Sun protection is really is the absolute best “anti-ageing” remedy there is. Although the effects are not immediately apparent, a steady stringent sun protection routine will help stave off fine lines, wrinkles, freckles and sun spots.  Even more important, sun protection is the best way to lower the risk of skin cancer, which has become the most common form of cancer. With climate change, summer weather is becoming more and more extreme. Given that skin cancer is on the rise, especially in those under 35, there’s just no reason to not wear sunscreen anymore.

We are very lucky to live in a time where we have the most advanced sun protection skin care products ever available. There are a dizzying variety of formulations available, everything from balm sticks, to silicone-based dry-touch lotions, to dry mist sprays. If you have never worn sunscreen before, it is never too late to start: wearing it gives your skin the chance to repair recent damage.

When it comes to sunscreens, there are two types of active ingredients in topical sunscreens: (1) synthetic sunscreen chemicals, and (2) physical blockers. Synthetic sunscreens are man-made chemicals that have the ability to absorb and disperse the energy of UV radiation, whereas physical blockers are minerals that block UV radiation from reaching the skin.

Despite overwhelming evidence that synthetic sunscreens provide safe, effective protection against sun damage, many people remain wary of them and turn towards ‘natural’ sunscreen products, which contain only minerals, namely, zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are very difficult to formulate into a cream base, and formulators usually have to use a high oil content in order to disperse the minerals, making mineral-only sunscreens very heavy and greasy-feeling on the skin. In addition, the formulator has to be careful to use adequate amounts of mineral oxide while ensuring the mineral is evenly dispersed. A good example is Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, which ran into trouble when consumers complained that their SPF 30 sunscreen did not provide adequate protection. As it turns out, the sunscreen was reformulated to make it less greasy but at the same time, the zinc oxide content was lowered.

You may also see “all natural” sunblock creams for sale at craft shows and farmer’s markets, but be careful: chances are the maker has not had it tested by an independent laboratory to certify the SPF rating, going only by what they have read on the internet. SPF testing is expensive and not within the budget of many independent crafters. Unfortunately, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have a tendency to form clumps when trying to disperse into a cream or lotion. These clumps result in patchy, uneven coverage, thus defeating the purpose of the sunblock cream.

Along with handmade sunblock creams containing mineral oxides, another natural-based trend is the use of coconut oil, and other vegetable oils, as a sunscreen on its own. This is a myth. Coconut oil provides only minimal sun protection as it does not contain chemicals that have the ability to adequately absorb and disperse the energy of UV radiation. It is estimated that coconut oil can only screen out about 20% of incoming UV radiation, and it does not provide broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. In comparison, a broad spectrum SPF 30 protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and screens out 97% of incoming UV radiation.

The moral of the story is: save your skin and your money, go to the drugstore and buy a sunscreen from an established manufacturer! As to which sunscreen is the best, the best sunscreen is the one that is going to be worn! A sunscreen is no use if it feels sticky or greasy, if it has an annoying scent, or takes forever to apply and absorb. Chances are, it is never going to be used. Go to a retailer and try all the testers to see which formulation is most preferred.

Dermatologists recommend wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen with minimum SPF 30. Always remember that no matter what the value of the SPF is or the type of formulation, sunscreens wear off, and have to be reapplied every 2-3 hours, more often if sweating or going into the water. Formulations containing synthetic sunscreen compounds should be applied about 30 minutes before going into the sun; formulations containing only minerals provide immediate protection.

No matter if you wear sunscreen or not, always practice safe sun:

  • Wear sun protective clothing made of tightly woven, opaque fabrics such as poplin, canvas. In addition, UPF-rated clothing is becoming more readily available.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that keeps the sun off your face, ears and neck. Baseball caps and visors are not adequate! UPF-rated parasols are also a good option.
  • Seek the shade and avoid the sun between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV radiation.
  • Never rely on sunscreen products as your sole protection! Most people never put on enough and invariably miss patches of skin.

Take it from the Aussies, who are the world’s experts on safe sun: