Can you really add Vitamin D to your sunscreen and expect it to get to work?

In short I’m not sure that anyone knows really as while we do understand a fair amount about where this vitamin comes from and goes to I feel we are far from having all of the answers. But as usual, that doesn’t stop skin care brands taking a punt and why shouldn’t they……

Anyway, I recently purchased this:

Vitamin D3 is the stuff that the skin makes upon UV irradiation.  I didn’t know this until May 2012 when I researched it a whole lot for a talk I gave at a Malaysian University gathering.  Part of that research is available here.

As you would have noticed if you flicked to the link, our skin doesn’t have a vitamin D3 reservoir, instead it makes 7-Dehydrocholesterol in the basal layer which, when irradiated forms Vitamin D3 which then goes into the bloodstream and does its stuff.

That is one reason why I have my doubts about topically applied Vitamin D3. Maybe the conversion is significant and it is the conversion that kick starts the biological conveyor belt rather than assuming the presence of the ‘key’ which in this case would be Vitamin D3 produces the ‘door’ or transport mechanism?  At this point in time I have no idea how significant or not that subtle detail is.

Another of my reservations centres on the fact that vitamin D3 has a short half-life and therefore must may hay while the sun shines so to speak! Transdermal delivery can take time.

A third centres on the fact that I haven’t been able to find any scientific paper as yet showing that topically applied Vitamin D3 will increase circulating Vitamin D levels and while that doesn’t mean that none exist it does add to my doubtful […]

Why does my fat butt burn?

It is not often that I go ‘sun baking’ due to the fact that my transparent whiteness is actually quite scary when nearly naked and even more scary (and painful) when burned.  But having kids and being someone who wants to at least TRY to enjoy summer type activities I do, on occasions get my kit off and last week was no exception as you see here:

Sensing that a moment of almost nakedness creeping up on me I whip out my invisible shield of factor highest-I-can-get-my-hands-on and rub it in. Yes I make sure that I rub it in lightly to get the maximum SPF coverage and yes I also wait the required 20 minutes to give it time to get working….

Then I go outside and play.

Sometime later (not too long as being a nerdy calculator type of person I know that my great whiteness has an absolute max of 4 hours total sun time a day with factor 50 and more sensibly 2 ‘good hours’ of beach time before I start to burn)  I go inside to assess the damage and…….. low and behold my fat butt burned.

As much as I love sharing all of my embarrassing life with you I will not be posting a picture of that. Instead I will describe my little issue in words and let you draw the mental picture if you so wish.

I always, always burn in a half moon-ish shape following the line of my swimming bottoms on the fleshiest (and fattest) part of my thigh – I think they call them ‘saddle bags’ but being allergic to horses I prefer to think of them as ‘side impact bags’.   The burning isn’t severe but it […]

If SPF 30 filters 96.7% of the sun and SPF 50 only 1.3% more (98%) what is the point?

Back in November I wrote a little article entitled “Inconvenient Fact Of The Day:  SPF does NOT just refer to UVB” on the back of a factually confusing press release about Australia’s move to allow the marketing and sale of SPF 50 sunscreens. Well it is now time for the sequel to that article.

The move to SPF 50 has prompted some to look at their SPF 30 products and say ‘oh bugger’. Now this is not because there is anything technically wrong with SPF 30 products, it is more a case of them having been numerically demoted. That and the fact that the standard (or goal posts) have now changed to ensure that UVA and UVB protection is always balanced – before while it was crucial that a product had some UVA protection to reach SPF 30 the ratio between the UVA and UVB had less baring on the result.  That said, almost all brand owners opted for a broad-spectrum analysis anyway as when it comes to sun protection quality is as important as quantity (when talking UV spectrum filtering).

Anyway, that aside it is time to look at and test these numbers.

30 – a reasonable number.  A number that when pre-fixed with the letters “SPF” means something quite useful.  It means that the product in question, when used as directed will give you thirty times more protection than your un-protected skin can offer you.

That means that if you usually get redness appear after 5 minutes in the sun, with this product on you have ‘bought’ yourself up a maximum of 150 minutes.

150 minutes?  That’s 2 ½ hours of pure unadulterated sun baking.

Sounds like a lot but let’s look at it from the other side.

We […]

The Trouble With Making Your Own Sunscreen

Yes I have gone sunscreen crazy a little over the last week or so but it is for a good reason. It’s hot here in Australialand right now, hot, UV rich and waaaay too long between pay checks to go buy a $20 bottle of SPF 30 something for some people.  That and the fact that there are a growing number of people for whom consumer SPF 30 plus sunscreen no longer cuts the mustard – too many chemicals, what about nanoparticles,  too much synthetic perfume,  allergic to the preservatives and so on.

So is home-made sunscreen possible?

I would strongly advise against trying and that’s not because I have shares in a sunscreen company because I don’t.  It’s hard. Very hard. It’s expensive and hard and more importantly sunscreens are not just any old cosmetic, they might just save your skin.

The googlesphere is jam-packed full with recipes teaching you how to make your own homemade sunscreen.  A typical recipe looks something like this:

To make 100g

25g of Zinc Oxide powder

50g Shea Butter

10g Jojoba Oil

2g beeswax

3g Cocoa Butter

10g Olive Butter.

Mix it all up and voila, your own sunscreen and as Zinc Oxide gives somewhere between 1-1.5 SPF unit per % added you have a product with an SPF of between 25-35. Amazeballs.

Only you probably don’t.

Having worked with zinc oxide sunscreens for the last three years with varying success (and lots of failures) I can assure you that it is a pig of an ingredient being both difficult to blend into a base and keep dispersed in said base.  Being a strongly charged particle it tends to migrate towards its self and form big clumps at every available opportunity (think of it like a super charged magnet that […]

The SPF of Coconut Oil

When I was younger we spent a couple of holidays in Majorca, Spain which was nice for many reasons, not least that tropical sweet sunscreen aroma – sunscreen in the 80’s meant only one thing and that’s COCONUTS.  Yummo.

But that was then and now the coconut buzz is less about the smell and more about the SPF – sun protection factor.  So can coconut oil protect us from that big orange ball in the sky?

Having already looked at the other important part in this equation – the wearer (see would coconut oil make a good sunscreen for me)  followed by a look at the oils general chemistry (The chemistry of coconut oil) it seemed like the right time to measure some stuff.

To the lab!

Armed with a sample of the finest virgin coconut oil I could easily purchase:


I dashed to the sunscreen lab – Australian Photobiology Testing Facility and asked them to put it through their labsphere machine.

A Labsphere photometer is a machine that produces a beam of artificial sunlight that can be used  in the non-human testing of sunscreens. It is common practice to pop any new sunscreen through this type of testing before letting it loose on humans. This is for many reasons not least so that human subjects are less likely to be burned.  The labsphere also gives us a great indication of ‘broad spectrum’ protection as it is easy to qualitative and quantitative the light that passes through the ‘sunscreen’ with a machine like this.  This type of measurement is impossible on humans as their skin can’t be taken off and measured without the resulting gore and discomfort!    For that reason we usually think of sunscreens in terms of what […]

The Chemistry of Coconut Oil

There is no disputing the fact that coconut oil has a long history of safe use as a skin treatment, sun protector and all-round good guy but as I discussed in my article – Would Coconut Oil make a good sunscreen for me – that doesn’t mean that it will suit everyone.

With that in mind I thought it would be wise to look into the chemistry of this oil a little more and find out what (if any) protection coconut oil could offer me.

Oh and I also wanted to find out if the benefits are best gained by slopping it on or eating it as I’m sure there is a difference!

So, here we go!

The Chemistry.

Coconut oil is classed as a saturated fat because of its chemistry.  Saturation (in terms of fat terminology) relates to double bonds and hydrogen which might sound like TOO MUCH INFORMATION for some so I’ll leave it in favour of what the oil looks like and how good or bad it is to eat.

Saturated fats are usually harder than their unsaturated brothers and sisters and were given a bad wrap in the 80’s and onwards after a blanket labelling of them as ‘artery clogging’ – a statement that is partly true.

Commonly used saturated fats include beef tallow, butter, lard, ghee, cream, cottonseed oil, coconut oil, palm kernel oil and suet.

The ‘artery clogging’ message was endorsed by manufacturer of unsaturated edible fats who were developing and selling alternatives such as your synthetic spreads, margarines, butter replacements and cooking oils.

The only problem with that being that not all saturated fats are created equal.

In recent years coconut oil has had a revival as the saturated fats it contains have been found to be […]

Would Coconut Oil Make a Good Sunscreen for me?

Google says it does

Generations of Islanders say it does

But is it a good choice for me?  Let’s look deeper……

I’m a 38 year old white girl with a diet of dubious merit in as much as I eat far too much sweet stuff and not enough veggies!  However, I do have a healthy, fit lifestyle otherwise. I live in a beautiful part of Australia a part that can heat up to 40C and cool back down to around 3, a part where the UV index reaches extreme on many a summer’s day.

I work indoors mainly, only getting outside for leisure, fun and the odd shopping trip (Ihateshoppingmalls.com!)

I have eczema. Badly on my hands (due to my unfortunate choice of career – dermatologist told me NOT to become a chemist, ppppffffhh  what do they know)

I get a few yucky spots and have had issues with pigmentation marks since the birth of my lovely children (no, I don’t hold that against them :))

So that’s me.

But what’s with the detail?  Is all of that ‘need-to-know’ or did the over-share fairy just sprinkle magic dust over the keyboard?  Yes and No.

Our age matters.    Babies have VERY thin skin when compared to an average adult and on top of that they are growing fast with hyper active systems making it likely that any problem, irritation or disease encountered could become a big issue for them very quickly.   This changes slightly throughout childhood with skin getting slightly more tolerant on average (all other things being equal) until young adulthood is reached.  Again all things being equal a fit, healthy  adult (18-45 ish) should be able to tolerate the most sun of their life as their skin is mature, major […]

Inconvenient fact of the day: SPF does NOT just refer to UVB

Last week was a bit funny. It starting off with a rather uncouth announcement by L’Oreal (why not the TGA?) that Australia had seen the light, had agreed to SPF 50 sunscreens and guess what?  They ALREADYHAVETHEMANDYOUCANBUYTHEMHERENOWSODOIT.   I hate those subtle, subliminal press-releases that sneak in while your eyes are still blurry…….

Anyway, what followed (rather un-surprisingly) was wave after wave of mis-information by people who have clearly not understood either

a)     how a sunscreen works


b)    how sunscreens are tested.

That’s not surprising when you look at the prime mover in all this and see that even they got it wrong.  L’Oreal?  Really?  Oh my goodness did the sky just cave in?

I’m going to look at one thing at a time until it makes sense to me so please come along and join me on this magical adventure.


L’Oreal Press Release Mistake number 1:  An increase in the SPF claim (SPF represents the UVB protection factor) from 30+ to 50+ (a 50+ claim represents a minimum SPF of 60).

So, SPF is just UVB is it?  I must say that this week has made me question what I know too so it was somewhat heartening (but mostly disturbing) to find out that even people at the so-called top get it wrong.

So what I did was find some time to think about it, measured it, discussed it with industry professionals and read up on what happens when you take the UVA out of the solar simulator and irradiate living things.  I just can’t work out why this boat of wrongness is still sailing, I can’t be the only one who knows how to do ‘research’…..

Light doesn’t come to us in pre-packaged UV block ready meal sachets neatly bound so that we can […]

Why I think our skin is like a toaster (and we all know that toasters lie don’t we Eddie?)

I love that sketch because it is so true and it was a recent toaster incident that got my brain thinking in this very peculiar way don’t you know!

I have been thinking about the sun, sun screens and the skin for a while now and that’s for a few reasons:

A) Australia has just announced that they are finally going ahead and allowing the marketing of SPF 50 sunscreens (up from a max of SPF 50).

B)  I have several sunscreens in development and so am somewhat forced to think about how to make them the best that I can.

C) I recently spent some time learning about sunscreen testing at a local testing facility.


D) I have skin, I live in a hot place, I am naturally interested.

Anyway, that aside I recently (last night) came to start thinking about our skin, burning, toast, white goods etc, etc…….

My thought is like this:

We all know that when we have too much sun our skin changes.  For some of us it goes a lovely golden brown, for others a deep chocolate tone while some turn red with anger.  I liken this to the settings on a toaster:  still bread,  various shades of lovely toast,  completely stuffed (any link to the colour of toast and our skin is incidental BTW, it’s the cooked-ness that I’m interested in).

Anyway, just like a toaster it is nearly impossible to know how much heat/ light etc constitutes the perfect dose as toasters (and skin it would seem) lie.

That may not seem that interesting but think of it another way: We do not know how much of our ‘burning’ dose is good for us.  We know that some is because we know that vitamin D is […]

The sun and our immune system.

The skin of a 70Kg adult male would weigh just over 11Kg (16%).  With such a big potential for damage, it makes sense that our immune system is turned down (dimmed)  when we step out in the sun.

If like me, you get cold sores as a memento from your day on the beach you would tend to agree that the sun is definitely putting your immune system under stress but is it?  When it comes to the sun and our skin a bit of immunosuppression is actually a good thing.

If our bodies didn’t turn down our immune reaction when out in the sun, small sunburn could turn into an anaphylactic shock rather than just a prickly rash –  I know what I would rather have!  So, rather than thinking that the sun is putting our immune system under stress we should look at it as our immune system giving us a second chance – like it already knows that we are going to over do it!

And the cold sores? Well, for those who harbor this virus in the body, the immunosuppression action of the sun leaves the gate open just enough for the cold sore virus to kick in. Unfortunately, that is the pay off.

So, rather than trying to fight our natural responses we should assist the body by using sunscreen, boosting our general health (so that we deal with stresses more efficiently) and getting enough rest (strung out bodies tend to over-react.  I know from personal experience!).

Enjoy the sun safely and if you want to read up on cold sores some more then check this out.