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G's guide to sunscreen

G Magazine (issue #29, November/December 2010)

Nano, micro, physical, chemical... sunscreens can become confusing when all you want is some time in the sun.

Here comes the sun

Play this slideshow by clicking above the image to view the non-nano zinc-based sunscreens we recommend.

Credit: iStockphoto

Wotnot

Made from all natural and certified organic ingredients, including zinc oxide, aloe vera and GM-free vitamin E - even the preservative in this is natural. It is free from fragrances and chemicals, Australian made and owned, not tested on animals and comes in recyclable packaging. $25.95 (SPF 30+, 135 g) www.wotnot.com.au

Reflect Outdoor Balm

The nourishing Reflect Outdoor Balm uses zinc oxide to reflect damaging UV rays and contains organic olive oil to moisturise skin. Bursting with antioxidants and vitamins in natural rosemary and beeswax to prevent premature ageing, sun damage and skin cancer, it's Australian-made and owned to boot! $33.95, (SPF 15, 100 g) www.mionegroup.com

Invisible Zinc

Tinted daywear gives you SPF 30+ protection while acting as three products in one: moisturiser, zinc sunscreen and sheer foundation. Perfect for everyday use it comes in two shades for different skin tones. Invisible Zinc is a broad-spectrum physical blockout that protects against UV-A and B rays, and is free from chemicals. It is also free from nasty nano particles, and is recommended by Friends of the Earth. $32, (SPF 30+, 50 g) www.invisiblezinc.com

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When it comes to the world of sunscreens there's two ways to go: physical or chemical. Unlike physical sunblocks that commonly contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect UV rays, chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays and have received a lot of bad publicity over the last couple of years.

According to a study by the European Commission, chemical sunscreens are endangering coral reefs by the bleach pollution they create, in turn affecting the coral reef food chain. The World Health Organisation estimated 4000 to 6000 tonnes of chemical sunscreen are released annually into reef areas, with 25 per cent of the sunscreen ingredients on skin released into the water over the course of a 20-minute submersion. Chemical sunscreens are made of approximately 20 compounds acting as UV filters and preservatives.

There is also much controversy over the new sunscreen technology. Nano technology produces minute particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide enabling them to become invisible in products (otherwise think white zinc on the nose) but also allowing them to be absorbed by the skin. Scientists are concerned that when absorbed by the skin they may have adverse side effects. The jury is still out on the safety of nanoparticles so it is best to avoid them until their safety has been determined. For now micronised zinc oxide is likely the best option with particles too big to penetrate the skin, but small enough to not appear white. Zinc oxide boasts healing and skin calming properties and is a highly effective sun block with broad spectrum properties, reflecting both UVA and UVB rays. And of course, don't forget to slip on a shirt and slap on a hat!

Food for sun protection

Additionally, start protection from the inside by eating foods rich in antioxidants. Increasingly more studies show that these clever compounds mop up free radicals, the culprits responsible for many diseases ranging from wrinkles to cancer. The University of Arizona reported that consumption of lemon peel, rich in anti-oxidants was associated with a 34 per cent reduction in squamous cell skin cancers. Foods rich in antioxidants include all natural foods that are bright in colour (think fruits and vegies) and nuts, grains, legumes, vegetable and nut oils, beans. And of course organic foods boast the highest levels of these protective plant compounds compared with conventional produce. Other great sun-savvy foods include essential fatty acids especially omega 3 (from flaxseed, nuts, salmon and sardines) for helping to reduce UV induced damage to the skin.

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This feature is currently included in our November/December 2010 issue - on sale now. Flick through the images above right to view some of the sunscreens we recommend. In the printed article we also included UV Natural sunscreen. We have since discovered that this product however, is not nano-free as was suggested - it does in fact contain nano particles. We, at G, apologise for any confusion. For a complete guide on nanotechnology in sunscreens, including further recommendations, visit the Friends of the Earth's Safe Sunscreen Guide.