Saturday, June 01, 2013

Sunscreen: Beating the sun, burning eyes, I hate you.

It's that time of the year again when the clothes come off and the skin is fully exposed. No, that's not right. According to health professionals (i.e. news articles and blogs I've read), there is a recommendation that sunscreen be worn year round.

Not being a doctor, I have mucho time to write about things and also know little to nothing about cancer or health. So, here's a blurb on my relationship with sunscreen.

Sunscreen and Me: Skin product, contact lenses, burning

The quick summary, "I effing hate it", should be obvious from the title. As to "why" is not that difficult a question to answer: it's "greasy". Being a dude, it is not advantageous or generally "accepted" for me to wear any sort of cosmetic products on my skin. Having to put on moisturizer on my flaking skin is a large enough chore during the coldest and driest days of winter. These are not particularly greasy moisturizers either. The simple feeling of having to lather something onto my skin is just annoying and disgusting to me -- crybaby...

However, the real deal killer is partly attributed to a health condition: myopia. This is nearsightedness (i.e. can't see far), which I correct using glasses and contact lenses. Usage between those are split between indoors and outdoors with contacts for the latter, and you can figure out the other. What does this have to do with a cream applied to one's skin?

That sunscreen usually gets slathered onto all exposed skin including most of the face. Given enough time, it seeps into my eyes and burns. "Don't put it near your eyes then, stupid" -- easier said than done. I wear sunglasses and a hat outdoors, so I do avoid sunscreen application to the region above my eyes (e.g. forehead, under the eyelid). Unfortunately, the nose is still exposed and a major sun exposure area as it sticks out. For this reason, I apply it to my nose up to about the eyebrows. I actually did try to avoid going past eye level with sunscreen on my nose once with no success.

My eyes, they burn!

How do I know sunscreen gets into my eyes?

This is an easy one! Quite simply, the sunscreens I've tried (one or two brands only to be fair) have caused my eyes to burn for about 10-20 minutes at a time. The sensation usually starts out hours after first applying the sunscreen with very moderate stinging. Then as time wears on in the summer heat, it develops into a full on burn that forces the eye to close reflexively. One summer ago, this great sensation occurred while I was driving on a freeway. And it was a full on burn... I learned to drive with one eye under duress that day.

Not being a scientist or a doctor, I can't say exactly why it happens. However, my guess is that sweat slowly causes the sunscreen to migrate into my eyes over the day. It'd be interesting to know if it's getting into my circulation -- I'm doubtful, but possible?

The eyes are great in that they are self-cleaning and tears usually accompany the entry foreign objects. Remember those contact lenses? I am going to guess that those pieces of plastic (soft contacts) are trapping the sunscreen in or behind the lenses. This might explain why it takes 10-20 minutes to feel "okay" again despite the tears.

How to avoid burning eyes?

After that dangerous freeway, "could have died incident", I finally decided to do some research. According to Mr. Google and the "fellow burned", the culprit may (emphasis on "may") be one common ingredient used in sunscreen formulas. I won't name it for "obvious" reasons, but do ask Mr. Google yourself.

Hypoallergenic Kids Formula

So, I went the avoidance route and looked for a sunscreen that did not have that one ingredient that I was looking for -- I didn't pay attention to others. Success: after using the new product, my eyes did not burn once at the end of the day. No irritation was felt after five or so further applications. However, the only product that I found in the store without this ingredient was a hypoallergenic formula for kids, which used a lot of titanium dioxide. Being a hypoallergenic formula, who knows what else was removed? Was it really that one ingredient? Not a conclusive "study"...

Do a search on the difference between sunscreens and sun blocks for more information on skin/eye irritation.

My Alternative Solution: Cover up

Being a hater of sunscreen due to burning eyes and being a baby about skin products, I have chosen an alternative route. This one involves just avoiding the sun and not putting on sunscreen when I can. That means putting on clothes even when it's searing hot outside, and avoiding going outside during the day -- the sweat will wash out. I have a nice wardrobe full of hoodies and jackets with hoods for this reason. Wraparound, oversized sunglasses also help.

Oh, how I wish it was more socially acceptable in North America to wear headscarves. They are known by many names including "keffiyeh". From what I know, these headscarves are very popular in the Middle East where the sun is pretty strong year round. Unfortunately, due to current events and "stuff"... Long story short, they can be used to shield one's head and face from the elements.

Interesting Sunscreen Ingredients Websites

Two websites I found very useful concerning sunscreen:

Skin Cancer Foundation

Support Group for Sun Sensitive People