Dermis Love: Understanding Sunscreen

After writing the last Dermis Love post I knew that I was going to have to get serious about UV protection.  With this in mind I started looking  at various sunscreen products.  As I started comparing different SPF levels and UVA vs UVB vs broad spectrum protection I quickly learned that this wasn’t going to be as easy as just picking up some sunscreen and heading outside.

What Is SPF

SPF stands for sun protection factor and it represents the amount of protection afforded by a sunscreen compared to using no sunscreen at all.  For example, if you would normally start to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, using a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 means you will start burning in approximately 300 minutes.  This does not mean you can just slather some SPF 30 on and go bake for 6 hours.   Kimberly Mallett, research associate in the Penn State Prevention Research Center recommends reapplying sunscreen  “every one to two hours when outdoors, especially if swimming or sweating a lot. Even if the sunscreen has a SPF of 100, claims to be sweat proof and waterproof, and provides all-day protection, it needs to be reapplied to provide optimal protection.”  Note that SPF is largely referring to protection from the effects of UVB radiation and the consequent damage from sunburn.  There is currently no good way to measure protection from the long term effects of UVA rays.

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreen works in two different ways.  Some sunscreens include ingredients that absorb the sun’s UV radiation while some contain ingredients that actually block UV rays.  The sunscreen’s that block UV rays are more effective at protecting against both UVA and UVB rays which is critical for short and long-term skin health.  With no measurement for protection from UVA rays provided on the label it is important to ensure your commercial sunscreen contains avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for sufficient broad spectrum protection.

Natural Protection

The best form of natural protection is to avoid being in the sun during the middle of the day and to stay covered up with a hat, some light weight pants and a shirt.  However, I realize that this is nearly impossible and for many folks, just plain undesirable.  That having been said there are some natural alternatives that can help to keep you safe while you’re having fun.

Red Raspberry Seed Oil – Red Raspberry seeds contain high levels of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids in addition to antioxidants and natural vitamin E.  This nutrient rich oil has an SPF of between 28 and 50.

Carrot Seed Oil – Carrot seed oil is an essential oil with significant antioxidant, antiseptic, antifungal and fragrant properties with high levels of vitamin A. This oil can be diluted into a carrier oil and provides natural sun protection.  Natural products containing carrot seed oil can have an SPF of up to 40 according to a study published in “Pharmacognosy Magazine” in 2009.

Wheatgerm Oil – As one of the best sources of natural vitamin E, wheatgerm is also a good source of vitamins K and B.  In addition to moisturizing the skin wheatgerm oil acts as an antioxidant, reducing free radical damage.  Sun protection products with wheatgerm can have an SPF of up to 20.

Other Oils – A variety of other natural oils contain varying amounts of SPF protection including soybean, macadamia nut, jojoba, olive and sesame oil.  While the SPF levels are fairly low they can be combined with the some of the other ingredients above to make home remedies that provide protection as effective  as some commercial sunscreens.

There is a wealth of information on natural sunscreen.  We encourage you to research and experiment with a variety of ingredients, making sure you err on the side of caution.

Using Sunscreen Properly

So now that you have read every sunscreen label on the shelf and have  picked out or made your own perfect sunscreen for you and your family it is critical to apply your sunscreen properly.  First, revisit the label and follow the instructions. These instructions should include the following basic points:

  • Apply at least 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun
  • Apply liberally (most individuals use less than half of the recommended amount of sunscreen)
  • Reapply every two to three hours, more often if you are sweating heavily or in the water

With the above information and recommendations in hand we hope you are able to make better informed decisions about sunscreen that will lead to better skin health for you and your family.

What’s Up Next: The Skin Deep database is a great resource for learning more about the products you use.  The next edition of Dermis Love will explore the ins and outs of this greats tool.

Disclaimer: Ok, so we are not doctors.  None of the statements have been vetted by the FDA or any other government or regulatory agency.  We strongly recommend that you discuss your skin health with your physician.

Wrap-up: Burnt Creative at Summer Solstice

Way back in June, Sara and I vended at Blackburg’s Summer Solstice festival through Burnt Creative.  The festival drew a huge crowd and we had a great time both representing Whispering Willow, and enjoying the sights and sounds around us.

Early in the show, we saw this and I literally had to run down the street to catch a photo….

Virginia Tech

…and yep, that scale is pretty close to right.  It was hot and he (she?) was on stilts and covered in metally-looking pieces. It was very hard not to continuously stare.  Apparently he/she is a regular fixture at the Virgina Tech games.

We were set up right across the street from Patina South.  Tracy and I have run into each other quite a bit over the festival season and it is always fun to chat.

Patina South

Another friendly face is Kiona from Lucky Accessories.  I see her at tons of shows and never seem to get a decent picture of her adorable jewelry.  This time?  Success!

Lucky Accessories

The High Fiber was also present.  She makes adorable tea towels and onesies.

High Fiber Arts

There was also a selection of vintage clothing..

Vintage Clothing

Plush owls (always a favorite of mine for some reason)

Plush Owls

And Merry Monsters!

Merry Monsters

How freaking adorable are they?!?

Merry Monsters

Not interested in shopping?  There was also Tarot Card Readings…

Tarot Card Reading

Face painting…

Face Painting

…and a Flea Circus (for real).

Flea Circus

Our favorite customer of the day by far was this fabulous little one:

Favorite Customer

Who took a minute to stop and shop.

Favorite Customer

Before Sara and I headed home, we had a chance to visit with Sara’s friend Colleen and her family.  Remember how Colleen was pregnant the last time we headed to Blacksburg?

Caroline & Family

Well, meet Carolyn.  Isn’t she something?



Dermis Love: Here Comes the Sun

If you pay attention to the health and wellness discussions in the media you may have noticed a general paranoia regarding the effects of the sun on the skin.  While I am generally skeptical of the ever changing trends on what is “healthy” the evidence seems overwhelming that sun exposure is very damaging for the skin.  On the flip side, there are discussions about an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency in the US due to a lack of sun exposure.  So what is going on here?  In my common sense mind it seems that we humans have been living under the sun for millenia so just how bad could it be?

Who doesn’t love a sunny day? But can too much of a good thing have long lasting and severe consequences?

UV Alphabet

There are numerous types of Ultraviolet (UV) rays but the two that we need to worry about are UVA and UVB.  UVB rays are responsible for the immediate skin damage that we see in the form of sunburn.  The UVA rays have longer term effects such as accelerated aging, immune suppression and various skin cancers.  It is important to remember that more UV rays make it through the atmosphere when the sun is higher in the sky meaning that we have much greater exposure in the hours between 10a-4p.  Finally, while UVB rays are seasonal, being much stronger in the summer than in the winter, the amount of UVA rays which hit the earth does not fluctuate nearly as much.  This means you need to think about your sun exposure and long term skin health all year.  Now that we have a basic understanding of the sun’s UV rays and how they interact with the earth and our skin lets look at the specific effects on us.

The Good

While most essential vitamins must be obtained though our diet, Vitamin D can actually be produced by our bodies when exposed to the suns UVB rays.  Depending on skin pigmentation, 30 minutes spent in the sun in a bathing suit will result in the body producing between 10,000 and 50,000 IU of vitamin D.  Lighter skinned individuals will be on the higher end of the scale as lighter skin is more effective at synthesizing the vitamin than skin with darker pigmentation.  Vitamin D enhances calcium and phosphorus absorption, controlling the flow of calcium into and out of bones to regulate bone-calcium metabolism, making vitamin d critical for bone formation and continued bone health.  It also assists with the regulating the immune system and recent research has indicated that it may be related to deterring cancer, minimizing the frequency and severity of asthma, minimizing the likelihood of multiple sclerosis, maintaining healthy brain activity and regulating body weight.

Another benefit of sun exposure is relief from SAD or seasonal affective disorder which is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout the year display depressive symptoms in certain seasons of the year.  Regular exposure to sunlight, also called light therapy, has been a reliable treatment for SAD in its classic winter-time form.

The Bad

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of limited sun exposure let’s look at the negative side effects of excessive exposure.  Most folks don’t realize that even a nice golden tan is actually the result of sun damage to the epidermis, which leads us to the first effect of sun exposure, accelerated aging.   The  cumulative effects of tans and burns result in accelerated aging in the form of early wrinkling and age spots or actinic keratoses.   Actinic keratoses is a rough scaly patch that develops on your skin due to prolonged sun exposure.  These spots are usually found on the face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp or neck.  These spots generally grow slowly over time but should be monitored as they are frequently considered precancerous.

An image of melanoma

The most adverse effects of prolonged sun exposure is skin cancer, which is the most prevalent cancer in the US.  95% of all skin cancers are either Basal cell or squamous cell cancers and are highly curable when treated early.  The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, is much more serious.  Melanoma is made up of cells called melanocytes, which are abnormal skin pigment cells.  If left untreated Melanoma can spread to other organs which is why it accounts for 75% of all skin cancer deaths.

A final effect of excessive sun exposure is the adverse affect it can have on the immune system.  While normal or slightly elevated sun exposure may adversely affect the skins ability to resist viral attacks excessive sun exposure has been associated with systemic (whole body) immunosuppression.

What Now?

So what is to be done?  How do we get sufficient Vitamin D while not looking twice our age and developing cancer?  Here are a few tips that should help.

  • Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 and apply it 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure.  Reapply every few hours.
  • Avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm when the UV exposure is most intense
  • Wear tightly woven clothing and a wide brimmed hat
  • Wear sunglasses that provide full UV protection
  • 80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18. Start these practices with your child at an early age.

The affects of sun exposure are much more severe for young children, even infants.

Up Next!  Now the I’ve decided I need to go invest in some sunscreen, how do I know what to choose?  In the next issue of Dermis Love, we delve into the complexities of sunscreen.  What is it?  What does SPF stand for?  Can it be achieved by natural means?

Disclaimer:Ok, so we are not doctors.  None of the statements have been vetted by the FDA or any other government or regulatory agency.  We strongly recommend that you discuss your skin health with your physician.


Medical News Today

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic