Yesterday I put the plants I started indoors outside. Considering I had a jungle indoors, the process of moving all of that outdoors and starting all the seeds I should have started a few weeks ago took most of the day. I started around 10:30 a.m. when my husband went outside to do some work on the trailer. Noticing that it was a comfortable temperature and not too sunny, I headed out.
As the day progressed, that comfortable temperature became increasingly warm, and the sun came out in full. Dressed in a t-shirt and with no hat, I carelessly tried to stay out of direct sun without actually staying out of direct sun. Add to that my blonde hair and pale skin, and you have a sunburn waiting to happen. And happen it did. Ow. Luckily I have an aloe plant in my living room for these kinds of things. I shouldn’t have let it happen in the first place. I know better.
I first started reacting to sunscreen when I was about nine or ten years old. I noticed that when I applied sunscreen, even if I stayed out of the sun, my cheeks would feel hot and burned. It was many years before I realized that the sunscreen was to blame – that it was actually chemically burning my sensitive skin.
Sunscreen can be a tricky thing when you have allergies or sensitivities. Twenty-five years ago, the sunscreens on the market were all zinc-based marvels that left your skin white and protected, if not a bit greasy feeling. Sunscreen manufacturers even capitalized on that by making zinc oxide sticks in fun colours to apply stripes to your face. Since then, the entire market has changed. The cheap, zinc-based sunscreens are no longer in fashion. Sunscreen moved from zinc oxide to titanium dioxide to various chemicals like avobenzone. Whereas the old sunscreens prevented ultraviolet radiation from reaching your skin at all by physically blocking it, today’s sunscreens absorb into the skin and prevent the radiation from affecting your skin. These sunscreens don’t leave much surface residue on the skin and don’t make your skin look whiter, which has made consumers very happy, but some of the chemicals used can cause allergies and mimic hormones, interfering with the body’s natural function. Chemical sunscreens, for lack of a better description, cost a lot more than the physical blocks of old, and if you want physical sun block by way of zinc- or titanium-based products, they’re hard to find and cost even more than the chemical ones.
Physical Ultraviolet Blocking Agents
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium dioxide
Common “Chemical” Ultraviolet Filter Agents
- Octinoxate (octylmethoxycinnamate)
- Mexoryl SX
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Padimate O
- Trolamine salicylate
Aside from just the sun blocking agent itself, allergenic or sensitizing chemicals such as methylisothiazolinone (MI) and parabens can be found in sunscreens. This can make finding a safe sunscreen challenging for chemical allergy sufferers.
How can you protect yourself from sun damage?
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck from direct sun exposure.
- Consider wearing light, long-sleeved clothing to protect your arms.
- Stay in the shade or indoors during the hottest parts of the day, especially between noon and 4 pm.
- Find a safe sunscreen and use it every 1-2 hours, depending on the sunscreen, your level of activity (how much are you sweating?), and the type of activities in which you’re participating (getting wet?). My top two safe sunscreens are Badger Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream and Green Beaver Sunscreen spray. The Badger sunscreen is incredibly thick and pasty, and contains only five ingredients. It stays put really well, but can leave marks on clothing. The Green Beaver sunscreen is a very thin, oily spray, and contains ten ingredients. For ease of application and lack of white marks, the Green Beaver is my family’s favourite. Don’t worry that the SPF is closer to the 30 range than the 60 or 90. Some of the chemical sunscreens’ numbers are inflated beyond what they actually will do on a person, and with my extremely fair skin I have never had a problem being protected with either of these, even well beyond the recommended 90 minute reapplication time. I don’t recommend skipping reeapplying because recommending otherwise would be irresponsible, but I guess this is one of those “do as I should do, not as I do,” kind of things.
- Make your own sunscreen. This one is strictly at your own risk. Commercial sunscreens have usually been tested to pinpoint their levels of protection, and homemade ones are not. There are tables available online listing the SPFs of various oils, and you can purchase zinc oxide or titanium dioxide powders online. Native people in the northwest coast of Canada used ground mussel shells as sunscreen. Users should take care making their own sunscreens because particular oil batches and storage conditions, as well as age of the oils and quantity of oxide used can affect sun blocking ability. If you feel up to trying this, or desperate enough to do so, it’s probably better than no sun protection.
And I didn’t do any of these. Sadly, my red arms serve me right. I hope that this post will help you to avoid making the same mistake I did.
Have you found a good, allergy-safe sunscreen? Comment below.