Natural Sun Protection 101: Skin Health

One of the most common questions that I receive is about how to incorporate sun protection into an R Devine Skin Care routine and which sunscreens are best.

There is nothing more important to us on this Earth than the Sun. So many people fear it because of the potential risk of skin cancer, but without the sun’s light and its heat, nothing on this Earth could survive. The sun provides energy for plants, enabling us to have food, and provides heat so that we are able to have liquid water, otherwise all of the water on this planet would be ice. There would literally be no life without the sun.

Our skin uses sunlight to manufacture Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium, making it important for bone health, and is also vital for our immune system and protecting us against a range of health conditions and diseases. Not only that, but Vitamin D has also been found in helping reduce the symptoms of PMS, irritability and fatigue, which is why most of us feel better during the Spring and Summer months.

In order to soak up some of this Vitamin D, some professionals recommend 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day, either before 10am or after 5pm. Sunscreen can prevent the skins ability to absorb the sun and manufacture Vitamin D. With this being said, sunscreen is really important if you spend any amount of time in the sun between 11am – 5pm. Also, if you will be outside for longer than 10-15 minutes before 10am or after 5pm, sunscreen should be applied after the 10-15 minutes. I have included more on sunscreen below.

UV Rays

While we benefit from the Vitamin D that the sun provides us, the sun also shines its UV rays down on us, which are extremely harmful. UV light damages the DNA in skin cells and is a proven human carcinogen, meaning it can cause skin cancer. These UV rays also cause premature aging. In fact, the sun is one of the major causes of premature aging in the skin and 80% of our sun damage occurs before the age of 18.

Types of UV Rays:

  • UVA penetrates deep into the skin. UVA ages the skin, but doesn’t typically burn the skin as much as UVB.
  • UVB is responsible for most sunburns.
  • UVC are the worst rays, but thankfully our ozone layer blocks these rays.

How Does the Sun Cause Skin Cancer?

UV rays go through the epidermis (outer) and dermis (inner) layers of the skin. The inner layer, the dermis, contains nerves and blood vessels.

The outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, contains a pigment within the cells called melanin. The amount of melanin in your skin determines how dark or light your skin is (fair-skinned people have less melanin). When we are exposed to the sun without sun protection, melanin begins to be produced as the skin defends itself against the UV rays, and a tan occurs or becomes darker.

When we expose our skin too much to the sun, the UV rays reach the inner layers of the skin, causing a sun burn. When we experience a sun burn, our skin cells can become severely damaged or even die.

As mentioned above, too much UV light damages the DNA in your skin cells. If this DNA damage builds up over time, especially from sun burns (one sunburn every two years can triple your risk of skin cancer), it can cause your skin cells to begin rapidly growing out of control, which then leads to skin cancer. Skin cancer can spread to other areas of the body, if left unrecognized or untreated.

Protecting Your Skin

Thankfully, you can prevent the harmful effects that the sun can have on you:

Cover Up

When you’re outside, it’s a good idea to wear a hat and cover up your skin with clothing as much as possible to protect your skin from UV rays. When swimming, kids should wear bathing suit tops that protect their skin from UV rays.

Use Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen before going outside, and then reapply it every two hours, as well as immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.

When applying sunscreen daily, sunscreen should be your last step in your skin care routine. I wash my face, apply my oils, and then apply my sunscreen right on top of my facial oil.

For types of sunscreen and which are best, I have a separate section on this below.

Time Matters

The sun is at its strongest point between 11am – 4pm. It is important to try to avoid direct sun exposure during these times. If you have to be outside during these times, then please make sure to follow these other skin protecting tips.

Seek Shade

If you have to spend a lot of time outside, it’s important to remember that the sun’s rays are really harmful. Try to seek shade to protect your skin when spending time outdoors for long periods of time, like under a tree or an umbrella.

Sunscreen: Physical vs Chemical

The difference between physical and chemical sunscreens is the active ingredients in them. Regardless of which one you choose to use, it is important to choose a sunscreen that is broad spectrum so that you are protected from both UVA and UVB rays.

Physical Sunscreen (aka Mineral Sunscreen)

Active ingredients in physical sunscreens are minerals, either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Both of these ingredients offer broad spectrum protection, although I personally prefer zinc oxide. These minerals are natural and are completely safe for the skin and body. They sit on top of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays, literally blocking the sun from harming your skin. These two minerals are the only active ingredients that I recommend looking for, and can be found in natural sunscreens.

Physical sunblocks are less irritating and are the best option for babies, kids, anyone with sensitive skin and for anyone who cares deeply about the ingredients that go onto their skin.

Mineral sunscreens do tend to be a little more difficult to apply at first, until you get used to using them. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both white powders, so they tend to leave a white cast on the skin until you master proper application or simply find a really good brand that applies nicely.

Physical sunblocks are not typically waterproof, so it’s really important to reapply the sunblock after swimming or heavy sweating.

Chemical Sunscreen

The active ingredients that can be found in chemical sunscreens will be seen on the ingredient labels as avobenzone, oxtinoxate and oxybenzone. These ingredients work differently by absorbing into the skin (rather than sitting on top of the skin like physical sunscreens). Once absorbed into the skin, they then absorb the sun’s UV rays, converting them into heat and then releasing them from the body. Some studies in recent years have shown that these ingredients cause minor changes to skin cells when they are treated with UVA radiation. It makes sense if you think about it because the ingredients are being absorbed into the skin and then doing their work inside of our skin. It is because of this, that I highly recommend physical sunscreens over chemical sunscreens because they are a lot better for both our skin and our body.

Recommended Mineral Sunblocks

(please note that the following links are not affiliate links and are simply products that I like and use myself)

For the Face:
Cocoon Apothecary Reflector SPF 30
Brush on Block
For the Body (and Family):
The Green Beaver Company Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40

About Rachel Devine

Rachel Devine is a multi award-winning holistic aesthetician and the founder and skin care formulator of R Devine Organic Skin Care. With a difference approach to healthy skin, Rachel strongly believes in the importance of self care, self love, and taking a full body holistic approach to skin care, both inside and out.