Sunscreen, health and the environment

Summer this year was absolutely beautiful. I get so much life running through my veins (wink wink Robbie) when I dig my toes in the sand, hear the sound of the sea and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. Nothing beats that. Well, except that I live in Switzerland, so let me paint another picture. Up in the mountains, on a 360° panoramic view of peaks, emerald lakes, green valleys with wild flowers, the sound of wind and occasional cow bells. And high above, the sun. There are so many health benefits for us to bask in the sunshine all year round, but in the same time the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can be harmful to our skin. There are two types of UV rays that reach us : - UVA (about 95% of the UV rays reaching the Earth's surface) have a longer wavelength that can penetrate the middle layer of our skin, they can cause skin cells to age and can cause some indirect damage to cells’ DNA. UVA rays are present all year round, at any time of the day, and can penetrate through glass (meaning we are exposed through windows). - UVB (about 5% of the UV rays reaching the Earth's surface) have a short wavelength that reaches the outer layer of our skin, and have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They can damage the DNA in skin cells directly, are the main rays that cause sunburns, and are thought to cause most skin cancers. But they are also the ones that trigger vitamin D production in our skin, an essential vitamin to our health.

So, how do we enjoy our days in the sun and stay healthy in the same time? As with most things in life, through balance. In order to get the daily dose of vitamin D, experts recommend to spend 10 to 15 minutes in the early morning sunlight, when the UV exposure may be less damaging to the skin. They also recommend that we seek shade on hot days between 10 am and 4 pm (when UV is most intense), protect our skin with clothing, wear sunglasses and wide brim hats. As for the rest of our time in the sunlight, when it's hot outside, it is recommended that we wear sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours, or whenever washed or wiped off. There's a variety of sunscreen available on the market. Which one do we choose? The SPF is a measure of the amount of protection we get from only the sun's UVB rays. In general, a sunscreen with: - SPF 2 blocks 50 percent of UVB rays - SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays A sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA is labeled: broad spectrum. UVA rays are always present, even on cloudy and winter days, therefore if you want your skin protected at all times, you should use sunscreen on the exposed skin (mostly the face) on those days too.

There are several filters allowed for use in sunscreen. - Two of them, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are worldwide classified as generally recognized as safe and effective for use in sunscreens at concentrations of up to 25 percent. - Aminobenzoic acid and trolamine salicylate would be classified as not safe for use in sunscreen as the risks posed by these ingredients outweigh their benefits. - As for the rest, there is limited or no data characterizing their absorption. Researchers found some of these ingredients to negatively affect our health, but in order to determine to what degree that is, further data need to be gathered and studies to be conducted. Active ingredients in sunscreens function as either chemical or mineral UV filters.

CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN penetrates the skin, where it absorbs UV rays and through a chemical reaction converts the rays into heat, releasing them from the body. Is starts being effective 20 to 30 minutes after it is applied on skin, and it is proved to offer excellent protection against UV rays. New studies conducted by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (an arm of the US FDA) in May 2019, show that active ingredients in chemical SUNSCREEN ENTERS BLOODSTREAM after just one day of use. Some of them are approved in Europe but not by the US FDA, and the toxicity of some of the ingredients has been more thoroughly researched than others. Avobenzone is an excellent UVA blocker, but it has been reported that it breaks down into hazardous chemical compounds when interacting with UV and chlorinated water. Also, it partially decomposes under UV, in about 30 minutes of sun exposure. Oxibenzone, Octinosate, Octocrylene and Padimate O have been found in breast milk. The most often flagged as potentially worrisome is Oxybenzone. It absorbes into the body at about 50 to 100 times higher concentration than the other active ingredients. Researchers found a potential link between Oxibenzone and lower testosterone levels in adolescent boys, hormone changes in men, shorter pregnancies and disrupted birth weights in babies. It is also the most common cause of contact allergies. It is said that Oxybenzone has a toxic effect on coral even at a concentration equivalent to one drop in 6.5 olympic-size swimming pools. Oxibenzone and octinoxate cause coral bleaching and are dangerous to marine ecosystems, resulting in some countries having them banned.

MINERAL SUNSCREEN simply sits on top of the skin where it forms a barrier between our skin and UV rays. It is effective as soon as applied on skin. Active ingredients are zinc oxide* and titanium dioxide, naturally occuring minerals, that are considered to be nonirritating, nonallergenic, and non-comedogenic. They work by absorbing UV energy, zinc oxide dissipates it then as heat, titanium dioxide releases it into excited electrons. Both zinc and titanium dioxide are broad spectrum (against both UVA and UVB), but zinc is more effective as it offers a far better protection against UVA than titanium dioxide. Also: - zinc oxide is the only active ingredient FDA approved for babies - zinc is a critical mineral nutrient - zinc oxide holds onto its electrons more tightly and therefore should generate fewer free radicals when exposed to the radiation of the sun. There are 2 forms of these minerals in sunscreen: 1. Nano particles. They are used in many sunscreens for aesthetic reason as they rub in more effectively, but also change the way the UVA and UVB radiation is screened out. The smaller the particle, unfortunately, the more likely it is that it may be absorbed into the skin, or ingested by marine animals, including corals. 2. Non-nano, micronized particles (smaller form of the minerals, but not as small as nano). They are also considered reef-safe, are not small enough to get through the cell walls and won't penetrate our skin. Due to that fact, when applied, our skin looks slightly bleached.

In conclusion, our choices are between chemical sunscreens that penetrate our skin, depending on formulation can be very effective against UVA and UVB and photostable, they are toxic to our environment, they trickle into our bloodstream where data shows it can negatively affect our health but we don't know yet to what extent; and mineral sunscreen classified as safe and effective against both UVA and UVB, nano that may be absorbed into our skin or affect marine ecosystems, or non-nano that are broad-spectrum, health-safe, reef-safe and spread white making our skin look bleached... gasp for air and breathe in now.

That being said, remember vitamin D, balance and that spending time in nature is proven to help relieve stress and anxiety, improve our mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Embrace Nature!

Warmly, Valentina

Note: * Filters (chemical and mineral) that are useful against the penetration of UVA1.