Get some SPF! Stay protected this summer with the best natural sunscreens
The forecasted heatwave has finally hit the UK and with London predicted to experience highs of 34 degrees later today, we all need to take steps to keep cool and protect our skin from the sun's rays. Sunscreen is vital - not only does it protect you from harmful UV rays, it also prevents sunburn, which could lead to skin cancer. But not all sunscreens are created equal. We tell you which ingredients you should be avoiding, what to look for when choosing a sunscreen and which natural sunscreens are our favourites. Now get out there and enjoy the sun!
Physical or chemical?
You might not realise it but there are actually two different categories of sun protection - physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
Also known as sunblock, this contains natural minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It physically blocks and reflects a broad spectrum of UVA and UVB rays. But it can leave a white sheen on the skin and is often thick and messy to apply, unless you spend a bit more on high-end products.
This contains synthetic ingredients such as octinoxate and oxybenzone. These chemicals are absorbed by the skin and they filter and absorb UV rays, protecting deeper skin layers. Because this type of sunscreen is absorbed by the skin, it can cause irritation or allergic reactions, particularly for those with sensitive skin. The ingredients may generate free radicals when exposed to the sun, which could damage cells and lead to premature ageing.
Ingredients to avoid
There are plenty of chemical ingredients which can be harmful for your skin - they say if you wouldn't put it in your body, you shouldn't put it on your body. We certainly wouldn't want to eat any of these chemicals, and we recommend you try to avoid sun protection containing these ingredients wherever possible.
A common sunscreen ingredient, octinoxate is absorbed by the skin. It doesn't commonly cause allergic reactions, but it could disrupt the body's oestrogen levels and it can be harmful to both humans and wildlife if the chemical gets into the water. Potentially even more scary is that octinoxate produces free radicals which could damage cells and lead to premature ageing of your skin - not what you want when you are aiming to protect your skin from the sun!
A penetration-enhancing ingredient which helps other chemicals to be absorbed by the skin, oxybenzone can lead to an eczema-like reaction after absorption. This can last long after you're out of the sun and could cause holiday misery for anyone with sensitive skin - it can also disrupt hormone levels, affecting the endocrine system.
Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate)
Retinyl Palmitate is an antioxidant which is included in some sunscreen to improve defence against the ageing effects of UV rays - sounds great so far, right? Wrong. This combo of retinol (vitamin A) and palmitic acid (found in plants such as coconut and palm), can produce free radicals when it's exposed to UV rays. These free radicals could damage your DNA and could even lead to the development of some cancers.
Responsible for absorbing UV rays and helping sunscreen to penetrate the skin, homosalate accumulates in the body after absorption and can become toxic, disrupting your hormones.
For a while now, we've been aware that parabens in skincare and cosmetic products are bad news - and many manufacturers are working to remove parabens from their formulations. Butyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and methylparaben can all cause hormone disruption and allergic reactions as well as affecting the reproductive system.
When exposed to UV rays, octocrylene absorbs these rays and produces radicals which can damage the body's cells and even lead to mutation. It often accumulates in the body faster than we can get rid of it and can be toxic to the environment.
How to choose a natural sunscreen
It's all very well us telling you what to avoid when choosing a sunscreen, but how do you select the right sunscreen for your skin and ensure you're choosing one which won't cause irritation or allergies? Here are a few tips to help you when shopping for sunscreen this summer!
- Look for mineral sunblocks which contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide
- Avoid the list of ingredients above and those ending in -ate, -ene or -one wherever possible
- Avoid sun cream which contains synthetic fragrances, which could cause allergic reactions
- Always use SPF30 or higher - don't be tempted by low SPF tanning oils which promise a deep, healthy glow. Your skin will become sun damaged, leading to premature ageing and increasing your risk of skin cancer
Summer sun protection rules
Most of us don't apply enough sunscreen which means we're not getting the protection promised on the bottle. Here are a few tips to ensure you're using your sunscreen correctly:
- Use a generous amount - most adults should apply just over half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm and the face and neck (including your ears) and around one teaspoon to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body. A full body application should use around 35ml of sunscreen - don't skimp thinking you are saving cash.
- Make sure you check and adhere to the 'use by' date on your sunscreen as if it's out of date, it won't provide the protection you need
- Apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside and make sure to reapply every two hours - more if you are going to be swimming or doing watersports
- Don't rely solely on sunscreen to protect you from the sun's rays. A broad-brimmed hat to protect your face, head, neck and ears is a great idea, and sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun. Always take a cover-up for shoulders and legs, in case the sun's rays are intense
- Try to avoid baking in the hottest part of the day - between 12 and 2pm - as this is when the sun's rays are at their most intense. Seek some shade or use a parasol if you're on the beach. Even if you're on a boat trip or sight-seeing, you can still be burned, so cover those shoulders!
Our recommended top 5 natural sunscreens
When it comes to sunscreen, there are some which are just better for fair or sensitive skin. Even if you don't fall into either of these categories, these sunscreens contain no added nasty chemicals and are made with natural ingredients that promise healthier skin - check them out and do let us know which ones are your favourites!
#1. Avene Eau Thermale Very High Protection Emulsion SPF50
Designed for very fair, light and hypersensitive skin, Avene products all contain Avene Thermal Spring Water, and this sunscreen is great as it also contains oil-regulating Pepo extract, for matte skin. Paraben-free, you can pick this up from Boots for £16 for 50ml.
#2. La Roche Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Fluid SPF 50+
We love the whole La Roche Posay sunscreen line but this ultra light fluid is a winner! Providing very high protection for normal to combination skin, it can be used on the face and body thanks to its non-sticky formula. It's also available in a tinted formula if you fancy adding a healthy glow to your skin. With thermal spring water, it contains no parabens or perfume, and it's 100% hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, so it won't block your pores in hot weather, making it ideal for summer workouts. Pick it up for £16.50 for 500ml.
#3. Jason Sunbrella Family Natural Sunblock SPF 45
Although it contains small amounts of octocrylene and homosalate, this is still a more natural choice than most sunscreens on the market. It's non-greasy and contains no SLS or parabens. Available at Holland and Barrett for £11.99.
#4. Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Unscented SPF 45 Sunscreen
Also available in SPF 30, this natural sunscreen is ideal if you suffer from sensitive skin or breakouts. Offering broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection, it's water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, so you can get involved in watersports or enjoy a swim on holiday before reapplying! With a zinc oxide base and natural ingredients such as Moringa oil and Green Tea extract, it's also pretty good value for money, costing £12.98 for 118ml, from the Aubrey Organics website.
#5. Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 30 Spray for Kids
Not just for kids, this convenient spray is great for adults, particularly if you're enjoying an outdoor workout or just want something you can apply quickly and easily, with no mess or fuss. It's non-sticky, water resistant and contains organic aloe to soothe sensitive skin. Available on the Aubrey Organics website for £12.98 for 177ml.
Soaking up the sun during the heatwave is great for your mood and your vitamin D levels, whether you're walking to work, doing an outdoor workout or meeting friends for drinks. We hope you enjoy the sun, just remember to sort your SPF before you leave the house!