What You Can Use Instead of Sunscreen That Won’t Wear Off, Look Greasy or Make You Break Out
While moderate amounts of sunshine are important to our health and to generate Vitamin D with as little as 10 minutes of exposure, we all know that too much sun, too often, can be harmful. While sunscreen is a widely used method to provide protection when doing outdoor activities such as fishing, it can be toxic due to chemical ingredients among other disadvantages. Dermatologists agree that whenever practical, it’s best to use natural substitutes and sun protective clothing such as hats, sunglasses, face shields, and arm sleeves.
What Does SPF and UPF Mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It’s a value of how effective a sunscreen or cosmetic product containing sunscreen is in preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays.
There’s two ways to look at what SPF means, one is that it allows a fraction of the solar radiation to reach the skin, the other is it extends the time it takes a typical person to burn from sun exposure by the SPF number. If a sunscreen has an SPF of 15, it would allow 1/15th of the radiation through. This essentially means if a person normally takes 20 minutes to get a burn, that amount of time is multiplied by 15 (the spf) yielding 300 minutes (5 hours) before the person would theoretically receive enough radiation to get sunburn. If for example a person normally burns in half that time without any sunscreen, then with it they would burn in 2.5 hours in this example. This assumes the sunscreen lotion was not washed off or degraded in some way during that time.
While increasing the SPF means it takes longer before a burn should occur, if you doubled the SPF, it doesn’t mean it filters out twice the rays. There’s only a slight increase. For example SPF 30 filters out about 97% of UVB while SPF 15 filters out 93%. Also, unless the sunscreen is labeled as broad spectrum, it probably does not filter out UVA rays.
UPF or Ultraviolet Protection Factor is a rating that originated in Australia in 1996 that is used for clothing and other fabrics that protect you from the sun and is a value of how effective the clothing is in shielding you against the sun. It measures the amount of both UVA and UVB radiation that penetrates the fabric and reaches your skin. That said, many clothing manufactures view SPF and UPF being somewhat synonymous so if you see spf clothing, they are basically saying that if you were using sunscreen that’s the level of protection you’d essentially be getting by wearing their clothes.
How Dangerous Are Chemical Sunscreens and Their Ingredients?
Because the chemicals are absorbed into your skin and therefore your body, there’s been concern about the short and long term effects on our health. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said that 97 percent of Americans are believed to be contaminated with the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone.
Other studies of sunscreen lotion and spray components indicate that they may disrupt the hormone system, affect metabolism, cause allergic skin reactions, exacerbate rosacea, clog pores and even increase the risk of endometriosis among other issues.
Additionally, in the case of sunscreen sprays, you now have the problem of ingesting or breathing in these substances into our lungs and mucous membranes providing a more direct path to our internal organs. Chemicals applied to our lips in lip balms also can be ingested internally simply by licking our lips. Some of these chemicals are believed to continue to accumulate in our tissues over our lifetime.
Unfortunately it’s quite possible the “cure is worse than the disease” in the case of chemical sunscreens and their risks may outweigh the benefits. Certainly more studies need to be done, but the reality is these are man made unnatural substances that get absorbed into our bodies. Some of these chemicals have not been in use long enough to really know the full extent of their adverse effects, if any. That has led many to seek a replacement.
Outdoor Clothing and Sun Protective Apparel
The EWG has stated that the best line of defense against harmful UV radiation is to wear protective clothing. Clothing protects us by absorbing or blocking much of the sun’s radiation and is broad spectrum blocking both UVA and UVB radiation. Obviously, the more skin you cover the better. Clothes avoid the issues with toxins, allergies, rashes and skin sensitivities that some sunscreens may have.
However, most people are not aware of all the clothing options available today. For example, in warm climates one may not think there’s a way to protect your face or neck other than the shade from a wide brimmed hat. But face shields are a great option for both. They are lightweight, breathable, easy to use, stylish and protective.
In addition to the obvious things like shirts and pants, people sometimes forget about areas of their body that rarely see the light of day and therefore have less melanin and are more prone to burn and burn faster. Instead of going barefoot at the beach, consider wearing “wet socks” or water shoes. If you have minimal covering swimwear like a string bikini, bring a cover up or wrap in your beach bag to use after exiting the water.
When deciding on clothing, the closer the threads are within the fabric, the more UPF you get. Also, it’s a good idea to wash sun safe clothing prior to first wearing it to help shrink and tighten the fibers in the material to further enhance its protective effects to block out the rays. Like all other options, it’s important to remember that most clothing is still not going to block out 100% of the sun’s rays. Wearing long sleeve shirts or heavier clothing is good in colder climates but when it’s warm outside, wearing leather or more than 1 layer isn’t practical and could contribute to heat exhaustion. So a lightweight and cool fabric is ideal when it’s hot outside. Instead of a long sleeve shirt, consider adding arm sleeve accessories to a t-shirt. Check the SPF / UPF level of protection whatever clothing is rated to provide prior to purchase.
One activity where clothing sun protection may fall short is while swimming. While you could still wear certain clothing items in the water, like a bandana or a face shield worn around your neck, these options provide only partial protection of your entire body. The name of the game when it comes to the sun is “do as much as you can and some is better than none”. Our necks tend to show our age more than most anywhere else on our body so high SPF / UPF face and neck shields can really do the trick and come in a wide variety of colors and designs so you can be stylish at the same time as being protected. Pro Tip: many people who use face shields buy multi-unit packs so they can keep a couple in each of their cars, at home, work, in the boat, etc. so they always have some protection available no matter where they are.
Final Thoughts on Alternatives to Sunscreen
If your outdoor activity does not involve any swimming, then wearing sun protective clothing is most likely your best solution for protecting yourself. The right clothing is a great alternative without many of the shortcomings and dangers of sunscreens. Most things you can wear can be put on or taken off in just seconds, leave no greasy residue, don’t make you break out in a rash, look good and don’t seep toxins into your body that may be harmful. Using this approach will keep both your dermatologist and your doctor happy.
When covering every part of your body isn’t practical, choose an organic or homemade sunscreen as a more sensible and eco friendly replacement for chemical and nano sunscreens. When there’s no other option available besides a chemical sunscreen you happen to have around, your decision is which will do the greater harm, the chemicals or nothing at all. The longer you plan to be out in the sun, the more critical to avoid any severe burns since as we stated earlier, that is a major contributor to melanoma and therefore doing what you need to do to avoid a bad sunburn is the prudent choice even if that means going for a chemical sunscreen.