Q: Can someone please recommend a good sunblock I can use while I surf that is waterproof and DOESN’T cause breakouts?
A: I use AcneEyeStingSlipperyHands, SPF WashStraightOff, but I’m thinking about changing.
After scanning the numerous “comments” sections of varying websites where everyone is asking everyone else what the heck is the best sunscreen out there, the above (actual quote I found) may be one of the more humorous yet right-on answers you get. Because we all know, no matter how good a sunscreen is, you still burn, still have to reapply, still ponder the ingredients, still aren’t sure if what you’re rubbing all over your skin isn’t worse than getting a little bit of sun.
There has been much debate over whether or not the studies that claim there has been an increase in skin cancers since the heavy marketing of sunscreens over the past few decades is a) because the ingredients can cause cancer, or b) because people are staying in the sun longer because they wrongly assume they are protected. And if we are going to waste our money on and time applying all these products, we’d like to think that what we are using actually works!
There are many people out there who love buying product (okay, I don’t as I’m still meandering in a financially… um… transitional phase, but many functional members of society do). And most savvy consumers are forever looking for the next best miracle cure; products to make everything smooth, smelly, shiny, supple, shapely, soft, sexy… (no idea why all these words started with an “S” but had to run with it). Anyway, when it comes to Sunscreens, you can look, shop, research ’til you’re… red in the face… and still never find the perfect skin protection that’s just right for you. Now as a surfer girl with a surfer-kine website (and every surfer needs some protection), we gotta eventually touch on the topic – especially my skewed view.
This three-part piece includes Part One: Skin Care – The Best Natural Sunscreen; Part Two: The Difficult Task of Recommending a Sunscreen; and Part Three: Why Your Sunscreen May Not Work. I believe part one is the most important of the three, so let’s get started.
ADVICE FOR ALL SEASONS
Though this might seem oddly timed as we head into winter, it’s always summer in Hawai’i… and fact is, this is when an even more pale breed of tourist, who likely lives in an area that has four distinct seasons, are enjoying their winter vacations either to the slopes or to areas, like Hawai’i, that are close to the equator (meaning they are in prime condition to burn). And since UV rays can get you anywhere, any time of the year, much of these tips can be utilized in one’s day-to-day lifestyle. We’ll start off real basic…
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE SOAP
“The skin is the largest organ of our body, therefore it makes sense to feed it with nature’s pure ingredients and not bombard it with chemical preservatives, additives, and artificial ingredients.”
I copy and pasted that from somewhere – sounds logical. But considering the relatively simple concept, it amazes me what people put on their skin, especially harsh/ perfumey soaps, detergents, creams…. So before we start gobbing on the goop, let’s see where we stand with care of the skin first, as I believe that has much to do with the positive and negative effects sun and sunscreens have on it.
I remember as a kid, mom always bought Dove or Neutrogena brand soap, Phisoderm for the face and Lubriderm skin lotion – all those big brands marketed as being most gentle and of course “doctor recommended” – and how I would spend every night before going to bed itching (well, throw in super-chlorinated water, Tide-kine laundry detergent and fragrant Bounce sheets and you got a nice chemical overload for anyone with dry, sensitive skin. It’s all hard to avoid as the past few generations have been brainwashed via advertising by the chemical corporates that these products are necessary and good for us.). The discovery and availability of eco/healthy alternatives changed the quality of my life to be certain. But a major moment was actually when my friend told me how he never uses soap on his body; I was at first disgusted, then tried it and rarely itched again!
It’s not that I never use soap, but often opt for dry brushing before showering and – girl-kine fun – blend up a few natural body scrubs with varying ingredients like natural oils, shea/mango/cocoa butter, papaya seeds or ground coffee, essential oils… and whatnot). Many natural soaps use pure oils including olive, hemp and coconut as its base; Dr. Bronner‘s included, though the hippies that use it, especially the ones here in Puna, give it a bad rap, leading many to assume it doesn’t work (thought that’s likely because many of these particular “hippies” bathe less often and don’t quite grasp the concept of washing their clothes after each use).
But as far as soaps go, Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t seem to bother my skin. And you can check their web site to get more info on why, especially their amusing video “Soap, Drugs, and Rock and Roll“, which features the misadventures of one of my fave Ben Is Dead Magazine staff writers and Germs drummer Don Bolles. Don (who never particularly shied away from drug use) was pulled over and arrested for a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s found in his car, which tested positive for the “date rape drug” GHB. (The idea of why someone wouldn’t want GHB in one’s soap was never explained — but it is kinda ironic his punk rock band was called the Germs and he was arrested for having soap) Anyway, in this video, David Bronner, president of the company and Dr. Bronner’s grandson, goes off on how the Police NarcoPouch drug test kit can be used to prove “real soaps” like Bronner’s, Tom’s of Maine, and Pangea come up testing positive, while “detergent soaps” like Dial, Soft Soap, Nature’s Gate “Organics” (all chemical, nothing organic), EO, Kiss My Face, even Jason Organics (“Pure, Natural, Organics” is not pure, natural or organic) have not a molecule of real soap but are actually synthetic petroleum-based detergents - hmmm.
“Our testing shows that real soaps which are made using the ecological time-honored process of saponification of vegetable oil will always test positive for GHB, while complicated synthetic detergent-based so-called ‘liquid soaps’ test negative,” said David Bronner, with the necessary sense of humor not only regarding the faux-organic labeling being done by questionable companies, but of the police and their psuedo-science which could have easily convicted an innocent person and that despite this fact the Police Department stated they have no intention of changing their testing procedure.
There are some non-soap cleansers that I use and like and are made from all-natural ingredients; it’s just you have to read the labels carefully, because as we see, even buying them from our health food store doesn’t guarantee they’re “natural” (yes, there are conflicting ideas on the term “natural” as the lack of FDA regulations and people abusing the term, but click link above for logical understanding of terminology).
Besides the weird perfumes used (often even in supposedly “unscented” varieties – re: new Dove formulation), it may be that these chemical “soaps” are giving real “soap” a bad rap. See, detergent-based soaps strip the lipids from the skin. When Hawaiian Bath and Body -located on the North Shore of Oahu in the cute former Waialua Sugar Mill- was asked “What makes your soaps different than those you find in the grocery stores? They answered,
The majority of “soaps” that you find in your local grocery store are actually detergents. Detergents are a group of man-made chemicals that were created for industrial cleaning. Imagine using something that is used to de-grease your dishes or remove stains from your laundry on your skin! Most people use these detergents on their skin everyday without realizing how damaging and harsh this product is for their skin. … Your skin is thrown out of balance every time you use a detergent. Because your skin is out of balance, it frantically tries to replace the sebum that has been stripped away and it also struggles with dehydration because the missing sebum plays a large part in helping your skin retain moisture. The most common problems associated with using detergent-based soaps are overly dry, flaky skin, rashes, itching; or sometimes the skin becomes so imbalanced it can produce too much oil trying to re-balance itself!’
There are also other reasons why most soaps suck. In a piece entitled Chemistry 101: Big Giant Soap Myths Exposed the author give some explanation as to why companies give us bunk soaps and the effects caused by our use of them:
The big retail brands rarely contain soap, and the ones that do usually suck out the naturally occurring glycerine to sell as a by-product to other industries because they can make more money than by just leaving it in, where it draws moisture from the air into your skin. Instead, they use chemicals, foaming agents and petrochemicals, which are the leftovers from the manufacture of gasoline and motor oil…. This is also why the big brands are so cheap…. Look for natural oils because they absorb readily into the skin, unlike petrochemicals which just sit on top of the skin, and leave it either greasy-feeling or dried out. Because they just sit on top of the skin, petrochemicals are also believed to act as a barrier that prevents your skin… from doing its other job aside from protecting and keeping your innards in: eliminating toxins and wastes from the system.
Another question to ask yourself is, are you mistakingly using antibacterial soaps? Maybe you are and don’t know it, as now 76% of liquid and 30% of bar soaps contain anti-bacterials. I know the “fighting evil germs and diseases” campaigning was balls-out but it never seemed like a good idea to me so I always avoided the stuff – relying more on pure soap and lotsa scrubbing. Besides irritating skin, clogging pores, there are other more serious reasons to stay clear, like exposing oneself to harmful chemicals, and by killing our beneficial bacteria leaving us susceptible to the more harmful ones. Some of the other cons to its use can be found in articles like “Anti-Bacterial Equals Anti-Health” on the NatureClean website.
What does this have to do with sunscreen? Okay, be patient, stick with me here. Our first piece to this puzzle is what we are doing to our skin that is causing it to be more susceptible to the sun’s rays, and that is stripping it of its natural oils; leaving the organ with no protective barrier. As far as soaps go, read your labels closely. Though with faux-natural and major brands there is no reason to necessarily trust they list everything that goes in it (as with the broad umbrella terms like “fragrances” or items unlisted because they are considered “trade secrets”), or that you will understand what makes up those strangely-named ingredients. At least try to find those that are less harsh on the skin. (Skin Deep reviews products for toxicity, as does the Green Guide, and Debra’s List links you with environment and health conscious companies). One thing’s for certain, if the soap says “deodorant bar” or “cleansing bar” etc., you can likely be certain it’s not an all-natural product (and an environmental no-no to be using it at your beach shower).
THE IMPORTANCE OF FACIAL CLEANSING (& WHEN NOT TO!)
As far as facial cleansing goes, there may not only be kinder products, but better methods. Sure we have to wash our face, get the dirt off, but I also think there is a disservice one is doing by always scrubbing/lathering off all the natural oils and replacing them with expensive (often synthetic lotions). While most do it to prevent the effects of aging skin, I believe done too often and at the wrong times of the day it has the opposite results; leaving one more exposed to the elements. People need to shift their focus, from products they buy to protect their skin, to equally supporting the body’s natural efforts to protect one’s skin.
HUMAN SEBUM ROCKS!
So here’s my tip of the day and the impetus for this article: The best moisturizer and sunblock -first and foremost- are the skin’s natural oils! As far as I can tell, after many years in the sun, the best sunscreen I have ever used is the one secreted by my skin. And the best thing one can do to take advantage of them, is to not scrub these oils off one’s skin before going out into the sun! Yes, I am saying do not wash your face -or even your body- before you go surf. Sure, if they could bottle human sebum they would and people would buy it; but hey, it’s free! Human Sebum has an SPF of 6-8! Try it, you’ll like it!
So sitting at the coffee shop, almost done writing this piece, while still searching for the SPF of sebum, which was strangely difficult to find, it thankful led me to this report in the Canada Medical Association Journal by Dr. Ralph Douglas Wilkinson entitled, “The Xerotic Nephrologist” which not only gave me the answer, but supported my completely unscientific theory regarding proper care of the skin before sun exposure:
Homo erectus existed for over a million years using the cool-water, no-soap system. The earth’s general fauna still use this system, which removes sweat without disturbing the waxy barrier. Housing and clothing have afforded us much protection, and our lipid layer has become somewhat expendable. A duck, however, would sink without its waxed feathers. For older people, preteens and people with very dry skin, emollients in the form of oils, lotions or creams may offer some help. If necessary, lotions without potential irritants such as perfumes, dispersants and preservatives can be used. Human sebum has a tendency to oxidize to a brownish hue, much like earwax. It is the “ring around the collar.” Sebum has a sunblock action estimated to be about SPF 6–8. Its removal may lead to cleaner collars, but it leaves the skin at higher risk for sun damage. The sun can cause skin damage on bald spots, which are sebum poor. The incidence of skin cancer on the head and face is high in North America. So is the use of soap and shampoo. Are they causally related? Sun damage in the child may be more severe than in the adult. Is this due in part to the absence of sebum in the pre-adolescent? My advice: wash with cool water, minimize or eliminate the use of soap, and wear a hat!
He also mentions eccrine sweat and salty/acidic residue on face which, if it occurs after washing when the skin is no longer protected by its waxy barrier, can be very irritating… Yes, you may feel you’re successfully removing the sweat by scrubbing with soap and hot water, but the imbalance is that it can return in seconds, while sebum can take hours. Even hot water alone can cause sebum breakdown – sebum melts at 30°C. And where is a surfer most likely to get burned?: face, neck, shoulders, upper arms, back… all places we soap, scrub, and which receives the most impact from the shower jet.
When a surfer wakes up in the morning, they should wait to wash their face – and body – with anything more than cool water until after their surf session. At night utilize your light facial cleansers, gentle scrubs, masks. Though Dr. Wilkinson recommends avoiding hot water – especially if you’re experiencing skin problems that could be instigated by over-washing – there are essentials like hot baths, jacuzzi’s and saunas (that are great muscle relaxers for surfers); but keep ‘em natural (no bubbles! no colors!) and enjoy them at night. Also preferably in the evening, an occasional steaming – for oily or dry skin – or a super soft hot washcloth placed on the face feels as sweet as it does at the Japanese restaurant. However you like to cleanse, simply search out and invest in the best quality, most pure, least irritating variety for you (best to avoid the regular grocery store for such a purchase) and make the impetus of the cleansing occur later in the day or when you will not be exposing yourself to the elements. If you must bathe morning or afternoon, replace the natural oil with moisturizers that will best mimic sebum (read on) and avoid the sun for at least a few hours afterwards.
My too-sensitive skin -and eyes- can’t handle most popular moisturizers, so I’ll opt for light serums and creams by Zia, John Masters, Pangea, some of the MyChelle Dermaceuticals. I most often mix my own creams or more often “butters”, which usually contain a mix of cocoa, shea, mango. As well, I keep on hand refreshing sprays for the face and body, as it seems to keep one from having to constantly wash the face – especially in humid locales like Hawai’i, which can oft leave you feeling sticky and dirty. They are also nice to cool off with and vital for hydrating the skin during plane travel! Rose Water (Heritage Products is the least expensive -$3 for a 4oz bottle), Caudalie Grape Water (yum! If you’re in Hawaii best to buy it from Sephora while on Oahu because of the bottle design Caudalie can only ship it ground), and finally MyChelle’s Fruit Enzyme Mist “a hydrating, anti-inflammatory, age defying toner with heavy water and phospholipids for all skin types” – whatever, it works. I also try to dab off oils ‘n’ dirt as much as possible; like the beautifully-skinned Asian women, keep those tissue paper blotters handy, instead of washing to curb the shine (in a pinch or on a budget, toilet seat covers work, no really).
BODY CARE AND MOISTURIZING
“Oil instead of soap was used to remove dirt and grime.”
That was one of historical consultant Jonathan Stamp’s factoids displayed in the text embellishments for HBO’s awesome television series Rome (episode entitled “Utica” where Titus Pullo is being bathed) – oooof, I miss that show!
I surprised my friend the other day with coconut oil’s ability to clean the skin – took motor oil off a grease monkey in just a few wipes! It’s simply an amazing cleanser, which (as mentioned previously) is why real soap is based around it, but it’s also one of my favorite “skin creams” for dry legs (no matter that it’s thick and considered “comedogenic” – that’s why you blend it). As well it makes (again blended) a lovely massage oil and, FYI, the most awesome natural lube!
Besides Argan (which can have a iffy scent) my other fave skin and hair oil is Jojoba (Hawai’i people should get those on the mainland with Trader Joe’s access to ship you a box). Jojoba isn’t actually an oil but a wax. It has great healing qualities including being antibacterial, anti-oxidant, soothing, conditioning. It contains protein, minerals, and a waxy substance that mimics collagen. Unlike most vegetable oils it is chemically similar to human sebum, so it actually penetrates because the skin accepts it as a sebum, while at the same time it will not clog pores. These qualities are great for acne-prone/rosacea type skin, as well as rehab from negative effects of the sun. It works for all skin types: as a matter of fact, if your skin has an over production of sebum it will dissolve clogged pores and restore the skin to its natural PH. There is scientific research proving that “jojoba can increase skin softness by up to 37%, reduces superficial lines and wrinkles up to 25% upon application and up to 11% after 8 hours. (And hey, it’s a lot more cheap, simple and pure than concocted products that’ll make such claims).
Lots of high-end products tout their use of Squalene – derived from olive pits – which may be considered the closest comparable ingredient to human sebum, and with its natural emollients, gives the velvety feel that soothes the skin while replacing the necessary oil. Other oils that act like those naturally produced by the human skin includes: Macadamia Nut, Sweet Almond (similar to baby’s sebum), Sesame Oil, Shea Butter…and most seem to have an SPF of at least 4.
Oh, and in case you want to check your favorite oils, Moose Creek Bath and Body has a good list of the clogging probability of oils and ingredients. Since the term “non-comedogenic” is not regulated by the FDA or any other organization, a cosmetics company can make this claim regardless of proof or substantiation of any kind.
PRODUCTS THAT HELP YOU BURN
One thing I’ve noticed in many products is the use of essential oils that are photosensitizing – meaning when applied they make your skin more susceptible or sensitive to the influence of ultraviolet light. Some may wrongly assume this will help them tan faster, similar to lemon on the hair causing it to bleach, but in this case it will only cause burning: reactions ranging from mild reddening to severe sunburn, often followed by hyperpigmentation. The obvious culprits are citrus oils but the list includes: angelica, bergamot, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, yuzu. Some recommend avoiding the sun when using carrot oil – as in Retinoid and other Vitamin A skin treatments – though because it’s acts as a preservative it is often found in face creams and some sunscreens ironically enough. If you like creams with such active ingredients, use them later in the day or at night. Some products like Proactiv® and dermatologist prescriptions for acne and rosasea can cause more skin problems if you don’t completely avoid the sun while using them. Ask your doctor!
As well, with more and more people indulging in massage/spa treatments, if there is any potential for sun exposure after, you’re best to ask if there are any photo-sensitizing oils in their products. Massage therapists are usually aware and use such oils only late afternoon and evening or tell their clients to keep covered or wash off before they go in the sun (for the most part they should evaporate within a few hours, though many recommend waiting to sun bathe for at least 12 hours after the massage).
THE CATCH-22 OF MAKE-UP:
I know a lot of people have to wash more often because they wear make-up. And people often wear make-up because make-up has played a part in ruining the quality of their skin, so they need to cover it up; a never-ending cycle. I’ve always just avoided the heavy stuff – foundation looks horrible on me and my skin hates it; it actually makes it look as if it can’t breathe. If you can, try to avoid liquid foundation, perhaps only use cover-up or clay-based whitening-pens on dark spots, and instead try a light natural mineral powder. They’re less irritating for most skin types; though it’s important to make certain you keep the tools (brushes) clean. On top of that, the mineral powders – containing minerals like zinc and titanium – are an efficient sunblock; many of these mineral facial and body powders are actually marketed specifically as sunscreens. A few things to watch out for: 1) Titanium is sketchy. Research it first. I prefer non-nano-size zinc. 2) Watch out for all the cheap fillers added to powders. For example, I can not comprehend why major cosmetic companies still use / customers still purchase talc. We’ve known for a long while now that talc’s structure is very similar to asbestos and is best to avoid when there are more safe alternatives.
Responding to this evidence in 1973, the FDA drafted a resolution that would limit the amount of asbestos-like fibers in cosmetic grade talc. However, no ruling has ever been made and today, cosmetic grade talc remains non-regulated by the federal government. This inaction ignores a 1993 National Toxicology Program report which found that cosmetic grade talc, without any asbestos-like fibers, caused tumors in animal subjects. Clearly with or without asbestos-like fibers, cosmetic grade talcum powder is a carcinogen.) … Since the early 1980s, records show that several thousand infants each year have died or become seriously ill following accidental inhalation of baby powder. Exposing children to this carcinogen is unnecessary and dangerous.
On the Cancer.gov web site it explains:
Talc is a “finely-powdered native hydrous magnesium silicate” and that “when administered into the pleural space, talc initiates an inflammatory reaction, resulting in adhesion of the visceral pleura to the parietal pleura and fibrosis, thereby effectively closing the pleural space.”
Fact is, I’d avoid breathing in the dust of any minerals. Regardless of whether a proper scientific study has been done or not, when small dust particles get into the lungs, the lungs don’t like it. So, even while applying the most “natural” of these mineral-based powders, make an effort not to inhale.
The Green Guide goes into detail about the use of minerals in cosmetics and their actual ingredients.
As there is no set definition for the term “mineral makeup,” any product that contains minerals as a primary ingredient may be touted as such, although it may also contain some unhealthy chemicals.
Some companies are conscious of people’s concerns. Check out ElyOrganics whose line utilizes zinc and claims: “No nano-particles, no dimethecone coatings and no titanium dioxide is ever used in Miessence mineral based cosmetic products.”
LUBING UP THE SKIN & INTERNAL SUNSCREENS
And finally, there’s something to be said regarding the foods we consume as part of our skin care regime. We’ve heard too often that we need to include natural – high omega – oils in our diet. I fiend for Greek olives, adore olive oil, and wonder if my Sicilian instincts don’t kick in some when it comes to providing extra protection for my “olive” skin. I certainly think most salad dressings are junk considering you could take advantage and get your natural oils easily in your dressing (flax seed oil, mix in some coconut vinegar and shoyu and you’ve got salad dressing in under 30 seconds). Or for the even more eternally lazy, mix some flax, hemp or extra virgin organic olive oil into your regular dressing. Including steamed fish into the mix works. I like poached salmon salad (simply steam it), adding arugula, avocado, fresh goat cheese, pine nuts or hemp seeds – surprisingly quick and easy to make. Though those close to me know I am a butter (ghee) whore, a good way to get healthy fat is dipping one’s bread in some high quality oil too. Any way you can consume some virgin coconut oil will be a plus.
Yes, healthy oils are the way to go. I wouldn’t be surprised to find some scientific correlation to people eating hydrogenated fats, and/or avoiding and cutting out healthy fats from their diet to making them more susceptible to the sun, cancer and wrinkles. It’s strange the pharmaceutical industry are producing -and people are buying- such weight loss drugs like “Alli”, which pulls the fat out of your meals, causing involuntarily explosive oily bowel movements; leaving one to try to digest an imbalanced mix of carbs and proteins (and without any fatty oils left, I imagine what remains in your colon is some serious constipation). Also, we know -don’t we?- that avoiding fat keeps one hungry and prone to eating more. And studies done on the weight lose results for those taking these pills is not positive. Though you see all the commentary and reports on the “good” and “bad” fats, diet-obsessed America seems ingrained with the notion that by eating fat they will become fat. I guess it supports the obsessive/compulsive, indulge/avoid, right/wrong mentality… not to mention fodder for many AA meetings and psychology sessions and best selling books on the next best weight lose plan. Common sense – and a sense of how you feel when eating specific foods – should dictate.
Supplementations and consumption of foods that supply proper nutrition/vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that support skin and bones seem intelligent choices. Foods might include so-called “superfoods” and fruits (with high phytonutrient content) like: gogi berries, blackberries, pomegranate, acai, raw chocolate, chlorella, spirulina, to boost your skin’s natural UV protection. Antioxidants like a natural Vitamin C should be utilized daily. As well supplements like: Vitamin D (especially during winter, or times when you are not getting some daily sun exposure), astaxanthin (takes about 30 days of nutrition to boost skin levels) and MSM (magical stuff makes skin more permeable and pliant; preventative and promotes faster healing from sunburn) [for info on noni healing sunburn/blisters click here]. Magnesium (preferably transdermal) and silica (colloidal) are magic. Try yogurt, acidophilous, herbs and/or foods that help regulate colon function (after a good cleanse if needed) as your skin often seems to offer a visual on the health of your colon and liver. As well, stress and sleep deprivation makes one not only unhappy, unhealthy, and unproductive, it also keeps that sallow, unglowing complexion that can’t easily withstand elemental factors; try Vitamin B (sublingual) for the stress, and Kava or Valerian Root (herb blends) at night to enhance relaxation naturally. A
Obvious as it is, drinking tons of pure water just can’t be beat for hydrating and protecting the skin. And of course the opposite holds true, so best to mellow out on anything too dehydrating like sodas, caffeine, alcohol and high sugar beverages when enjoying those outdoor activities. All of these things will hopefully give you an advantage, so you aren’t relying solely on topical sunscreen products and find yourself dismayed when they continually let you down. That said, utilizing the info in this article AND finding a eco-conscious natural sunscreen (and a big beach hat) will keep your skin happier and healthier. Let’s look hot surfing into our ’90s – well, why not try!
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