The weather is warming up and as a result, everyone is heading outside to enjoy the sunshine. The sun provides many benefits in the form of vitamin D and by increasing serotonin production which can give people that happy, feel good mood. Unfortunately, exposure to the sun can also cause damage to the skin in the form of sunburns and potentially skin cancer due to ultraviolet radiation. Depending on the time of day and the sensitivity of the skin type of an individual, sun damage can occur in under 20 minutes. Of course the best way to avoid getting skin damage of any kind is to avoid direct sunlight by staying in the shade, wearing long protective clothing, along with wearing a wide brim hat and sunglasses with UV protection for your eyes (1).

Since those solutions aren’t ideal for sun worshippers across the globe, it is best to be educated about the different sun care products on the market. Knowing what types of products to use and what you are protecting against can help ensure the right product is being utilized to get the highest level of protection.

Types of Ultraviolet RadiationAlthough the sun emits various types of rays, the rays most damaging to the skin are called ultraviolet (UV) rays (2). Ultraviolet radiation comes in three types, two of which could potentially affect the skin: UVA and UVB.

UVA.Almost 95% of the long wavelength ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth's surface is UVA. UVA is responsible for the tan that your skin acquires but is also responsible for skin damage such as aging and wrinkles. It can also promote the development of cancers of the skin.

UVB.Traveling at a medium wavelength is the UVB radiation that causes sunburns and delayed tanning results. It plays an even more significant role in skin cancer promotion and the aging of skin. Because of its medium wavelength, UVB can only affect the superficial layer of the skin, unlike the deeper penetrating UVA.

Sunscreen IngredientsJust as it is important to understand that what type of UV ray you are protecting against, it is also vital to understand what is in the sunscreen you are putting on yourself and your loved ones. “Sunscreens are intended to be used on a regular basis in liberal amounts and over large portions of the body’s surface whenever consumers are exposed to the sun,” explains the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA). “And yet some sunscreen active ingredients may be absorbed through the skin into the body, making it important to complete studies on humans to determine whether, and to what extent, consumers’ use of sunscreen products as directed may result in unintended, chronic, systemic exposure to these ingredients” (4). There are ingredients in conventional sunscreens that some people think are best to avoid.

Conventional Sunscreen IngredientsOxybenzone.This is a chemical that has been known to cause endocrine and hormone disruption. Since copious amounts of sunscreen are supposed to be applied directly to the skin, this chemical could be absorbed into the skin and accumulate in the bloodstream. Because of these disruptions, abnormal cells could potentially mutate into cancerous cells (5).

Retinol Palmitate.When used out of the sun and as an overnight product, retinol palmitate is relatively non-problematic. However, when exposed to sunlight retinol palmitate can generate free radicals which could speed up the process at which abnormal cells can develop (5).

AlternativesAlternative sunscreens include products containing zinc oxide as well as zinc’s contributing partner, titanium oxide. When alone, titanium oxide doesn’t offer much sun protection but when combined with zinc oxide it becomes a great source of protection. Zinc oxide absorbs UVA rays and is reflective of the sun's rays and does not clog the skin’s pores. It also doesn’t break down as quickly as conventional sunscreens (7). There are also a wide variety of organic and natural sunscreens on the market that omit chemicals causing concern, some of which will contain zinc oxide, shea butter and red raspberry seed oil.

Shea Butter.Though it isn’t strong enough to be used on its own, shea butter is a great additive to an existing sunscreen routine as it has properties that assist in sun and photo damage prevention. Add its ability to moisturize and the fact that it helps with anti-aging to the list of reasons to apply (6).

Red Raspberry Seed Oil.There are many oils that offer natural sun protection including avocado, coconut, jojoba and many others. Red Raspberry Seed oil alone is supposed to provide a SPF 30-50, but as stated in a recent WholeFoods Magazine article “the USDA has not signed off on these oils being used by themselves as a complete approach to protection against the sun or to the labeling of these SPFs on products.” (page 38, June 2016).

ApplicationSunscreens come in a variety of types from sprays, to lotions and creams. Some spray applicators have gained negative attention, especially when being applied to children. Inconsistency in coating from the spray mechanism, potential inhalation of the spray by children while applying and flammability have become causes of concern. Lotions and creams offer better coverage as they are thicker and therefore there is a better idea of how much is being applied, plus they can act as a skin moisturizer too. suggest that people “use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.”(7).

Protecting skin from sun damage is important from both a health and beauty perspective. Know what works best for your lifestyle before you head out to bask in the warmth.

  1. Skin Cancer,, accessed 4/17/17
  2. Sunscreen and Sun Protection,, accessed 4/17/17
  3. “What is the Difference Between UVA and UVB Rays?”, accessed 4/17/17
  4. UV Radiation, , accessed 4/17/17
  5. “FDA’s Sunscreen Guidance Outlines Safety and Effectiveness Data Recommended for Additional Active Ingredients,” , accessed 4/17/17
  6. “Safety Under the Sun,” , accessed 4/17/17
  7. “Nanoparticles in Sunscreens,”, accessed 4/24/17
  8. “Can Shea Butter Prevent Sun Damage,”, accessed 4/24/17
  9. UVA & UVB, , accessed 4/17/17
Published in WholeFoods Magazine June 2017