Reading Time: 10 minutes

SKIN AND REEF-SAFE SUN PROTECTION

Photography by Retha Ferguson

SUMMER IS A TIME TO GO OUTSIDE AND ENJOY THE SUN’S WARM RAYS. BUT HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE SKIN, AND HOW CAN WE PROTECT OUR SKIN AND THE ENVIRONMENT TOGETHER?

Words By Flora Jin

Photography by Ana Shvets

We get it. Sunscreen can arguably be the least fun step of a skincare routine and the most forgettable. The packaging isn’t glamorous, and the label doesn’t promise an instant magical solution to acne, aging, wrinkles, or dehydration. Interestingly, sunscreen may be the one product that can truthfully address all of these issues.

Can sun protection be one of the most essential daily lifestyle habits?

The sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays can have serious effects on the skin.

UV damage is the leading cause of skin cancer and premature skin aging, where some skin cancers can be fatal. Free radicals from the sun’s harmful rays also break down cells at a molecular level, accelerating cellular aging.

What’s UV?

There are two main types of UV rays from the sun, UVB and UVA. UVB rays have short, high energy wavelengths that hit the skin’s surface layer, the dermis. When the dermis is irritated, we get sunburnt. Excessive UVB exposure can lead to freckling, age spots, hyperpigmentation, and in worst-case scenarios, life-threatening dark brown or black moles – a type of skin cancer called malignant melanoma. UVA penetrates even deeper into the skin and affects dermis cell DNA. Prolonged exposure can lead to premature aging, specifically wrinkling, leathery, and sagging skin, often having more long-term effects than UVB exposure and greatly increasing risk of skin.

To prevent damage, check the UV index before going outdoors, where the highest UV usually occurs from 10 AM to 2 PM. As a general rule of thumb, is to use the shadow test, where you check the length of your shadow; the longer the shadow, the safer it is. 

UV rays’ effects differ across skin tones.

Melanin is our skin’s natural protector from the sun’s rays. Generally, the more melanin, the darker your skin tone, and the more protected you are from the sun. We can estimate how long it takes different skin tones to burn under direct sunlight by the Fizpatrick scale: about 5-10 minutes for fair skin, 15 minutes for olive skin, and 20 minutes for darker skin. Keep in mind that this is a general estimate and many other variables affect sun damage!

“Everyone regardless of skin color needs protection from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day is a must as sun damage is cumulative.”
– Dr. Debra Jaliman

The spiel on SPF

SPF (sun protection factor) is a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. In truth, there is very little difference between SPF 30 and 50. SPF 50 lets through about 1/50, or 2%, of rays with perfect application. SPF 30 lets through about 1/30, or about 3%. It is important to recognize that no sunscreen blocks 100 percent of UVB rays, and sun protection is about limiting the amount of UVB exposure. You can use the SPF index to estimate your maximum sun exposure time before burning by multiplying the SPF number by the minutes it takes you to burn without sunscreen. This method doesn’t account for external factors and therefore should be used as a rough estimate.

Sunscreen Application Tips

There are two types of sunscreen: physical (or mineral) sunscreens, and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreen uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sits on top of the skin to reflect incoming UV rays. They work immediately after application and are often better for sensitive skin. However, they are heavier and tend to leave a white cast on darker skin tones. Chemical sunscreen absorbs different UV ray wavelengths, changing them to heat, and release them as infrared rays. They are lightweight and blendable, making them easier to layer under makeup and reapply through the day. They do tend to be more irritating than their physical counterparts, so be careful if you have sensitive skin. In addition to sunscreen, look for ingredients such as Vitamin C, green tea, coQ10, Vitamins A and E, or grapeseed oil in your skincare to help fight free radicals!

Photography by Retha Ferguson

“Most people need at least an ounce of sunscreen, or enough to fill a shot glass, to cover all the exposed parts of their body, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.”

Photography by Ana Shvets

Suncreen’s Effect on Reefs

The sunscreen you apply may not stay on your skin. When we swim or shower, sunscreen may wash off and enter our waterways. According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, many common ingredients in sunscreen are highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life. Their study increased susceptibility to bleaching, DNA damage, abnormal skeletal growth, and deformities in developing coral. Even very low concentrations of benzophenone-2, can kill juvenile corals.

Sunscreen chemicals can leave devastating effects on many marine species, including: impairing growth and photosynthesis in green algae; inducing defects in young mussels; damaging sea urchins’ immune and reproductive systems, and deforming their young; decreasing fertility and reproduction in female fish and causing female characteristics in male fish; and accumulating toxins in dolphins’ tissue and transferring them to their young (Marinet.org).

Read the ingredient list on sunscreens before purchasing and watch out for oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, and nano-Zinc oxide as these tend to be the most harmful ingredients!

Supergoop, La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Sunscreen, Krave Beauty Beet the Sun via Pinterest

“Many people don’t know that there are also Arabs living in Israel,” Nissreen Najjar (Nazareth, 1985) tells me from across my Mac screen. The artist, who grew up in occupied historic Palestine within the State of Israel, is currently based in Paris, commuting between the French capital and Jerusalem; or so she did until the pandemic. Being an Arab Christian woman in an area mired in long-lasting religious and ethnic conflict such as her native country has immensely influenced her artistic work, using it to reflect the issues that concern her. “This part of my identity has been essential in my approach to artistic creation,” she shares. 

Nisreen is a woman with a kind face and an air of confidence, and she immediately opens up about her life. Asked about the beginning of her career, she tells me how after studying Fine Arts, she began to teach in Bethlehem and Jerusalem at universities. Art has always been a part of her life. It is a way for her to explore her identity as an individual and a member of a social and historical community, as well as an instrument to denounce the suffering of the Palestinian people. At the same time, it allows her to describe power hierarchies within Israel and across the rest of the world. “I consider myself a translator, I translate what happens in my homeland into my art. I tell the story of my family, of my people, and of my own life. That is my starting point, and with this raw material I construct a web of different interpretations from the perspective of someone who understands perfectly that reality but can also observe it from the outside,” she says.

From the start, I realize that it would be impossible to fully comprehend Nissreen’s artwork without understanding the daily reality of the Palestinian people and their recent history, so I direct my next question around this. “I always try to talk about what I know, what has been part of my own experiences and what catches my attention,” she explains. Nissreen works with video, performance, photography and sculpture. This combination of installations and different techniques provides her with multiple possibilities when it comes to communicating complex themes. “I bring my identity and myself to the ‘white cube’, breaking it down through confession. I baptize my cultural elements and turn them into subversive and obsessive materials.”