Beauty: Battle of the Bronze, by Kristen Ma

As someone with pigmented spots, I try to be very careful about sun exposure. It is unfortunate that I find the sun so addictive. I don’t think there is anything more comforting than being swathed in the sun’s rays and feeling its uplifting brightness halo my body—you can see why I have pigmentation. Now, I have to admit that when I lived in Australia I got some pretty bad burns, and a lot of it had to do with a misconception of sun protection.

I will begin by giving you a little SPF 101. SPF is the Sun Protection Factor which measures the duration of time your skin takes to burn. It’s not the filtration of UV rays; it’s not the concentration of ingredients; it is simply how much of a delay the product will offer before you get nice and crispy! So, if you burn in five minutes, with an SPF 10 you will burn in 50 minutes, and with an SPF 20, you will burn in 100 minutes. This is why it makes no sense to me when dermatologists tell their patients that they need an SPF 100 for everyday use. Most people are in the direct sun only to and from work for about 20 minutes a day.

What concerns me the most is that many sunscreens are formulated with UV absorbers that could be carcinogenic and mimic estrogen hormone in our bodies. The higher the SPF, the more of these chemical sun-screening agents there are in the product. This is why listing the claims of an SPF over 30 has been banned in some countries (like Australia) to deter the encouragement of high sun protection factors.

Should we then simply opt for avoiding skin cancer at the risk of other types of cancer with a side of possible endocrine disruption? Well, what is even more perplexing is the fact that most chemical sunscreen agents actually become inactive in an hour or two. So, if you apply your sun protection in the morning (or even more efficient, have a moisturizer with SPF in it), you aren’t protected anymore by the time you are on your way home.

So instead, I recommend using a mineral sunblock. Referring to a sun protection made from all-natural minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, these sunblocks provide a physical shield to the skin. Unlike chemical sunscreens which require about 20 minutes of wait time before sun exposure, natural blocks do their work as soon as you apply it. In addition, the active sun-blocking ingredients cannot deactivate, so you get an all-day protection. This, of course does not mean you put on a mineral block and can frolic all day in the sun. You still need to take breaks from the heat and let your skin cool down before the time according to the SPF you have chosen runs out. This is very important—you don’t want to be like me and fall asleep in the sun!

The downside to natural sunblocks is that they sometimes have a whitish, chalky appearance and feel. But, if you opt for a product using micronized minerals, you will find that this shouldn’t be the case as long as you don’t use too much. A personal trick is to apply my sunblock over a face oil. I find that the oiliness combats chalkiness, and the oil prevents the minerals adhering to dehydrated dead skin cells and making our skin look flaky.

You can also choose a mineral make-up foundation which will even out your skin tone while providing a built-in natural sunblock. This is my personal favorite way to keep my skin sheltered. Although chemical products can have a nice finish, I don’t really think the potential side effects are worth it.

Below is a list of popular chemical sunscreen agents to avoid as they are estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptors:

  • Octyl-Methoxycinnamate
  • Octyl-Dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA)
  • Benzophenone-3
  • Homosalate (HMS)
  • 4-Methyl-Benzylidene Camphor (4-MBC)

Kristen Ma is the co-owner of Pure + Simple Inc., a group of Holistic Spas with its own line of Natural Skincare and Mineral Make-up.  She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner who has studied in Canada, the United States and India.  She is also a Certified Esthetician with eight years of practical experience, having worked in Canada as well as Australia.  Most recently, Kristen has authored “Beauty: Pure + Simple” which was published by Mc Arthur and Company.  Kristen has written on the subject of Holistic Beauty for Vitality Magazine, Blink and Jasmine.  She is also a regular contributor to B Magazine, Tonic and Sweat Equity Magazine. She blogs regularly at Holistic Vanity.