Sunscreen: natural SPF vs synthetic SPF

With spring upon us and summer fast approaching, the imminent exposure to New Zealand’s harsh UV light is now upon us once again, and it is time to choose which out of the many sunscreen products on the market you are going to select for you and your family?

There are many choices to consider, which brand, which SPF rating, do I go for a product that will also help to prevent sun damage and skin ageing?  And perhaps the most crucial decision that you will make, do I choose a synthetic sunscreen product, or do I choose a natural sunscreen product?

There are many synthetic sunscreen products in the skincare market today, of which a large number offer high SPF values between SPF 30 – 80+, and also do often include a waterproof timeframe, which can be very appealing to those of us who fit into skin type 1 and 2 categories, that do burn very easily and who are more prone to UV damage, or for those who have a love for the outdoors.

Synthetic ultraviolet absorbers work by absorbing harmful UVA and UVB rays allowing them to absorb into the skin, and are known as organic ultraviolet absorbers.  They are often marketed as organic filters, which can cause some confusion to consumers as these can also often still be found in some ‘natural’ skincare brands products.  Examples are PABA and methylene bis-benzotiazolyl tetramethylbutyphenol, which are actually non-natural petrochemical ingredients that can be irritating to the skin.

The natural sun care market like the natural skincare market is fast growing, and there are also now a number of natural sunscreen alternatives to consider for your sun protection too. Natural sunscreen products do generally offer lower SPF ratings than their synthetic counterparts; however what is often misunderstood is what the letters SPF actually mean for your skin.

The letters SPF stand for Sun Protection Factor, which rates a product’s ability to screen or bock the sun’s harmful rays.  It is expressed as the extra length of time you can stay in the sun before burning.  For example, if a fair-skinned person who would usually burn in six to seven minutes uses an SPF15, then they can safely be exposed to the sun for 90 minutes, or 15 times longer.  Higher SPF ratings are not actually proportional, as an SPF 15 sunscreen offers 93% absorption and filtering of UVA and UVB sunlight, which also allows for a daily dose of Vitamin D – the essential “sunshine vitamin” your body can synthesize from sun exposure, compared to an SPF 30 which offers 97%.

In comparison to synthetic sunscreens, a natural SPF sunscreen actually refers to products which use inorganic ultraviolet absorbers or blockers such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which create a physical barrier or blocker on the skin that works to reflect excess UVA and UVB rays back into the atmosphere, as opposed to your skin absorbing them.  It is for this reason that natural sunscreens are considered to be milder and safer to use – especially for sensitive skins.

By Stephanie Simeon

Antipodes Beauty Specialist & Brand Training Manager

Antipodes Immortal Natural Sun Protection Face & Body Moisturizer is a super performance daily moisturiser offering natural SPF15. It is available for secure order from our online shop.

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