Sunscreen: 4 risks + 6 tips for use

Enjoying the first warm rays of sunshine on your skin – that not only sounds nice, it is also healthy for body and soul. But nothing is more important than protecting your skin with the right cream. Here we explain what you absolutely have to consider before buying sunscreen and how to use it correctly.

Dermatologists have long advised to always apply sufficient sun protection before going out in the sun. Sunscreen is supposed to protect us from premature skin aging , cancer and cell damage . It does this by either reflecting or converting the ultraviolet rays, also known as UV rays, on our skin.Whether on the balcony, on the beach or in the park: the first rays of sunshine lure each of us outside. Not only do they feel pleasant, they also provide valuable vitamin D and give us a summery tan. Although very tempting, the sun’s rays should always be treated with caution. Exposing ourselves to UV rays for too long can damage our cells and cause skin cancer.

In fact, there are two different types of UV rays that can damage our skin: UVA and UVB . It is only the UVB radiation that is responsible for the fact that our skin turns red and hurts after too intensive sunbathing. The UVB radiation only stays on the surface of the skin and is therefore the cause of unpleasant sunburns . At the same time, they also support the activation of vitamin D – a vital property for us.

UVA rays, on the other hand, are relatively unknown, which is not at all justified. Although they do not cause sunburn, they penetrate much deeper into our skin and thus lead to irreparable cell damage and increased wrinkling .

Sun protection factor SPF

A so-called sun protection factor, or SPF for short, is shown on every sunscreen . Each skin can more or less be assigned to a specific skin tone type, varying from type 1 to 6. For example, if you have very light skin, then you belong to type 1. For you, you should not stay in the sun for more than 10 minutes without protection. If you now wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 10, you can stay in the sun 10 times longer. Conversely, this means that you are protected by sunscreen for a full 100 minutes.

Type Skin color Length of own sun protection
Type 1 Very fair skin 10 mins
Type 2 Light skin 20 minutes
Type 3 Medium skin 30 minutes
Type 4 tan skin 45 minutes
Type 5 Dark skin 60 minutes
Type 6 Very dark skin 90 minutes

Conventional vs. mineral sunscreen

Simply put, there are two types of sunscreen on the market: traditional sunscreen and mineral sunscreen . To ward off harmful UV rays, manufacturers use various UV filters.

Conventional creams usually contain chemical UV filters . In addition, its ingredients ensure that the cream is quickly absorbed by the skin, does not leave a noticeable greasy film and is generally as user-friendly as possible. The chemical filters in conventional sunscreens convert the UV rays on the skin into heat.

Mineral sunscreen does not use chemical filters . Instead, it is based on the substances zinc oxide and titanium dioxide . In contrast to normal sun creams, these active ingredients are hardly or not at all absorbed by the skin – and they are not supposed to be. Because they act on the skin like an impenetrable protective shield. Instead of absorbing the UV rays, they are reflected by the whitish cream layer. Mineral sunscreens have the unbeatable advantage of being able to do without chemical additives and are therefore particularly well tolerated by children and adultsto be. But their naturalness also has a catch: they whiten the skin and can stain. In addition, mineral sunscreen does not spread as well on the skin as conventional ones.

As a rule, Öko-Test only rated the mineral sunscreens as very good. Mainly because they contain significantly fewer questionable ingredients than other creams. This is also one of the reasons why mineral creams are often certified as natural cosmetics.

Risks of sunscreens

Caution is particularly important when it comes to sunscreens, as they are designed to specifically protect our skin from dangerous consequences. But some creams cannot even keep their promise to protect against UV radiation for the specified time. And while sunscreens claim to be waterproof and continue to protect after being in the water, few sunscreens really live up to that promise.

Harmful ingredients

Although they are designed to protect us, some sunscreens only harm us – or more specifically, some of their ingredients. Some conventional creams use the chemical sun protection filter oxybenzone . The problem with this filter, however, is that it works in a similar way to estrogen . Oxybenzone can damage cells and eventually even cause skin cancer. Scientists even suspect that there could be a connection between the chemical filter and endometriosis – an abdominal disease that causes the uterine tissue to proliferate.

Then there are UV filters that are not photostable . When exposed to UV rays, these substances begin to break down. Instead of protecting our skin, these UV filters either no longer work at all or even irritate the skin as a result of the decomposition process.

There are also some chemical UV filters that can get into our bloodstream. They are suspected of being able to disrupt our body’s natural metabolic processes. You should avoid the following ingredients: octocrylene, methoxycinnama, benzophenone and retinyl palmitate.

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that our body cannot produce itself. Although we can get vitamin D from food, most of it is absorbed from the sun. Strictly speaking, it is the UVB rays that activate certain processes on our skin and thus enable the absorption of vitamin D. But it is precisely from these rays that sunscreens protect us. You not only prevent sunburn, but also vitamin intake.

If the body suffers from a deficiency of this vitamin, this can lead to diseases such as cancer or rickets. Moods and depression are also very often the result of a deficiency. Especially in spring and summer we should expose ourselves to the sun for at least 15 to 30 minutes every day so that we can absorb enough vitamins. Therefore, you should sunbathe for at least 15 minutes without protection or at least soak up the sun in partial shade before applying sunscreen.

Allergic reaction

Conventional sunscreens often contain active ingredients that some people do not tolerate well. UV filters in particular can trigger allergies or have an irritating effect on sensitive people. The many preservatives and fragrances are often to blame for the fact that allergy sufferers do not tolerate chemical sunscreens particularly well.

Allergy sufferers usually react better to mineral sunscreens, as these usually do not require chemical filters and contain fewer harmful ingredients. However, this is less true for people with sensitive skin, because the high fat content of mineral creams makes it harder for the skin to breathe.

Negative environmental influences

Not only we humans suffer from the risks and negative consequences of certain sun creams. Some UV filters and ingredients are involved in the death of plants and animals in the sea . Coral reefs are particularly affected because if chemical UV filters get into the sea, they form an impermeable layer over the coral reefs. As a result, they can no longer breathe properly and suffocate . The filters benzophenone-3 and octyl methoxycinnamate , for example, are involved in the environmental damage , but also nanoparticles of titanium dioxide , which can be found in mineral creams. Incidentally, these substances are already banned in Hawaii and may not be used in sunscreen.

Buy the best sunscreen

A lot has happened since the first comprehensive and largely negative tests on sunscreens were published a few years ago. Many manufacturers have revised the recipes and replaced harmful ingredients. Above all, significantly more sunscreens no longer only protect against UVB radiation, but also against UVA. Nevertheless, you should always make sure that both seals are shown on the packaging. It is not enough to just look at the SPF, because this only refers to the UVB rays.

In addition, several different UV filters are mixed together in most sun creams , often both mineral and chemical ones. Therefore, allergy sufferers in particular should first deal with the list of ingredients before deciding on a cream.

For the face

Unfortunately, sunscreens often cause breakouts and pimples on the skin. Mineral filters make the skin breathe badly, while chemical creams contain many ingredients that are unfavorable for the skin of the face. Preservatives and chemical filters in particular can trigger impurities. It is therefore advantageous to only use special sun protection products for the face and décolleté.

Some day or moisturizing creams have a sun protection factor, albeit often a low one. In this way, the skin is also protected in everyday life and does not need extra protection from sunscreen. When it comes to sunscreen for the beach or summer vacation, the higher the protection, the better . Because it is precisely the sensitive skin on the face that is most exposed to the sun’s rays, dries out the quickest and is also the earliest to show wrinkles.

So that the face is not only protected but also cared for at the same time, sun creams for the face should also be moisturizing . Natural and caring additives such as vitamins A , E or B5 are also valuable components. As nutrients, they also prevent premature skin aging and protect against cell damage with their antioxidants.

Sun cream for babies and children

Small children and babies especially need good protection from the sun’s rays. Regardless of the right sunscreen, children should never sit in the sun for a long time , but always at least in partial shade. Small children should avoid the midday sun in particular. Light clothing and a sun hat are also ideal additional protection.

Babies absolutely need good protection against UVA and UVB. The cream should therefore be provided with both seals and at the same time offer a very high sun protection factor – SPF 15 is not sufficient for sensitive children’s skin. Precisely because a high sun protection factor is significantly better than simply applying sunscreen to the child more often.

It is particularly important to have as few chemical filters in the sunscreen as possible. Substances that can have a hormonal effect in particular are taboo for babies. But the same also applies to pregnant and lactating women . Mineral sunscreens without any additional chemical filters are therefore best suited for babies. Nevertheless, there should be no nanoparticles in the mineral products that could possibly get through the skin into the bloodstream. Chemical filters are no longer a concern for small children until they are one year old.

Tips for correct creaming

In addition to the right sunscreen, how you use it is also crucial to whether it works properly or not. But regardless of sunscreen, the best sun protection is still shade and the right clothing. You should avoid the blazing midday sun in particular.

1. Before you apply lotion, you should let the sun shine unprotected on your skin for at least a few minutes. In this way you prevent a vitamin D deficiency and do not have to fear any negative consequences because of your skin’s own sun protection for such a short time .

2. You can also get a sunburn in the shade : If you have light skin, then the shade is definitely a good choice. Nevertheless, it is important to apply sunscreen properly during a longer stay here.

3. How well a sunscreen works also depends on how thick it is applied . That’s why it’s important that you apply the cream generously and don’t miss a spot.

4. Once the specified SPF time has passed, you should avoid the sun for a while . It is not necessarily advantageous to simply apply sunscreen again, since the risk of sunstroke, for example, continues to increase. Nevertheless, it cannot do any harm to regularly apply sunscreen again before the sunscreen runs out. But you should note that this does not increase the promised time of protection.

5. Although some sunscreens advertise that they are waterproof , you should always reapply sunscreen after a swim. Many tests have shown that the actual effect of the cream decreased by up to 80 percent after being in water .

6. This may sound obvious, but it is often forgotten: Always apply cream all over your body . Places such as behind the ears, on the eyelids, the hands or the neck are often forgotten, especially in these areas the skin is very thin. Incidentally, anyone who uses mineral sunscreen can see best which areas have already been sunscreened and which have not because of the white discoloration.

Make your own sunscreen

There are many good reasons to make your own sunscreen instead of buying a commercial cream. Not only allergy sufferers, but also sensitive or environmentally conscious people need an alternative to conventional creams. You can mix your own sunscreen in a few simple steps.

For the recipe you only need coconut oil, shea butter , jojoba oil, essential oils as you like and very important: zinc oxide .

Coconut oil has a natural sun protection factor of 7 and at the same time protects against germs and bacteria. Coconut oil is a mild alternative, especially for skin that is prone to impurities. Shea butter has a sun protection factor of 4 and is also extremely moisturizing. Jojoba oil also gently cares for the skin. Essential oils also have a natural sun protection factor , but since you should only mix very few drops with other substances, this has hardly any effect. Nevertheless, they care for and soothe the skin and at the same time give the cream a pleasant scent.

Zinc oxide is the filter in this recipe designed to stop UV rays. The combination of zinc and oxygen can be bought online in powder form and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. However, you should make sure that the zinc oxide powder is marked “non nano” . The particles should not be smaller than 100 nm (nanoparticles). If this is not the case, the particles could get into the skin through the pores and possibly cause damage.

For the recipe, all you have to do is mix the ingredients together, add a few drops of the essential oils and add the zinc oxide depending on the SPF you want. If the coconut oil or shea butter is too solid, you can first melt it in a water bath and then mix it together. Stored in the fridge, the homemade sunscreen will keep for a few months .


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