"If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it"
When I was a kid I don’t think my parents knew what sunscreen was. They sunbathed while I built sandcastles for hours on the beach; I jumped off the dock at the lake all afternoon and ran through lawn sprinklers naked in the backyard. I won’t lie, I got sunburnt, a lot. And then along came sunscreen. My earliest memory of sunscreen was around Junior High age on family vacation in the Okanagan. We had to slather this cream on our face and all over our body before swimming. It stunk and it stung. It reeked like rancid baby powder, and God forbid you actually open your eyes after your face got wet because it would automatically drip right into your eyes. I hated it but I didn’t want to get sunburnt, and it seemed to help… a bit. Turns out that old skool sunscreen probably wasn't that good for us after all. As if the stink and the sting wasn’t our first clue that it was no good?!
Fast forward to the millennium and we enter an era of hyper- awareness of skin care, cosmetic dermatology, and anti-aging. It was at this time I started my earlier career as a pharmacist working in a pharmacy that specialized in dermatology and extemporaneous compounding—which basically means: we made a lot of lotions. We were told, and we told our patients that sun exposure caused wrinkles, premature age-spots, and cancer— therefor we need to wear sunscreen to prevent this. Dermatologists have known for years that our skin is our bodies largest organ and that it is not an impermeable barrier from the outside world. Our skin has the capacity to absorb substances into it’s matrix and into our bloodstream. Just like our gut has the capacity to absorb nutrients into our bodies- so does our skin! So just as we would never eat rancid or fowl smelling food we should consider what poisons we are slathering onto our skin.
Now here comes the controversial portion of my blog: some of those sunscreen lotions we religiously apply, sometimes on a daily basis, have chemical ingredients in them that are absorbed into the matrix of your skin. And once in your skin some of those chemicals do not remain inert or inactive The whole point of the sunscreen is to have the chemical absorb or reflect the sun rays so that it doesn’t damage the skin. Unfortunately it turns out that some of these chemicals undergo a photo-chemical transformation upon sun exposure which then triggers other cellular reactions and mutations in our skin. Some of these chemicals are transformed such that they get absorbed into our bloodstream, the main gateway to the rest of our body.
The American Environmental Working Group summarized the scientific evidence on the effects of nine common sunscreen chemicals found in sunscreens.
David Suzuki’s website outlines the “Dirty Dozen” toxic chemicals commonly found in skin care products here.
So what do we do? I love the water and the sun as much now, as I did when I was a kid. I’m fair skinned so I need to cover up; I wear a hat and long sleeves for sun protection. I moderate my time in the sun and the time of day so I’m less exposed. And I use sunscreens with ingredients I can pronounce and ingredients I can eat. Literally if my belly can’t digest it, I will not put it on my skin. One of my favourite commercially available sunblocks is by Raw Elements. Their Eco Tint Stick SPF30 is what I slather on my face for surfing and it lasts up to 2 hours in the water before I need to reapply. It comes in what looks like a mini deodorant stick, and even though it slides on thick, it’s tinted beige (almost skin colour), doesn't sting my eyes and smells good. I’ve also seen and tried a few locally crafted varieties in my surf travels such as Jungle Mama’s face stick in Costa Rica, and Hippo Sweat’s face paste from California. Both are fantastic surf sun blocks made with similar ingredients. I’ve even dabbled with making my own DIY sunblock (of which I’ve included a sample for my Mermaid Sup and Yoga retreat guests welcome package!). I followed this basic formula from Pronounce Sunscreen
My customized formula combines non-nano zinc, coconut oil, cocoa butter and powder, beeswax, apricot kernel oil, and vitamin e. Because it’s DIY it doesn't have an official SPF rating or a manufacturers guarantee (although my pharmacist compounding skills in levigation were employed to their capacity in making my first batch as homogenous as possible!) Keep the SPF strength variability in mind (from comparison and personal experience it’s about an SPF 20 to 30) and follow the usual rules of reapplying every 2 hours like all other sunscreen products. It smells delicious and it feels amazing on the skin. I like it and I hope you like it too!
"The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists. Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience" Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)