause redness and burning in our skin. They're in full force 10AM - 4PM.
So we need protection against UVA and UVB rays to stay safe from the sun! Enter Sunscreen!
Broad-spectrum sunscreen prevents UVA and UVB rays from harming your skin. But what chemicals are placed in our sunscreen to achieve this magic? (Read below). And are these chemicals the only way to prevent sun damage? (No).
When we're thinking of sunscreen chemicals, you want to understand how and why they are used and why they exist. The most popular sunscreens on the market contain chemicals because they make sunscreen convenient and also they look better. But that does not make them safe. What exactly are we talking about here?
The Federal Drug Administration has approved 17 active ingredients that reflect the sun rays back at the sun instead of allowing the rays into your skin (these ingredients are like reflective mirrors). These ingredients are split into two descriptions: chemical absorbers or physical filters. You get to choose which ones you'd like to put on your body.
Oxybenzone: Check the ingredients of your sunscreen for oxybenzone (or benzonephenone-3). This chemical is used because it goes on your skin colorless or clear; it rubs in conveniently fast and provides UV coverage. Sounds perfect, right? That's why this chemical is found in every commercial sunscreen (looking at you Aveeno, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, NO-AD). But oxybenzone's easy-absorb and clear convenience comes with a high price: It easily absorbs into your skin cells and hormones. This chemical disrupts your endocrine system, the system that pushes products and hormones directly into your blood. This chemical when placed on your skin (which, by the way, is rated 8 on the Environmental Working Group toxicity scale) is easily absorbed into your blood. (Note: EWG is an organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.) Oxybenzone is linked to early puberty in girls, male infertility and skin cancer. It is also found in nail polish, fragrances, hair spray, and cosmetics as a photostabilizer.
Octinoxate: This chemical usually goes hand-in-hand with oxybenzone. It's added for extra UVB protection and it does protect your skin from burning. But it's a man-made chemical and when it's absorbed by the body it travels to your urine, blood and breast milk. Also, when you jump in the water with these sunscreen, it doesn't go away. The chemicals fall into the water and drop to the bottom of the water, destroying the life beneath the water's surface.
Take-away here: I realized I didn't want to exchange my health just because I want clear sunscreen that rubs in quickly. I threw away all of my sunscreen that contained this chemical.
After researching chemical options, I noticed they were placed in our sunscreen because we like convenience and we're a vain population, we want to look good. These chemicals made sunscreen convenient, fast-absorbing and clear. But what we didn't know is that it causes early puberty, problems with having children, and major environmental damage.
I decided to research physical filters.
Remember the iconic lifeguard image? A cute guy with a bright white stripe of lotion across his nose? Those are physical filters. Where chemical absorbers take the sun and absorb the rays (soak it up like a sponge), physical filters reflect, scatter and block the sun rays.
But they do this by being white, which may not be attractive because you see it sitting on your skin.
The FDA has approved two physical filters: Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. These are naturally-occurring minerals in our world.
Titanium Dioxide: This has the distinct, white pigment. It reflects sun rays back up, and it doesn't degrade when exposed to the sun.
Zinc Oxide: Protects against UVA and UVB sun rays.
While you may not enjoy the white hue these minerals leave on your skin, they are natural minerals! And they do exactly the job you need them to do!
When you're using minerals, they have to be milled from solid particles to small, fine particles. This brings up nanoparticles.
A nanoparticles "is a small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties" (Ananya Mandal, MD). Imagine finding a mineral in nature. You have to crush it down in order to use it. But these fine particles of mineral still behave like the giant chunk you originally found.
You will find when using natural sunscreen there is NANO or NON-NANO Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide: they are talking about how fine they ground the mineral down. Some people worry that the finer the particle, the more likely it will be absorbed by the skin because finer particles can penetrate the skin's surface. Then you're right back to the concern of chemical absorbers.
But according to the EWG, these concerns are nothing to worry about. They're all ground into fine particles to work, but preliminary scientific research has shown no evidence that zinc or titanium can soak in below the dermal layer.
Your Power Here:
The power to decide what you buy and what you put on your skin is yours!
You can choose: Chemical absorbers (man-made, environmentally harmful, and slightly less effective) or physical filters (naturally-occurring, but come with the white hue).
You can choose: Nano or Non-nano particles (how fine the minerals are ground).
Where that leaves me:
After extensive research, I threw all of my sunscreen away and started again. Here's what I choose for my body: I choose physical filters because I want naturally-occurring minerals. I use dark-colored clothing, sunglasses and hats to also block sun rays.
Product Options: (My unsponsored, honest opinion of what I personally use for my FACE & for my BODY)
I use Mad Hippie products. They're all about chemical-free physical filters! And they throw in naturally photoprotective oils like red raspberry seed oil, avocado oil & carrot seed oil, plus vitamin C + Vitamin E + Ferulic acid which protects, naturally, against photoaging. Their sunscreen is free of nanoparticles, Parabens, PABA, Petroleum, Oxybenzone, Avobenzone & UV Chemical Absorbers. (Count me in!)
They also have a fantastic serum that protects pre-sun exposure and heals post-sun exposure.
For my body, I use Kabana. Chemical-free, Non-nano, Broad-spectrum. (Count me in!)
It is important to me to know what I'm putting on my body for hours and hours of days and months. I want my body to thrive, naturally!