Sunscreens are popular in Japan, though they are considered as the “last line of defense” in the fight against sun’s damaging rays. A comprehensive approach includes
- Wearing protective apparel
- Choosing the right sunscreen
- Using sunscreen properly
Fashionable Protective Apparel
Sun damage is not only caused by sun’s rays coming from the sky.
Of course there are always beautiful parasols and trendy hats, but that’s only the beginning.
A Japanese woman’s war-chest includes fashionable UV-rated long gloves, leggings and scarves.
Even for when riding a bike, there are special hand covers attached to the steering wheel, which protect the hands completely.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen is Key
Sunscreen plays an important part in protecting against skin damage.
Sunscreens typically come with a long list of chemicals, some of which can enter the blood stream when absorbed through skin.
Avoid lightweight sunscreens which go on clear
Many lightweight or clear sunscreens contain the “nano particle” form of zinc oxide, typically without disclosing it on the actual label, since most governments do not require it yet. (Read more below about hazards of clear sunscreens).
Regular zinc oxide goes on thick, pasty and white, and is considered safe. You could be exposing yourself to serious risks with “clear” zinc oxide sunscreens.
According to Scientific American, a respected 170 year-old publication, “if your zinc oxide sunscreen goes on clear, it probably contains nano particles of the compound.”[Reference 1]
Avoid anything which contains oxybenzone or retinol
Many sunscreens also contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and retinol (or retinyl palmitate, a type of vitamin A).
Both oxybenzone and retinol are considered as harmful by many experts, and should be avoided.
Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 15 to 30
Broad-spectrum sunscreens will protect you against UVA and UVB both.
SPF of 15 to 30 offers adequate protection for most. You are not getting significant extra protection with anything over SPF 50.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare classifies sunscreens as “quasi-drugs” which it defines as a “product that has restricted purpose of use and has a mild action on the human body“. SPF 50 is the maximum level allowed on the Japanese market.[Reference 2]
Use your sunscreen properly
- Do a patch test. If you plan a major outing (such as to the beach), try it for a couple of days before.
- Use a lower SPF sunscreen for short outings. Keep a higher one on hand for the beach, picnic or the like.
- Cleanse-off as soon as possible.
- Read the directions. Putting on too little could be worse than putting on too much.
Clear Sunscreens, Nano Particles and Your Health
Safety of nano particle zinc oxide sunscreens and their impact on human health is a very controversial issue. To make matters worse, manufacturers are not yet required to make detailed disclosures on their product labels.
According to a 2014 study funded by MIT’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, nano particle zinc oxide can rapidly penetrate the cell walls, causing significant DNA damage. [Reference 3]
Advocates like the (EWG), an American environmental organization, find them to be “generally” safe. However, they also admit “We don’t know everything we would like to know about their performance because manufacturers are not required to disclose the qualities of the particles used in their sunscreens.“[Reference 4] In other words, buyer beware!
- “Do Nanoparticles and Sunscreen Mix?” Published by Scientific American. 2007
- “Pharmaceutical Administration and Regulations in Japan.” Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. 2014.
- “Tiny particles may pose big risk.” Published by MIT News Office. 2014
- “Nanoparticles in Sunscreens.” Published by The Environmental Working Group. 2015