The 3 variables of sun protection

The 3 variables of sun protection

In 2014 my young daughter had just started a new school. One of the school policies was that parents should provide sunscreen for use at school and on school trips. My daughter has sensitive skin so I was already aware that many mainstream chemical sunscreens contained a number of potential irritants for her. Frustrated with the lack of all-natural, mineral sunscreens on the market, I decided to develop a really basic but really effective sunscreen my daughter could use which contained only 4 ingredients.

When I realised how costly it was to source premium quality, natural, organic and unrefined ingredients, I wondered if it would be possible to spread the cost by making batches for other parents and family members. After a lot of trial and error I finally perfected the recipe and Shade™ was born.

When I look back at my journey with Shade™, one thing has become very clear to me: Shade™ is an effective sunscreen, organic and with no plastic waste, that has prompted many positive reviews. However, that does not detract from the sinking feeling I get when an occasional negative review appears.

So, I have been contemplating on how to address this interesting conundrum:

Why can it go wrong for some, but not others?

I have looked at this issue from a number of angles and come to this conclusion: there are basically three influencing factors at play when it comes to the success or failure of a sunscreen in action, and these are they:

  1. The sunscreen itself
  2. The environmental conditions
  3. The user

Let's look at these three contributing factors and try to determine why one person might swear they will only ever use Shade™ on themselves and their darling progeny and yet another claims they have had the worst experience, burnt on their first use and wouldn't wish it on Anthony Fauci's mother (that's an exaggeration, included for dramatic effect).

  1. The sunscreen itself

Shade™ has been independently tested by a certified laboratory specifically for its sun protection efficacy. Before this testing could be undertaken, it had also to be analysed to conform to cosmetics safety regulations. Shade™ is manufactured to a given formula, by a GMP cosmetics-dedicated factory, with quality control monitoring and pre-production checks (raw ingredient integrity, Certificates of Authenticity, Material Safety Data Sheets etc.) and the production is standardised across the board for every batch. The formula remains consistent.

The vast majority of people using Shade™ claim it to be effective, so based on all of the above, the sunscreen itself, in the case of Shade™ at least to be less a variable factor than a reliable constant.

  1. The environmental conditions

These are most definitely variable and will differ in a number of ways:

  • location (longitude, latitude)
  • time of day
  • time of year
  • UV index
  • reflective surfaces (grass, glass, buildings, water, snow, ice)
  • weather conditions (wind, cloud)
  • altitude 

All the above factors have a major influence on sun protection requirements.

  1. The user

Here is where things get personal.

We are all different, from our skin tone to our relationship with the sun and our choice of products we use on our skin. Although some variables remain largely static for each person such as skin type, others can differ, and can be influenced also by environmental factors:

  • attitude to sun exposure - there are sun worshipers and there are people like me who can only stand 15mins of strong exposure before they need to  retreat to the shade. 
  • certain activities require lots of outdoor time, and this can be at the height of the day (swimming, sports, sweating, bricklaying, roofing, gardening for example).
  • are other protective measures (hats, long sleeves, nothing) being employed? Sunscreen alone should never be relied upon as the only protective measure.
  • previous experience with other sunscreens (burning/high sun tolerance). If you have been used to a chemical sunscreen this might impact the way in which you use a mineral-based sunscreen (may not like white cast/appreciates protection of thick white zinc oxide);
  • knowledge about sun exposure: desire for a 'healthy' bronzed look or wanting to retain a pale complexion, understanding of how SPF works, aware or not aware of environmental factors, knowing when skin has had enough exposure.
  • application of enough product or too little product too late.
  • understanding of the way in which mineral sunscreen works in comparison to chemical formulas

Seat belts don't cause accidents.

The environment plays a major role, but it's the user's ability to understand the environment they are in and the relative dangers posed by each influencing factor and adjust their personal protection measures accordingly in order to get the best out of the product. If the product's claimed protections aren't going to be adequate under the given circumstances, then another more appropriate product should be sought.

It appears that it is the user that is most variable of all three - not only physically, but their attitude to and knowledge of the threats, the product they have chosen to use and their ability to assess the environment and prepare and react accordingly are key.

It's embarrassing to admit when one has caused an accident, but this is why training and instruction, understanding how to operate the vehicle and keeping an eye on the road at all times is an absolute necessity. Shade™ is the common denominator here, the stable, unchanging, reliable constant; in this analogy, the seat belt. Blaming the sunscreen is a bit like the driver blaming the seat belt for the accident. It certainly won't do anything useful in the face of danger if it's not used properly.

If we can reduce the amount of toxins people are putting on to their skin (and therefore into their bodies) and reduce our impact on the planet through using recyclable packaging, a far lower carbon footprint (fewer ingredients = fewer resources) and harmless ingredients which don’t damage marine life whilst at the same time as helping people keep themselves safe, then we will have succeeded in our goals with Shade. We have done what we can to make the product reliable. Now all we need is people to understand sun safety better in order to keep to their end of the bargain.

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