The market for sunscreens is worth approximately £240 million in the UK. We are constantly being told to slather on the lotions when out and about in the sun to limit our chances of getting skin related cancers and damaging our skin. It is common place now to wear a lighter sunblock in the winter too.
So, the technical part first…
Our skin contains melanin, a chemical which absorbs UV radiation from the sun. This process changes the thickness and colour of the skin over a period, which results in a tan. The danger occurs when skin is exposed suddenly to the sun having been ‘protected’ by a generous layer of sun cream. When the skin is eventually exposed it is ‘not ready’, and so will burn.
We need to become more aware of the difference between ‘sun safety’ and ‘sun screen’. We are still exposing ourselves in the wrong manner. Some opinions in the medical field now suggest that sunscreens are not as effective as was thought and may be doing more harm. Common ingredients such as Oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate are added to filter UV light. However, studies have shown these increase the risk of cancer by speeding up malignant cell growth. A better alternative might be to search out more natural options that contain zinc oxide.
The other danger arises in the number of a people who now lack the sunshine vitamin-Vitamin D. This is produced by the skin from direct exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is vital in strengthening the immune system and fighting off some cancers and depression. Figures in the number of young girls who now have rickets is growing as they lack so much Vitamin D. As a result, some experts are saying that ‘safe sunbathing’ is far more effective than long periods in the sun, even with the highest SPF. If you consider that many skin problems like melanoma and aging are caused by sun burn rather than exposure, one feels it reasonable to apply the ‘little and often’ concept.
There is another side to sunscreens which is only surfacing now. The picture doesn’t look great for long term usage, however. After doing my research, I also feel that our attitude to the sun needs to change drastically. We need to become familiar with ‘moderation’ in many areas of our lives, sun exposure being quite high on the list. As a nation, we understandably become very excited at the first rays of sunshine that bless our shores, however, we need to remember that relying wholly on sunscreens to protect the long hours we spend in the sun is just not as effective as we thought.
Coming soon: The best natural sunscreens for the whole family!