Sunscreen or Sunscam?

Coming from a fair-skinned Irish and British background, my parents constantly reinforced the importance of wearing sunscreen.  I have a blond brother and redheaded sister (see picture below) so Mr. and Mrs. Davies would time sun exposure in 30-60 minute intervals, pull us kids out of the water, and slather Coppertone over every inch of our quite white bodies.

Sunscreen, also referred to as sunblock, sun tan lotion, sun cream, and block out, was first created in 1938 by a German scientist named Franz Greiter and had a SPF of only 2.

What exactly does SPF (Sun Protection Factor) mean?  Let’s say that without sunscreen, I normally burn in 10 minutes.  Theoretically, wearing a sunscreen with SPF 15 would allow me to be out in the sun for 150 minutes (10 minutes x 15 SPF = 150 minutes).  In reality though, there are many factors which would decrease the allowable sun exposure time such as sweating, exposure to water, rubbing, and even clothing.

SPF numbers only tell you how much protection you’re getting from UVB rays even though most mainstream sunscreens protect against UVB and UVA.  What’s the difference between the two?

UVA – exposure can cause wrinkles, skin cancer, and general aging of the skin.

UVB – exposure can cause skin cancer and burning of the skin.

Here is where the controversy comes in.  Most drugstore sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, benzophenone, octocrylene, and octyl methoxycinnamate which protect against UVA and UVB.  When these ingredients are activated by the sun, the chemicals are said to become carcinogenic which poses a problem once it seeps into the skin.

So, what can you do?  Firstly, sun isn’t bad for you in small doses.  20 minutes or so can help you absorb Vitamin D which among other functions helps us absorb calcium.  It’s probably a good idea to try to avoid too much direct sunlight exposure so here are some suggestions:

– Wear a hat

– Cover your arms and legs with loose-fitting clothing to avoid overheating

– Use an umbrella when at the beach

– Sit in shade when possible

If you are going to be in the sun, natural sunscreens that contain Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide are safe minerals that help block out harmful rays without reducing melanin production.  Make sure that you look for a non “nano particle” version so that the minerals do not get into your skin.  Here are some recommended brands:


Heiko (Canadian Brand):

Kiss My Face:

I plan on trying to utilize shade, wear hats, and covering up when possible.  Aside from that, I’ll probably invest in one of the three Zinc Oxide based sunscreens in order to enjoy the summer with a little more sun savvy know-how.

What will your summer sunscreen strategy be?  Post a comment and let us know!


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