Why We Need to Question What We Think About SPFs

It’s Sun Protection Week this week and although we aren’t all heading off for some early summer sun during lockdown we wanted to address some myths and confusion around sun exposure and in particular SPFs (sun protection factor). 

We have seen a dramatic increase in Vitamin D deficiency in the UK over the last few years which has fuelled debates and concerns that sunscreen use could be contributing to this rise in vitamin D deficiency. This happens because SPFs stop the production of Vitamin D in the skin by UVB light.   

 In a recent poll, 80% of people don’t understand what SPF protection means and 56% didn’t know that SPF only protects against UVB rays and not UVA, i.e that it protects against sunburn but not skin cancer or premature ageing. 

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society tell us that SPF is ‘the level of protection offered against UVB rays alone’ This means that the higher the factor/star rating is only calculated based on reduction in sunburn. WDDTY magazine commented ‘health warnings have become so extreme that most of us are starved of Vitamin D’ so sun avoidance combined with frequent use of high SPFs are putting our health at risk.  


The two types of light:

UVA Light: This contributes to skin ageing and the development of skin cancer as it penetrates deep into the skin, UVA has a consistent intensity throughout the day, all year round and can penetrate through cloud, clothes, hats, umbrellas, water and glass.  

UVB light:  We describe UVB light as being like a heat lamp you see keeping food warm, which, if you have too much,  it dries out and burns the food.  You can easily avoid this damage by being sensible in direct sunlight ie getting shade regularly,  wearing a hat / t shirt and giving your skin a rest from direct sunlight during the day   


So commercial sunscreens are good and protect the skin? 

 A recent comment made by a USA medical centre highlighted why this isn't the case: ‘the ingredients in commercial sunscreens actually increase the risk of skin cancer and induce premature ageing’. Sunscreens are expected to offer significant protection from UV damage and oxidative stress, however simple tests are showing that free radical activity in sunscreens, when it is exposed to UVA light. We know that free-radicals are the main cause of skin ageing and damage so the product being used to protect us could actually be causing more harm than good.  


Why are free radicals so bad?

Free radicals are unstable atoms that damage cells causing illness and ageing, they are linked to a whole host of diseases. The free radicals trigger peroxidation, which leads to oxidative damage which in turn leads to cell breakdown, resulting in skin ageing and internal disease. Mainly modern commercial sunscreens contain ‘minerals’ and they are marketed as this being a good thing, but because ‘minerals’ are made from petroleum (carbon molecules) it is toxic to human cells, causing oxidative damage mentioned above. (This was part of a report by the head of the molecule intelligence unit at Cambridge University, if you’d like to read more, drop us an email)


How to combat free radicals

It is no secret that antioxidants stop cell damage happening - that’s why eating fruit and vegetables full of them are recommended. The antioxidant compounds can be found in the vital oils of the fruit and vegetables. Antioxidants are reducing agents, they reduce and limit the effects of oxidative damage. Our cells are equipped with antioxidant enzymes and reactive species (RoS) scavenging molecules, however their capacity isn't endless, they can soon become overwhelmed with the daily dose of oxidative stress, especially when we are using hundreds of free radical releasing chemicals every single day in skincare, around our homes and in the environment. 


We know that ingesting antioxidants is recommended but applying them to the skin also makes scientific sense, replacing the petroleum by-products with natural antioxidant-rich products is recommended. Our founders, John and Karen demonstrate this effect by presenting you with two bowls, one with mineral baby oil (zero antioxidants) and the other with extra virgin olive oil (antioxidants) and some nice bread to dip in them and invite you to go ahead...



Naturally, people are happy to dip into the olive oil but not the baby oil for some reason!  


When asked why is that?  they reply ‘isn't it a poison to the body’. 


Well yes, John and Karen reply, it is, so I understand why you don’t want to eat it, but then why are you covering your body in it, especially when 60% of it will go into your body via your largest organ. 


For us, this little exercise is an excellent illustration of the importance of ingredients! 


So where can we find Antioxidants in skincare? 


Hint: Not in the majority of commercially available sunscreens! 


You need to look at ingredient lists very carefully, you need to be using vital oils, 100% natural, unadulterated plant oils, these are packed with antioxidants. Oils which are particularly strong in antioxidant activity are Peach Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Jojoba and Avocado amongst others. If you apply these to the skin in a purely unadulterated way you are getting the full benefit of these powerful antioxidant properties. The theory of applying unadulterated forms of antioxidants and how they restore antioxidant enzymes was discussed in a paper by the Journal of Investigative dermatology in 2003. So, applying these oils topically forms a defence line and work from within the fight against free radical damage


How to protect your skin in the sun using unadulterated oils?


The key to protecting your skin is to make sure your skin doesn't burn, building sun exposure up over days will help the melanin rise naturally in your skin which controls the reflection of the light. For the first few days of your holiday, apply Synergistic Body Oil, regularly onto damp skin (little and often) and stay in the sun for only very short periods of time (10 to 20 minutes), reapply after every swim after you’ve washed off the salt or chlorine. Listen to your skin, head out of the sun and cover up when your skin has had enough. Use Soothing Body Lotion at the end of the day over the top of oil to leave a matt finish and lock in the oil.


If you can’t be parted from your usual SPF you can minimise the damage caused by applying Hydrating Facial Oil and Synergistic Body Oil before you apply your SPF


Our Holiday Skin Edit:


Synergistic Body Oil - reduces the effects of UVA light 

Hydrating Facial Oil 

Invigorating Shower Gel  - A  invigorating shower to refresh 

Pacifying Face Mask - a holiday must-have, not only does it calm and refresh skin, it’s soothing and anti-irritation properties help stop mosquito bites itching

Soothing Body Lotion - an ideal aftersun

Restoring Toner - to refresh the skin after travel and heat