Sun protection...we all need it, though try explaining that to our 15 year old selves when tanning oil was just about the only thing in style. The truth is, while a little daily Vitamin D is essential to our health, the rays of the sun are strong and extended exposure is damaging. Unfortunately, choosing the right sun protection isn’t as clear cut as choosing the cutest bikini, but - fear not - we’re going to break it down for you.
There are two categories of sun protection: 1) physical/mineral blockers that are designed to sit on the surface of the skin and reflect UV rays; and 2) chemical screeners, designed to absorb into the skin, and then absorb UV rays.
Physical Blockers: The Good Guys
Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, ie, the only “active ingredient" you want to see on your sun care products. These sun-busting ingredients are naturally occurring minerals (rocks to be precise) with large molecules that are intended to sit on top of our skin and act as a physical barrier from the sun’s rays. UVA (cancer causing) and UVB (skin damaging/burning) are both physically shielded from our skin and are believed to be reflected and scattered away from the body. This kind of science makes perfect sense to us, and you’ll notice that these are the only sun protectant ingredients that you’ll find in any product carried at Follain.
Historically, Zinc-heavy products have had a bit of a reputation for being a touch on the thick and pasty side, though we promise, Follain’s Suncare products are a vast improvement from the days of the old-school neon Zinc stick (confession: we kinda can’t wait for those to come back in style). But it’s on this topic where the story of Zinc gets a bit complicated. Some formulators have begun to use Nano-Zinc Oxide - Zinc particles that are crushed up further so that they are absorbed into the skin, eliminating the “pastiness” and undesirable white film. We’re not into this for two reasons:
1) Making these particles small enough to be absorbed into the skin defeats the purpose of them acting as a layer between your skin and the sun.
2) When absorbed into the skin, smaller particles enter the bloodstream and cause all kinds of unknown issues that we’d rather not contend with. That’s why all Nanoparticles are on our Restricted Substance List. Read more about that here.
Another thing we love about Zinc-based sunblocks is that they begin working immediately upon application. That makes sense to us! Now let’s contrast that with chemical-based sunscreens that must be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure for the ingredients to be effective. That’s because a chemical reaction needs to take place between the sunscreen ingredients and UV rays before the SPF is fully realized. A product that only becomes effective after the occurrence of a creepy chemical reaction? Um, no thank you. And with that, we’d like you to meet the ingredients from the other side of the tracks...
Chemical Sunscreens: The Not-So-Good Guys (i.e. completely restricted from Follain)
Chemical sunscreens (aka, Oxybenzone, Oxtinoxate and Octisalate) are the fast-absorbing, clear chemical ingredients that make up the majority of the suncare market. These chemicals were developed as an easy, fast absorbing alternative to the more thick mineral sun blocking ingredients. In a sense, they were designed to make our lives easier and that would be just fine if they were uniformly safe – but they’re just not.
The majority of these are clear chemicals that absorb UV rays (not good if you care about wrinkles and skin cancer) and about half of them are known endocrine disruptors. These guys are also known to bioaccumulate, which means that our bodies aren’t evolved to eliminate them naturally, thus they hang out in our tissues for good, and cause all sorts of long term health problems.
The naughtiest of all of these sunscreening chemicals is Oxybenzone. This ingredient has a bit of a target on its back because an analysis done by the CDC has shown Oxybenzone to be present in the bodies of 96% of Americans, and these concentrations only increase during the warmer months when sunscreen use is more prevalent. Even more worrisome, Oxybenzone has been shown to find its way into mother’s breastmilk, putting small infants at an immediate disadvantage of early toxicity. It’s important to note that children are especially susceptible to endocrine disrupting chemicals like Oxybenzone and ingredients in this family have been shown to put young girls at a higher risk of developing endometriosis and other reproductive related issues.
Those are some pretty severe complications to a problem that we don’t think need solving in the first place. The fact of the matter is, there is no safer or more effective way to protect yourself from the sun than with good old Zinc.
To easily navigate the suncare aisle, here’s a simple rule to follow. When you’re faced with a SPF product, flip the bottle over and have a look at the “active” ingredients. The only two words you want to see here are 'Zinc Oxide' and/or 'Titanium Oxide.' If any other fishy ingredients are listed, ditch it.
We love our time outside, and wouldn't trade it for anything. This is how we protect our skin from damaging UV rays.
Follain Note: While there are some products popping up on the market with presumably “safer" chemical ingredients, our read on this is that it’s better to be actually safe than sorry, as these new chemicals haven’t been around long enough to be sufficiently tested.