This is the season for sunshine! During the first official week of summer, the sun travels its longest path through the sky, giving us our longest hours of daylight. As we celebrate this time of abundance and summer lovin’, it is important to understand the most important thing about going into the sun: protection!
Healthful rays of sunshine brighten our mood and provide vitamin D. It also stimulates the development of nitric oxide, an essential component to cardiometabolic health. There is some evidence to suggest that sun exposure may reduce our risk of obesity, depression, and propensity for illness. But as the sun warms the earth and provides both life and light, it also has the capacity for harm. We don’t mean to bash the sun—quite the opposite—but we wish to shed light on the healthy maintenance of our relationship with our favourite star in the sky.
Rays from the sun are the overriding cause of photoaging; this is a cumulative detrimental effect caused by ultraviolet light, also known as UV radiation. UV exposure is also directly linked to DNA cell damage and skin cancer. The sun radiates UV on a continuous spectrum.
What is Ultraviolet (UV) light?
UV light is electromagnetic radiation with varying wavelengths. Put simply, wavelength affects light’s ability to penetrate our skin. There are three different categories of UV, each with different wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC is largely blocked by our planet’s atmosphere, but UVA and UVB are abundant.
UVB radiation penetrates the upper dermis (skin layer) and results in DNA damage, allergic reactions, and burning.
UVA radiation penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB. It stimulates the synthesis of melanin and is thought to inhibit the immune system; it damages nucleic acids (cells), proteins, and lipids, and is highly responsible for oxidative stress and free radical damage in the skin. UVA radiation affects the skin by damaging collagen, elastin, and fibroblasts: this is photoaging.
Though both are linked to skin cancer and affect aging, a trick to remember the main differences is UVA = Aging, and UVB = Burning.
What is SPF?
The SPF, “Sun Protection Factor,” is a measure for skin protection against UVB radiation. SPF is complicated. It is affected by a multitude of factors, including how much is applied, how old the ingredients are, the skin type of the wearer, and environmental factors. There is no one-product-fits-all for everybody. Additionally, SPF does not always indicate protection against all types of UV light.
In Canada, for protection against both UVB and UVA, look for “Broad Spectrum” on the label.
Put simply, SPF is how many times more UV an individual may be exposed to before getting a sunburn. For example, if you have average-toned skin and you burn after fifteen (15) minutes, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will let you stay in the sun for 450 minutes, or 7.5 hours. However, this is with a UV level that remains constant, and is not subject to environmental stressors such as sweating, swimming, or moving around. Those with fairer or darker skin will have different tolerance levels. Additionally, in real life we very rarely apply the correct amount of sunscreen, so additional measures should be taken for the best possible protection.
What is the difference between Chemical/Organic and Physical/Inorganic Sunscreen? Which is better?
In some sunscreens, active ingredients are designed to absorb and transform UV light (to heat) before it reaches the skin. These are chemical sunscreens.
The active ingredients found in natural brands are most typically zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are metallic particles that both absorb and bounce the light away (similar to a mirror or suit of armour). Formulas with these ingredients are called physical sunscreens.
While there are pros and cons to both types of sunscreens, at Kolya, we prefer physical sunscreens for their efficacy and proven safety to our bodies and the environment. These minerals form a protective barrier to reflect harmful UV rays before they make contact with the skin.
How much sunscreen do I need to use?
Much like chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens are working hard to refract or absorb the sun’s rays. The harder you’re working, chances are, the harder your sunscreen is working too. If you’re frolicking, sweating, swimming, or simply moving around a lot, the formula is going to break down more quickly. This is why it’s important to re-apply at least every 2-4 hours. Those working indoors or not as active may get away with less frequent application. If your bottle is running low, it’s better to use a little bit of sunscreen rather than none at all.
In SPF testing, 2 milligrams are applied per centimetre of skin. So for the same coverage that’s listed on the bottle, apply ¼ teaspoon to the face. This is approximately a nickel-sized dollop. For the entire body, approximately one shot glass-sized amount will do. It’s important to apply at least fifteen minutes before direct sun exposure, no matter what type of sunscreen you wear, because the product needs time to settle on your skin, dry down, and form an even protective layer.
What about the SPF in my makeup? How do I wear makeup with sunscreen?
Makeup with sun-protective qualities is great as a supplement to your everyday sunscreen wear, but it’s not enough to stand on its own: powdered makeup is not applied thickly or evenly enough, and even then, SPF makeup is not always certified as broad-spectrum. So while it may protect you from getting a burn, it is not guaranteed to protect you from the aging effects of UVA radiation.
In applying your sunscreen, it’s best to work in layers. We work from the product with the thinnest consistency up to the thickest. Apply your daily skincare (such as moisturizer) and allow it to absorb. Apply sunscreen and wait approximately five to eight minutes for it to dry. Then proceed with your makeup routine.
What if I don't feel comfortable wearing sunscreen?
There are additional ways to protect yourself. Kolya member Jessie has had a rocky relationship with the sun. “I’ve transformed from a sunbather to a sun avoider,” she admits. “It’s been a natural progression.” Having once slathered herself in tanning oils and tan enhancers, and even using aluminum sun reflectors to soak up as many rays as possible, Jessie has embraced a healthy balance between summer love and shade. “I still love the sun. I bask in its healthful rays in the early morning or late afternoon.” So enjoy your preferred dose of sunshine, seek a little shade, and stay hydrated!
Sun exposure can be healthy!
Dr. Mark Holick of The UV Advantage attests to the benefits of sun exposure and vitamin D as “essential,” urging us to think critically and make our own decision on the matter. While we don’t advocate for frequent trips to the tanning salon, it is important to be mindful of the dangers of sun exposure in conjunction with its benefits. Too little time in the sun is associated with conditions relating to colon, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer, to heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and more. Our well-being depends on a healthy relationship with the sun. Knowledge equals strength, and with well-rounded research and critical thinking, we can make our own decisions regarding time spent in the sunshine.
While we at Kolya highly recommend a natural physical sunscreen for optimal protection, if you prefer not to use SPF, opt for mindful alternatives: choose clothing with a tight weave and hats with wide brims (a four inch brim or larger is best) all the way around. Donn your oversized rockstar sunglasses, and if you’re feeling extra fancy, carry a parasol or a scarf. It’s not always practical to wear heavy, opaque clothing in the heat of the summer. If you dress lightly, be certain to bask in the sun when it is low in the sky.
The sun is a wonderful thing. It provides light, warmth, and life, especially after an arduous winter and an exhaustive year battling COVID-19. It’s great for our mental and physical health. It gives us precious vitamin D and nitric oxide for our overall wellness. The sun brings illumination and beauty to our world.
Get outside, stay safe, and enjoy the blessings of the season!
Yarosh, Daniel. “The New Science of Perfect Skin: Understanding Skin-Care Myths and Miracles for Radiant Skin at Any Age.” Broadway Books. 2008.
Janeš, Damjan and Kočevar Glavač, Nina. “Modern Cosmetics: Ingredients of Natural Origin: A Scientific View.” Vol. 1. Širimo Dobro Besedo, d.o.o. 2018
Fleury, Naomi et al. “Sun Exposure and Its Effects on Human Health: Mechanisms through Which Sun Exposure Could Reduce the Risk of Developing Obesity and Cardiometabolic Dysfunction.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health vol. 13. 2016.
Holick, Michael and Jenkins, Mark. “The UV Advantage.” Ibooks. 2004.