The sun is a source of life, but the ultraviolet (UV) rays it emits can be harmful to our skin and the environment. UVA and UVB rays can both damage the skin and lead to skin ageing, sunburn and even skin cancer. Choosing the right sunscreen is therefore essential to protect our skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. But not all sunscreens are equal; there are different types of filters that offer different types of protection. Moreover, concerns have been raised about the possible endocrine-disrupting effects of some filters, as well as the impact of certain filters on coral reefs. In this comprehensive guide, we take a closer look at UVA, UVB, different types of sun filters and sustainability considerations.
The difference between UVA and UVB rays
To effectively choose the right sun protection, it is important to understand the difference between UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are present all year round, even on cloudy days. They are responsible for premature skin ageing, such as wrinkles and pigmentation, and can also contribute to the risk of skin cancer. UVB rays are stronger than UVA rays, but do not penetrate the skin as deeply. They are responsible for sunburn and can also lead to skin cancer. UVB rays are stronger during the summer months and at higher altitudes.
We also talk about UVB = Burning and UVA = Aging.
Types of UV filters
There are different types of UV filters used in cosmetic products to protect the skin from UV rays.
There are different types of UV filters:
Synthetic filters ( also called organic filters): These filters absorb UV rays and convert them into heat. This reduces the amount of UV rays reaching the skin, thus helping to protect the skin. The action of synthetic sun filters can be divided into two categories : UVA and UVB filters.
In the context of cosmetics, "synthetic" refers to ingredients made in the laboratory using chemical processes.
The use of synthetic ingredients has several advantages. They can be produced with a high degree of purity and consistency.Synthetic ingredients can also be modified to have specific properties, such as improved shelf life, texture or effectiveness, which provides flexibility to develop new and innovative products.
Examples of synthetic UVA filters are : Avobenzone,Tinosorb S and Uvinul A Plus.
Examples of synthetic UVB filters include Octocrylene, Homosalate and Cinoxate ( also known as Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate)
Physical filters (also called inorganic filters or mineral filters) : These filters reflect UV rays and prevent them from reaching the skin. The two most common physical filters are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They provide protection against both UVA and UVB.
Mineral UV filters can be coated or uncoated.
Some differences between coated and uncoated mineral UV filters:
Coated mineral UV filters have a thin coating on the surface. This coating can be added to reduce particle clumping or discolouration and promote even distribution in the cream.
Coated mineral UV filters tend to be more transparent than uncoated filters, meaning they leave less white haze on the skin after sunscreen application. Uncoated mineral UV filters can give more pronounced 'witting'.
Coated mineral UV filters also have a smoother texture than uncoated filters, which can contribute to better spreadability and easier application.
Nano mineral sun filters
The difference between nano and non-nano mineral sun filters lies in the size of the particles of the mineral UV filter used.
Nano mineral sun filters are made of very small particles, usually with a size smaller than 100 nanometres (a nanometre is one billionth of a metre). Due to their very small size, nano mineral sun filters are more transparent on the skin and leave less or no white haze after sunscreen application. However, nano mineral sun filters can also be associated with concerns about the potential absorption of the particles by the skin and possible health and environmental effects. The safety of nano mineral sun filters is currently still being investigated and there are regulations and guidelines for their use in cosmetics.
According to European cosmetics legislation, the use of nanomaterials must be indicated on the packaging with the word "nano" in the list of ingredients, in brackets after the ingredient in question. For example, "Titanium Dioxide (nano)" or "Zinc Oxide (nano)".
Concerns have been raised about the possible endocrine-disrupting effects of some UV filters. Certain substances are associated with possible hormone-like effects. These substances are also sometimes used in cosmetics. However, there is no convincing evidence that substances with weak hormone-like activity, especially in the low doses in which they are used in cosmetics, would affect the hormone processes in our body. Thus, they do not interfere with the hormone balance in the body.The current state of science in the field of hormone-like substances tells us that when used normally, cosmetics containing these substances do not pose a risk to our health. All ingredients used in cosmetics comply with European legislation and are subject to a strict safety assessment. This assessment routinely takes into account the effect of (use of) products by pregnant women and the unborn child.If an ingredient is suspected of posing a risk to our health, that ingredient is assessed by the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCS). If it is not safe, legislation bans its use.
The use of ingredients in cosmetic products is thus strictly regulated.
Filters that can affect coral reefs
Coral reefs are valuable ecosystems of great importance for ocean biodiversity. Unfortunately, studies have shown that some UV filters in sunscreen products can affect coral reefs. In particular, oxybenzone and octinoxate are known to harm coral reefs.These substances can damage coral DNA, stunt coral growth and contribute to coral reef bleaching.
In some parts of the world, such as Hawaii and certain parts of the Caribbean, these filters are already banned in sunscreen to protect coral reefs. So check the ingredients list of your sunscreen product to see if you are allowed to use them in your holiday destination.
Here are some examples of countries that have taken measures to restrict the use of these filters:
Palau, in the Pacific Ocean, is the first country in the world to ban the use of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in an effort to protect coral reefs. The ban has been in place since January 2020.
Hawaii, United States: Hawaii is first US state to ban the use of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect coral reefs. The ban has been in place since January 2021.
Key West, Florida, USA: A ban was also imposed here on sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect coral reefs. The ban has been in force since January 2021.
Bonaire: This island, part of the Caribbean Netherlands, announced in 2021 that it will ban the use of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate from 1 January 2023 to protect coral reefs.
It is important to note that laws and regulations related to UV filters and coral reefs may vary and there may be other countries and regions that have taken or will take similar measures in the future.
Sustainability aspects of UV filters
There are also sustainability issues associated with UV filters. Some UV filters can be persistent in the environment and accumulate in aquatic and soil organisms, with potentially harmful effects on the environment and biodiversity.
To make more sustainable choices when it comes to UV protection, there are alternatives that can be considered. For instance, more and more brands are offering sun protection with biodegradable or natural filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These filters are not harmful to coral reefs and are not considered hormone disruptors. They act as physical filters by reflecting and absorbing UV rays.
There are also brands that use sustainably produced and renewable raw materials, such as vegetable oils and extracts. This can help reduce the impact of UV filters on the environment and thus contribute to more sustainable sun protection.
Finally, it is important to be conscious about how we use sun protection. Try to stay in the shade as much as possible during the hottest hours of the day, wear protective clothing and use sunscreen as additional protection. That way, we can take care of our skin as well as the environment.
Part 6 :
How to use your sun protection correctly
Applying sunscreen correctly is essential to provide effective protection from the radiation. Here are some guidelines for proper use :
Choose the right SPF): Choose a product with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) suitable for your skin type and the conditions under which you are exposed to the sun. A higher SPF offers better protection, but it is still important to reapply regularly, regardless of the SPF. By the way, the SPF only says something about the degree of protection against UVB radiation. Check whether your product also protects against UVA radiation.
Apply enough: It is important to apply enough product. As a general guideline, it is recommended to apply about 2 milligrams of product per square centimetre of skin. Here are some estimates of how much sunscreen in teaspoons or tablespoons you might need:
- For the face: About 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml)
- For the arms: About 1 teaspoon (5 ml) per arm.
- For the legs: About 2 teaspoons (10 ml) per leg.
- For the torso: About 1 tablespoon (15 ml)
These are just estimates and the actual amount may vary depending on the size of the area you want to cover.It is important to apply sunscreen generously and evenly and reapply it regularly ( every 2 hours), especially after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.
Spread evenly: Apply the product evenly to all exposed areas of the skin. Don't forget the hard-to-reach areas, such as the back of the neck, ears, feet and the backs of your knees.
Repeat application: Repeat application every 2 hours, or after swimming, perspiring or drying off with a towel, even if the product is water-resistant. Water-resistant creams can help it stay on the skin longer, but they do not provide full protection after prolonged exposure to water.
Use other sun protection measures as well: Sun creams and lotions are an important part of sun protection, but it is not the only measure you should take. Wear protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective clothing, and seek shade during peak hours of solar radiation.
Check shelf life: Always check the expiry date of your sun protection products and throw away old products as they may have lost their effectiveness.
UV protection is very important to minimise the sun's harmful effects on our skin and reduce the risk of skin cancer. However, it is important to be aware of the differences between UVA and UVB rays and the possible harmful effects of some UV filters on the environment.
Choosing sunscreen products with broad spectrum protection, which offer both UVA and UVB protection and are coral reef-friendly, can be a more sustainable choice.
Pascaud UV protection products :