The Problem With Sunscreens

SPF written in sand

Sunscreens are unique skincare products; we are supposed to apply a thick coat over large areas of our face and body and subsequently re-apply often dependant on time and our activity. It follows that the ingredients within sunscreens should be non-irritating and should be able to withstand powerful UV radiation without losing their effectiveness or potentially form harmful products from their breakdown.

The ingredients used in sunscreens may be inhaled when sprayed onto the body or may be absorbed when applied to certain areas such as near the lips. As a result, many sunscreen ingredients are absorbed into the body and can be found in urine, blood and breast milk.

Chemical sunscreens

A large percentage of sunscreens use chemical filters typically containing two or more of chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, homosalate and octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC). Studies indicate that some of these may be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and end up mimicking hormones or disrupting the hormonal systems within our bodies.

The most worrying of all sunscreens is oxybenzone which is used in more than half of the sunscreens currently on the market. In laboratory studies, oxybenzone was found to display weak oestrogenic activity as well as blocking the male hormone testosterone. Aside from this, there were higher incidences of skin reactions.

Mineral sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens are made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide usually in the form of smaller particle size. To date, there is good evidence that little if any of zinc or titanium penetrate the skin to reach our tissues and hence these are generally deemed to be safer than their chemical counterparts.

The downside to the use of mineral sunscreens has always been that those offering superior protection have to have larger amounts of zinc and titanium, which often results in a white superficial layer that is not cosmetically pleasing. Many manufacturers have got over this hurdle by using nano-particles which if sprayed could enter the body through the respiratory system.

Inactive ingredients

A typical sunscreen will contain 60% inactive ingredients which may be a cause for concern. Some preservatives used such as MIS are known to cause skin sensitization or allergies.

Vitamin A is often added to sunscreens because manufacturers believe that it offers anti-ageing benefits due to its antioxidant properties. Whilst this may be true for oral forms, a study using a topical form of vitamin A found that this may speed the formation of cell growth when skin is exposed to sunlight which is clearly not desirable. The use of retinyl palmitate, the most common form of vitamin A used in some sunscreens, may result in damaging free radicals which is exactly the opposite of what this ingredient is supposed to do.

What should you use?

So far we have ascertained that many chemical sunscreens can disturb our hormones and may cause skin sensitivities and rashes. Mineral sunscreens, though generally regarded as a safer option, may be photoactive. Titanium dioxide can react with sunlight to create free radicals that can damage the skin, damage our genetic material and equally damage the sunscreen’s ingredients rendering it less effective.

There is of course always a possibility that one or more of the non-active ingredients used in sunscreens may change due to UV exposure resulting in inflammation or damage to skin. Additionally, ingredients used in one’s skincare may interact with the sunscreen or its non-active ingredients.

Aside from all these potential reactions, chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate are the most powerful free radical generators known to man! Free radicals damage our skin tissues and the most widely accepted theory of ageing so your chemical sunscreen is actually ageing your skin and your body.

Aside from the cosmetic concerns, there is a rising awareness of the damage chemicals found in sunscreens can have on the delicate coral and marine life. It is estimated that 25% of the sunscreen ingredients we apply end up in the water.

Certain chemical sunscreens including oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate and octinoxate have been identified as particularly dangerous for our eco-system deforming coral, making coral susceptible to bleaching and making it less resilient to climate change. And this does not apply to chemical sunscreens only; paraben in sunscreen products is thought to awaken the dormant viruses inside some algae that live inside coral reefs.

These algae are essential to the well-being of coral providing it with its food energy as well as vibrant colour. Once the virus begins to thrive, the algae literally explode resulting in the spread of the viruses to the surrounding coral communities. This infection can occur within a few days and it only requires small amounts of these chemicals to initiate the infection.

Coral is only part of the problem. Chemical sunscreens and many of their ingredients are also toxic to many species of fish and other creatures living in water. Any imbalance in one species invariably affects other species.

Some sunscreens contain organic or natural ingredients that can still damage the skin or affect marine life. Biodegradable is meaningless as degradation of these may still cause a chain of reactions detrimental to skin and the oceans.

Aethic Sôvée is the world’s first eco-compatible, reef-safe sunscreen. It contains three of the most photo-stable filters on the market which means that it provides a broader spectrum of protection against the sun’s harmful rays than most leading sunscreens.

The filters used in Aethic Sôvée sunscreens are:

MBBT – provides full UVA I and II protection as well as protection against UVB rays; shows little photo-degradation which means that it is not converted into toxic compounds; dissolves poorly in both oil and water; minimally absorbed by skin and is non-irritating.

DHHB – absorbs UVA rays, photostable, compatible with other UV filters and also provides protection against some free radicals.

EHT – provides UVB protection, completely insoluble in water; water resistant and provides long lasting protection.

Each Aethic Sôvée sunscreen contains organic moisturisers including olive oil, beeswax and coconut extract providing ideal hydration and nourishment for your skin. Vitamin E is added to ensure free radicals are neutralised. Each ingredient has been tested to ensure it has no impact on marine life and is skin friendly. Food grade preservatives are used to ensure that again these have no impact on skin and the environment and the product is free from parabens, petroleum derivatives, artificial preservatives, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, alcohol and lanolin.

Aethic have also gone a step further in that the packaging is recyclable and the ingredients within the sunscreen are biodegradable. The bottles are made from corn plastic whilst the boxes are made from sustainable paper and do not contain glue.

If you are going out into the sun for prolonged periods of time, you need to protect your skin and a sunscreen is absolutely essential. That is exactly what Sôvée does with its unique triple filter protection. Aethic protects you, your skin, the coral reefs and the marine life of our delicate planet.

Sun Creams vs Moisturisers With SPF

SPF Moisturisers_VH

Speak to almost any dermatologist and they will say that the best method for keeping your skin healthy is wearing SPF every day. The detrimental impact that sunlight has on our skin, in terms of health and cosmetic, is well documented. A recent study called into question our approach to sun protection and how we apply it. Read More…

Everything You Need To Know About Pigmentation

Wheat field

At last, we’re having a summer. Getting the limbs out. Firing up the barbecue. Turning our pale faces to the sun. Only – let’s stop right there. Because while getting some sunshine on your face and chest feels just sooooooo good, there’s a heavy price to pay not too far down the line. Not in terms of wrinkles – we know all about those – but pigmentation problems.

You can call them ‘age spots’ (although they tend to turn up way ahead of cashing in your pension). Your Great Aunt Dorothea probably referred to them as ‘liver spots’. But in fact, they should better be referred to as ‘sun spots’ – because they’re a direct result of accumulated sun damage, which triggers melanin-producing cells in the skin to lose control and produce too much pigment as a defence mechanism – on the face and chest, in particular, but also the arms and backs of the hands, where they’re harder to conceal.

Fairer skins are more susceptible – and against a paler background, age spots show up more, too. (Jo had one of those ‘oh s**t’ moments when a dermatologist told her that the dark patches on the side of her face were sun spots, not – as she’d thought, beauty marks. Which goes to show how easy it is to miss the edges of the face and the outer jaw-line when applying sunscreen. So be sure to smooth your a.m. SPF into the whole face.)

Many botanicals have proven pigment-lightening actions, including azelaic acid (from barley and wheat), kojic acid (from fermented mushrooms), retinoic acid and retinols (vitamin A derivatives which are also famously effective against lines), Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (a stabilised form of vitamin C) and licorice. (They all work by inhibiting the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase, if you really want the science bit.) But sun spots – as with almost everything to do with the body – are far easier to prevent than to cure. So here’s our suggested plan…

Never venture out without an SPF30 or over

Starting. Right. Now. This is non-negotiable  it should prevent the spots you have from getting any worse, and may actually go some way towards slightly fading them. If so far you aren’t affected by age spots? This daily SPF30 (or higher) will go a long way to preventing their future appearance. (We’re huge fans of This Works In Transit Skin Defence SPF30, which goes on really smoothly and is a great basis for make-up.)  Hand creams with a built-in SPF can be super-useful on the backs of hand/forearms, or if you tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, apply regular sunscreen to these vulnerable zones, and remember to repeat after hand-washing; Aurelia Aromatic Repair & Brighten Hand Cream is formulated specifically to diminish the signs of pigmentation – and just feels and smells so heavenly, it’s a positive treat to apply and reapply.

Wear a hat

If you have sun spots, or seek to avoid their appearance, we also advise: get yourself a fabulous, stylish collection of fairly tightly-woven straw hats, and keep on a peg near your door/s, for easy grabbing when you go out on a summer day (not a baseball cap because the brims aren’t big enough). Sometimes anti-ageing solutions can be wonderfully low-tech.  (Wide-armed, large-lensed sunspecs also help.)

Try a specific ‘age spot’ treatment

A vast amount of cosmetic research dollars are currently being channeled into this area of skincare, blending tried and tested botanicals like kojic acid, mulberry and alpha arbutin, for instance, with whiz-bang skin delivery systems. (Alpha arbutin is the natural alternative to skin-bleaching hydroquinone.) Some super-high-tech options to try that you’ll find right here in VH’s edit included Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Tone Perfecting Booster, White Lightening Complex by iS Clinical and Garden of Wisdom Alpha Arbutin 2% and Kojic Acid 1% Serum.

Apply very carefully – don’t slap the treatment on

And be aware: most of these treatments take some time to kick in, and there are no overnight miracles here. (You may be looking at three months minimum, which is longer than most ‘miracle’ wrinkle treatments take.) Be aware, too, that some are for all-over skin application, and others are literally ‘spot-targeted’, requiring the use of a cotton bud to apply precisely. Get out your magnifying glasses and read the instructions before throwing out (or preferably recycling) the box. Actually, we suggest applying a thin amount to dark areas at least one hour before bedtime; this will let it fully absorb into the skin so it won’t slide into your eyes when you press your face into the pillow.’ (Albeit mild, these skin-lightening ingredients can still sting eyes.) And the usual advice applies: nothing works if it’s left sitting on the bathroom shelf in a jar or bottle. You’ve got to be religious about using treatment products to see effects. Once or twice a week when you can be bothered makes any investment you make in anti-age spot skincare completely worthless.

Use make-up to conceal the spot

Once you’ve got an age spot, what’s to do? After your primer or moisturiser in the morning, dot on a matte yellow- or peach-based corrector or concealer (deeper peach for women of colour), using a little brush. Then press it into skin with your finger – don’t sweep it on or it’ll sweep right off again. If needed, top up with foundation or concealer (again, dab and press rather than blend), or brush on a mineral powder base.

And be careful with fragrance

Certain perfume ingredients – particularly those derived from citrus (such as bergamot) – can interact with sunlight to cause permanent pigmentation problems, in the form of ‘staining’ of the skin, with dark streaks or patches – typically on the neck and chest, where perfume is spritzed or splashed. We counsel: in summer, it’s safest to apply skin to perfume for evening rather than daytime, or put it where the sun won’t strike directly. (So long as there’s no risk of staining your clothes, fabric is a wonderful ‘carrier’ for scent, too.)


Sun Protection: The Ultimate Guide To SPF

sun and ocean

Yes, we should all be wearing a minimum of SPF 15 every day, regardless of the weather, but a lot of us only really start considering sun protection around this time of the year. Whether you always leave it until the last minute and make a last minute dash in duty-free or you prefer to take time to consider your options, here is a straightforward guide to provide you with all the information you need to make the right selection. Read More…

Sun Loving


Reading one of the books for my yoga teacher training course, written by a very wise modern-day Swami, I was struck by these lines: ‘The rays of the sun give life to all living beings; the heat of the sun is energising. It removes all kinds of ailments. When the rays of the sun are absorbed in the right measure, the right amount, they have healing power.’ It got me thinking about my attitude to the sun and how it has changed over the years. As a child I’d be outside all the time without a care in the world. I couldn’t wait for the days to get longer so I could play in the back garden all the time – usually from the Easter holidays onwards. When the sun was hot, or when we were on holiday, my mum would slather us in a thick white sun cream called Uvistat. Her fair skin had been burned as a child, and she wanted to protect us. This was the 70s and I realise now she was ahead of the curve in terms of using sunscreens at a time when many were slathering on baby oil to increase their tan. Read More…