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    How do you choose a natural sunscreen? There are so many options and so many claims. Read on to see what's most important, and what you should watch out for.

    What is Natural Sunscreen?

    Traditionally sunscreen was created using chemicals to absorb the UV radiation (UVR) from the sun. The chemicals in the sunscreen would absorb the UV rays that burn the skin (Ultraviolet B Radiation) and convert those rays into heat. It's worth noting that because this is a chemical reaction, it takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes to be effective.

    Natural and mineral sunscreens, instead use a mineral extract to scatter and reflect the rays, so instead of being absorbed, the rays don't actually reach the skin. Most natural and mineral sunscreens use either zinc oxide or titanium oxide to scatter UV radiation. The effectiveness is dependent on the concentration of the active ingredient (zinc oxide or titanium oxide). Because there is no chemical reaction, you can expect a mineral / natural sunscreen to be effective immediately.

    Natural and mineral sunscreens, instead use a mineral extract to scatter and reflect the rays, so instead of being absorbed, the rays don't actually reach the skin. Most natural and mineral sunscreens use either zinc oxide or titanium oxide to scatter UV radiation. The effectiveness is dependent on the concentration of the active ingredient (zinc oxide or titanium oxide). Because there is no chemical reaction, you can expect a mineral / natural sunscreen to be effective immediately.

     

    Chemical vs Natural Sunscreen on the Skin

    The difference between brands and products generally comes down to a couple of things. The concentration of the active ingredient (this also impacts the SPF value), and how the remainder of the cream is formulated (in other words, what the other ingredients are).

    To be considered natural, most sunscreens simply need to have chosen a natural active ingredient, i.e. they need to be a mineral sunscreen. This doesn’t take into account the inactive ingredients, the ingredients that make the texture and feel of the cream.

    Why Choose Natural Sunscreen?

    People choose natural sunscreens over chemical ones for a variety of different reasons. The most common reasons to choose them include: concerns over their sensitive skin, eczema, or dermatitis becoming inflamed or flaring up due to the more irritating ingredients found in chemical sunscreens; concerns for the environment and the safety of our coral reefs; concerns over chemicals in general; or trying to live a more natural life;

    As a side note: anyone looking to choose natural sunscreen, either to avoid chemical-based ingredients or with ultra-sensitive skin, may have more success looking for an 'all natural' sunscreen as all of the ingredients will be plant-based/naturally derived, rather than just the active ingredient.

    6 Factors in Choosing Natural Sunscreen

    SPF Rating

    The SPF is the most often misunderstood rating for choosing sunscreens. While the SPF rating is useful, it has two main problems.

    The first is that people believe it's a measure of complete protection and the higher the number the better.

    There is only a 1.3% difference between an SPF30 and an SPF50, and an SPF30 offers more than adequate protection.

    Secondly, they don't usually understand it is only a measure of protection from UVB radiation, not the longer-term damaging UVA radiation which is present even in shade or on a cloudy day. Several years ago this wasn't considered a problem, but with sunscreen's place in society moving from a holiday product to a daily use UVA protection cream, SPF ratings are no longer as important as they once were.

    Unfortunately, it has led to many people choosing higher SPF sunscreens that provide very little to no protection from UVA radiation. We recommend you choose based on the World Health Organisation's recommendation of at least SPF 15, also ensure it is marked as having 'broad spectrum' protection.
    Learn more about SPF ratings.

    Broad Spectrum

    The term broad spectrum entered the scene when UVA radiation and it's harmful effects were realised. The term means that the sunscreen protects from both UVA and UVB radiation, rather than just one latter, which was common at the time.

    It is important to realise though that different countries have their own regulations around what broad spectrum should cover more specifically. The short explanation is that broad-spectrum testing results in a critical wavelength. The critical wavelength essentially represents how wide a spectrum you have decent protection of. If you choose any kind of sunscreen, the higher the number the better.

     

    Ultraviolet (UV) Light Spectrum with nm

    In the United States:

    The U.S. has a requirement of a critical wavelength of 370nm and all sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher are required to satisfy the requirements of the broad spectrum labelling.

    Sunscreen under SPF 15 is not necessarily broad spectrum. Always check the label if the sunscreen is SPF 15 or less.

    In Europe:

    The minimum critical wavelength here is the same as in the United States, 370nm. In Europe, sunscreen must be at least SPF 6 to be tested for broad spectrum. Always check the label when selecting a sunscreen in Europe.

    In Australia & New Zealand:

    These have the highest standards of broad-spectrum testing, most likely due to their extremely high levels of UV radiation. They test the level of protection specifically at 380nm, using the Monochromatic Protection Factor measure, essentially requiring a higher standard of UV A protection.

    You should check the label when considering any sunscreen under SPF 50 in Australia. Once they go above SPF 30 they are required to be broad spectrum here.

    The Active Ingredient

    There are two commonly used active ingredients in natural (physical) sunscreens.

    The first is zinc oxide, and the second is titanium dioxide. Bear in mind, that just because a sunscreen uses one of these ingredients, does not mean it doesn’t use other chemical ingredients as well. For one with no chemicals UV absorbers, you probably want to look for a sunscreen marked as 'all natural' or 'chemical free', Soléo Organics is an example of an all natural,  sunscreen.

    Regarding coverage, zinc oxide is actually the only active sunscreen ingredient that covers the entire UVA/UVB spectrum on its own. Titanium dioxide does cover the UVA and UVB spectrum. But it only absorbs and scatters the UVB rays and the shorter UVA rays (UVA II). It doesn't cover the longer UVA rays (UVA I).

    So in terms of broad spectrum coverage, titanium dioxide is usually combined with either chemical UV blockers or absorbers, or with zinc oxide itself.

    In terms of coverage then, zinc oxide wins hands down.

    As a side note, zinc oxide is brought down to quite a small particle size for sunscreen. The two common sizes are micronised zinc and nano zinc. Some people prefer to choose micronised zinc because of some information floating around regarding nano particles.

    Photostability

    Photostability is something to keep in mind when looking to choose natural sunscreen. Basically, some chemicals degrade under ultraviolet radiation. Minerals like zinc and titanium don't degrade like chemicals, but it is important to note that many 'natural' sunscreens also use chemical UV absorbers. This is more common when the sunscreen has a higher than 30 SPF rating. In order to boost the SPF, frequently manufacturers add a UVB absorbing chemical. This boosts the SPF value, without affecting the broad spectrum component of the sunscreen.

    Basically, the message is if you don't intend on reapplying your sunscreen every two hours, for instance, if it's under your makeup. Then it's generally a good idea to ensure you use an all-natural sunscreen with no chemical UV absorbers, as the mineral UV reflectors in natural/mineral sunscreens are entirely photostable.

    Non-comedogenic

    It's important when you choose natural sunscreen, to find one that is non-comedogenic and gives you the best chance of avoiding blocking the pores in your skin. These sunscreens are especially good for those that suffer from Acne, Eczema, Dermatitis, or other skin conditions as it drastically lowers the risk of flare-ups. It also ensures the sunscreen will be more breathable and sometimes it can help with oil control on the skin (Better for those with oily skin, read more about non-greasy sunscreen). 

    Please note, however, that there is no real standard for claiming non-comedogenic, so make sure you read the product reviews!

    Eco-Friendly & Reef Safe

    Finally, last but not least. Choose natural sunscreen that claims to be eco-friendly. Specifically look for a sunscreen that is biodegradable, reef safe and has recyclable packaging. The biodegradable claim means that the ingredients really are natural and will break down in the environment. The reef safe claim means that sunscreen should be safe for our coral reefs and won't contribute to coral bleaching. Finally, the recyclable claim shows a genuine concern for the environment.

     

    Flower Oil Extract

    A Note About DIY Sunscreen

    Many blogs, Tik Tok videos, online videos etc, make out that you can easily formulate your own natural sunscreen. Some claim that you can buy bulk coconut oil and use that. Others say that the choice of certain plant oils will offer more than enough SPF protection.

    While it is true that certain plant oils have some form of SPF protection, they are not broad spectrum, and they only offer a very low SPF. Usually from SPF 1 to SPF 7.

    Please don't hurt yourself or others by choosing to try and create your own sunscreen. Natural sunscreens are actually immensely complicated to formulate. Our sunscreen, Soléo Organics pioneered natural sunscreen back in 2000 and took over seven years to formulate. Leo Fung (our founder) would choose many different plant oils and extracts while creating Soleo, and many of them were not adequate or provided protection in the right bands of UV radiation.

    In short, choose natural sunscreen, don't try to create it yourself. Not unless you are a trained chemist or biochemist and go through all the relevant testing for SPF, broad-spectrum protection, spread ability, skin sensitivity, stability, viscosity and dispersion.

    In Different Countries

    How to Choose Natural Sunscreen in Europe

    Europe is generally the least stringent in terms of making claims on a product/sunscreen. While actually registering a sunscreen can take significant effort, they are marketed under cosmetic regulations.

    Cosmetic regulations are far less stringent than the therapeutic claim regulations used in other markets. Therefore, if you are in the market for natural sunscreen in Europe, we'd suggest you look at the claims those sunscreens make in Australia (they make the most stringent regulations

    How to Choose Natural Sunscreen in the United States

    In the United States, sunscreen is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) under therapeutic regulations.  They are therefore much more stringent than Europe in what claims companies can make on their products. In this regard, they are more strict. However, in the United States, companies do have a lot of freedom in what claims they can make marketing their product.

    If you have any concerns, we recommend you look for a product marketed in Australia as well and check what claims they make there. They have the strictest regulations on therapeutic products like sunscreen.

    How to Choose Natural Sunscreen in Australia & New Zealand

    Australia and New Zealand have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Geographically, this can be linked to their placement on the globe, and the amount of UV Radiation they receive. Genetically, it has been linked to the pigmentation of the skin.

    Due to these higher rates of skin cancer, natural sunscreen is readily available in Australia from a number of brands. It also means that Australia has some of the most stringent regulations on sunscreen in the world. This doesn't just affect the sunscreen labelling, it also affects the marketing of any sunscreen products in Australia and New Zealand.

    Under revised guidelines by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (ARTG) in 2019, there are very strict requirements on labelling a product 'natural', and even stricter requirements around making claims like hypoallergenic.

    Australia is therefore one of the best places to investigate natural sunscreens.

    What we Recommend

    Our sunscreen, Soléo Organics, is actually one of the very few sunscreens allowed to label themselves as an all-natural sunscreen.

    This is rare because it shows that every ingredient used is natural. Meaning it doesn't even contain any synthetic preservatives, and yet we still boast a three-year shelf life matching most chemical sunscreens. 

    We've spent over twenty years developing natural sunscreen and our ingredients work together synergistically to overcome the need for a synthetic preservative.

    Soléo Organics natural sunscreen follows all the recommendations we've listed above and far more.

    Whichever sunscreen you choose try to follow our recommendations above to get the very best for your skin.

    A Final Word

    The best natural sunscreen to choose will always be the one you will actually use. It should feel good on your skin and offer decent protection. There's no point in picking a sunscreen, that has all the best features, but you won't use it.

    If you still need help choosing a natural sunscreen, you can always contact us, or talk to your physician or dermatologist.

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