Holistic make-up artist and nutritional therapist Sjaniël Turrell shares her favourite natural sunscreens, creams and blocks to help protect your skin from the sun as naturally as possible.
Summer is coming (a collective “YAY!”), or at least let’s bask in that sunny idea until the next cold snap. This means we will have sun on our faces at some point in the not too distant (we hope) future. So our thoughts turn to sunscreens and SPF and protecting our precious skin from rays and damage. BUT here is where I am going to put on my Nutritional Therapist hat and say a little about how important getting some sun on your skin is for your health and wellbeing. The ins and outs of the sun’s benefits and possible damage to us can become a very controversial topic, I hope to demystify that a little as I believe we should take a very balanced and logical approach when it comes to sun exposure.
The sun essentially charges our bodies with energy like a battery. We understand the basic principle as providing us with Vitamin D, but what we actually get from the sun is way more complex than simply substituting the sun’s rays with a Vitamin D supplement – a 20 year long study showed that people who lacked sun exposure were twice as likely to die of all causes and it did not take Vitamin D into consideration, which shows us that the sun’s benefits reach far beyond just Vitamin D alone. Of course, having your levels assessed (important as Vit D toxicity is also a thing, though rare) and supplementing with a good Vitamin D3 source is very important, especially after a long winter and especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. You cannot make sufficient and the right kind of Vitamin D from diet alone and if you are vegan, taking care of your levels is even more important because the body relies on many cofactors being in place in order to turn plant-based precursors for Vitamin D into its active form.
The sun’s importance to us also has very much to do with light and the type of light that we are exposed to every day – have you ever noticed your mood lift when you wake up with sun streaming through your window for the first time after a grey winter? How you suddenly feel more energetic and motivated? This has so much more to do with the type of light you’re seeing and that light can only be received directly from the sun – a full spectrum of light rays that cannot be manufactured in one bulb. Seeing the sunrise and sunset with its spectrum of red light is very important to our wellbeing – especially since we need to offset the overstimulation of the copious amounts of blue light we get from screens that play havoc with our hormonal balance and circadian rhythm everyday.
So how do we take a safe approach to sun exposure? As a child growing up in the very hot, sunny and dry climate in the North West of South Africa, we were always taught the strict rule when on holiday that you were allowed to play outside in the early morning before 11am and again in the afternoon after 3pm – midday sun is to be avoided. Thirty-odd years later we’ve done enough damage to our environment to know that stricter measures need to be in place because the high pollution and global warming make the sun’s rays more harmful – but it is still important that you get some full sun on your skin most days.
Your body can only make vitamin D with direct contact of the sun’s rays to your skin and it can only do so in summer sun in the Northern Hemisphere. Ideally your naked arms, legs or torso need to be exposed in full sun for between 10-15 minutes a day – the important thing is not to burn and that can happen faster than you may realise.
You don’t always realise that you’re burning when you’re burning and when you’re excited about sunshine and good weather it is important to make sure you are properly protected. Last year’s unusually hot UK summer is a sign that we need to be vigilant even when you think you ‘know’ how your skin acts in the sun.
Why the type of sunscreen you use matters
Commercial sunscreens use skin-penetrating chemicals to cause UVA light to be absorbed and then dispersed as heat in the body. The problem with these chemicals is not only that are they petrochemical-based, but they have been found to be endocrine disruptors, interfere with hormones, oestrogenic, damaging to the thyroid and can cause allergic skin reactions. They are created to be absorbed deep into the skin and are often combined with skin absorbing enhancers to prolong their effect. Worryingly, since these chemicals are often found in blood, breastmilk and urine samples, we can only imagine how deep into our cells and organs (and possibly unborn children) they can penetrate without long-term knowledge of their actual safety. Add to that, a common addition to sunscreens is a form of Vitamin A called retinyl palmitate that has been shown to increase the growth rate of tumours and lesions when exposed to the sun. Many of these sunscreens also cause free radicals on the skin creating a higher risk for cell damage.
These chemicals have also caused untold havoc to our oceans with coral bleaching being the result of the literal tonnes of sunscreen chemicals we wash off in the ocean and down our drains – so much so that Hawaii has now banned the most popular and most toxic sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. There are many more chemical sunscreen ingredients (around 16) that could be on the ingredients list and some of the most popular, such as avobenzone are not even photostable, meaning a myriad more chemicals need to be added for stability.
Natural Sun Block
The two ingredients used to protect your skin in natural products are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, however, only zinc oxide sufficiently blocks the most harmful UVA rays and therefore can claim to be broad spectrum – the combination of both gives better protection. They work by physically creating a barrier between your skin and the sun – the sun’s rays are deflected off your skin and that is why they are technically a sun block. They can only protect the areas of skin that are sufficiently covered, so careful application is essential for it to work well. These cannot be absorbed into your skin as the particles are too large and they do not pose any threat to you or the ocean, unless they’re made up of nano-particles which have been extremely finely micronised and may absorb into skin – the longterm health effects are still unknown.
The large particles mean that often a thick white residue can be seen on the skin and for many of us this does not work for day-to-day wear or under makeup, but there are some great new formulations around and many do not leave a thick and shiny film. It is important to check labels for those with nano particles if you’d like to avoid them, since that is one way of creating a more desirable finish.
It is important to use an antioxidant-rich serum under your chosen sunscreen to counteract the free radicals in rays made worse by pollution as many sunscreens don’t contain sufficient antioxidant ingredients.
Below I’ve rounded up some of the best organic and natural options you can find readily in the UK.
BEST FOR FACE – EVERYDAY AND UNDER MAKEUP
- MADARA SUN Stem Cell Sunscreen for Face SPF 30 – with an invisible nude tint you are sans white residue and shine – absorbs well.
- JOSH ROSEBROOK Nutrient Day Cream SPF 30 – definitely full of antioxidants and easily absorbed – a great everyday moisturiser with good protection
- DE MAMIEL Exhale Daily Hydrating Nectar SPF 30 – use on its own with its subtle tint or under make-up – this formula is definitely not shiny and also full of moisturising and antioxidant ingredients.
- ORGANIC PHARMACY Cellular Protection Suncream SPF 25 – goes on like a moisturiser and absorbs well – perfect for under make-up.*
REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Face – mattifying, non-nano formula that absorbs quickly into the skin – perfect under makeup or on sunny outdoor days.
BEST FOR BODY EVERYDAY
- ANTIPODES Immortal Face and Body Moisturiser SPF 15 – this is a great all over sun protection that you can apply for daily intermittent sun exposure.
- ORGANIC PHARMACY Cellular Protection Suncream SPF 30 – this formula is lightweight and absorbs quickly which makes it a great choice for everyday dressing in hot weather.*
- MADARA SUN 30 Plant Stem Cell Sunscreen for Body, Hands and Face SPF 30 – this formula is highly moisturising whilst offering great protection for your entire body.
- BIOSOLIS Sun Milk Face and Body – this is a great daily option that offers good protection and is also water-resistant.
BEST FOR BEACH AND OUTDOOR DAYS AND THE WHOLE FAMILY
- BIOSOLIS – The entire Biosolis range is a great choice for high sun exposure as they offer up to SPF50 protection with some of their products. Their face sunscreen needs a little time to absorb before adding makeup but it certainly does a great job (my own pigmentation did not darken when I used this for a summer holiday a couple of years ago). Great SPF50 options for children and some easy to apply sprays.
- SALT + STONE – This brand is reef safe and offers great protection without a shiny finish. I particularly love the face stick, which is a perfect handbag companion on holiday or easy application on little faces.
- WHAMISA Organic Flowers Sun Pact SPF 50 – These clever compacts for your face come with a puff applicator and a push down dispensing mechanism. This is a great product for holidays when you want maximum protection and don’t mind that summer glow on your skin – it’s looks like some summer highlighter but with maximum protection for your skin.
- ORGANII – Offering maximum broad spectrum protection whilst also being waterproof, essential for active families.
PROTECTION FOR LIPS
- BURT’S BEES All Weather SPF 15 Lip Balm – your lips also need sun protection and this super moisturising option by Burt’s Bees is ideal for daily use.
- HURRAW Sun Balm SPF 15 – full of great raw, organic ingredients, if you’re already a Hurraw fan then this is an easy choice.
- SALT + STONE Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 30 – for those who are spending a lot of time outdoors being active in the sunshine, this higher protection lip balm is a must.