Sun(burn) Style

sunscreen fail – can you tell I was at least wearing sunglasses and a hat?

As a fair-skinned redhead who spends a certain amount of quality time outdoors (think cycling across Canada for three months) I go through my fair share of sunscreen.

And then I saw the movie Chemerical and started thinking about toxins in my products. Why the heck would companies put known carcinogens in products meant to be slathered on our skin and therefore absorbed into our bodies? I visited the skin deep cosmetic database and found out that my favorite sunscreen ranks 4 out of 10 on the unsafe scale. Not bad, but I was  thinking I ought to give some of the other guys a try. So here’s my non-scientific sunscreen review:

1) Coppertone Oilfree 30 SPF. 4/10 on skin deep. I have been committed to Coppertone oil-free for awhile now – it doesn’t make me break out, it goes on silky smooth, it smells good, it’s waterproof, and dammit it works. Unfortunately, it’s also flagged with concern about neurotoxicity (from aluminum starch octenylsuccinate) and endocrine disruption ( from oxybenzone).

2) Burt’s Bees 30SFF. 4/10 on skin deep.  Last summer I tried my first “natural type” alternative; I love Burt’s lip balm, and their products smell good, so I figured it was worth it regardless of the slightly hefty price tag. After the creamy absorption of Coppertone, I have to say that Burt’s was an adjustment.  It went on like paste, left a chalky residue, and I ended up getting burned which defeats the whole purpose of sunscreen. Don’t let me turn you off though – maybe it’s just my skin type.

3) ECO logical 30SPF. 1/10 on skin deep. We went to the Farmer’s Market in Newport Beach and there was a stand selling ECO sunscreen; it was nice to have a face to face conversation with the actual business owner, and we bought a tube. Initial review is that it goes on smooth-ish; not as smooth as standard commercial brands, but smooth enough to absorb. It smells like nothing much, it’s biodegradable, it’s made with organic ingredients, and it works (we were warned to reapply if we are sweating lots or swimming).

Now, onto the waste part. I have yet to find package-free sunscreen.

Some tubes are PET 1 or 2, so you can recycle them which is better than nothing. We chatted with ECO Logical folks for awhile about what they could do to reduce plastic packaging. They’re using recycled plastic for their containers, but we’d like to see bulk sunscreen pumps at stores and refillable containers. The problem is that sunscreen expires. It must be stored in an airtight container out of direct light, and that poses a problem to having it around in bulk.  If anyone has a good solution, please let me know.

A secondary waste issue is the sunscreen itself. I had never thought about it, but apparently “5,000 tons of sunscreen are washed off people and into the oceans each year”. That is a lot of sunscreen! And the accumulation on coral and the sea floor as well as the addition of toxins to the food chain is a really big deal.

I wish I had a real answer in terms of zero waste sunscreen, but for now, here’s a few lower waste tips for the summer:

-wear a hat and long sleeves to reduce your need for sunscreen if spending lots of time outdoors

-pick sunscreen that comes in a bottle you know you can recycle

-opt for sunscreens that are biodegradable

-visit the EWG Sunscreen 2011 page to see how your sunscreen ranks and find the safest options

If you have any great sun tips or any favorite sunscreen options, I’d love to hear them!



Filed under Hygiene, product reviews

12 responses to “Sun(burn) Style

  1. Being of the red-head persuasion myself, I too have the sunscreen dilemma. I’m not wild about the idea of slathering myself with a pile of toxins, but getting burned is not a good idea either. Soooo… here’s what I’ve come up with.

    First of all, recent research shows that most of us don’t get enough vitamin D. So while you don’t want to get burned, some sun exposure is considered healthy. Doctors are currently suggesting 20 minutes per day of unprotected sun exposure (for me it’s probably closer to 10 or 15 minutes before I start to fry). But if I’m only going to be out for a short time I generally don’t use any sunscreen at all.

    I have had great luck with oral supplementation of PABA (related to B vitamins). People got all freaked out about PABA in sunscreens a few years ago because some studies showed it might increase the risk of cellular damage… but this was only in topical applications. There were also some issues with allergic reactions and discoloration of clothing. But I haven’t read any studies suggesting a problem with oral PABA, so if I’m gonna be out in the sun I take about 500mg before I go out and it really, really helps.

    I try to use the old fashioned methods of staying in the shade and wearing a big straw hat as much as possible. This generally works great for most situations, but probably not for biking across the country!

    I may have to go get me some ECO logical for those “extreme sun” events!

  2. I’ve got pretty hardy skin and have tanned easily most of my life… However, the past few years my skin has been reacting to the sun more rapidly and I scorched my shoulders this Sunday while mowing the lawn.

    I’ve never been big on sunscreen and will agree that we all need a bit of natural sun to get our daily vitamin D. I’ve changed my habits and chose a shady spot to sit outdoors or cover up with a white cotton scarf (gauze) which can be draped loosely across the shoulders or on my legs if they’re out of the shade zone.

    Avoiding peak hours at midday helps too.

  3. I’ve found that when I was on Greens for Skin daily I didn’t get burnt (I garden alot on weekends – moving between sun and shade for hours). I don’t know if it would work for a full day of biking out in the sun but it was great for me (who usually burns in twenty minutes). I wasn’t sure why but when I found this article I realized it’s the lycopene:

    I like it because it’s such a natural healthy way to protect from the sun and the Greens for Skin nourishes your skin in so many other ways too! I still practice other smart tips – out of the sun in the hottest part of the day, try to find shade whenever I can, put on sunscreen when I know I’ll be out for hours and don’t know if there will be shade… but it eliminates my need to always wear sunscreen and avoid chemicals that I find questionable.

    Good luck!

  4. I think that going back to returnable bottles to local distributors so that they can refill with their large airtight containers would be a great way of going about it.

  5. Hi Jen,
    I avoid any form of applied sunblock most of the time, but for the times I know my shoulders and nose are going to be exposed (eg. swimming in Georgian Bay) I use Heiko zinc-based sunblock. I also recommend Badger and Green Beaver brands to patients (the latter is Canadian-made!).
    Primarily though, I try to be smart about simply covering-up when the sun is high; wearing sleeves, standing under a shade, wearing a hat, etc.

    Something cool I have learned in the past couple of years: wearing sunglasses may prevent your skin from upregulating sun-protective factors (melanin) and manufacturing vitamin D. If you eyes can’t register that the sun is shining… then your body, including skin, won’t know to respond accordingly.
    Consequently, in the past 3 years I have worn sunglasses only when absolutely needed (such as when the light actually hurts my eyes during long drives or on the water) and find that I require neither sunscreen…. nor after-sun ‘stop the pain’ solutions!

    Have a great summer!

  6. I just priced some California Baby natural sunscreen and at around 19 bucks for a little tube, I put it right back down. But the more I think of it, the more I think cost should not be a factor when it comes to the visiting grandkids. of course, I can’t control what their parents use, but I can what I put on them when they visit here…

  7. Amy

    My favourite sunscreen listed as a 3, but I have a Neutrogena one that came up as a 7. I am currently writing a letter, firstly of complaint and secondly to see if I can get a refund. 🙂

  8. Angela Weisl

    Aquasport SPF 30 gets a 2 on the Cosmetic Database and goes on the smoothest I’ve found in any “natural” sunscreen, although it unfortunately comes in a tube that’s hard to recycle. (Terrasport, by the same company, gets a less good rating (4) and goes on stickier, so stick to Aqua.) Kiss My Face has a new line that comes in Pet 1 bottles (also tubes) in two versions, spray lotion and spray oil. It needs to be rubbed in, but it seems to work. At least, both have worked well for me (a quick burner) running around New York City and on vacations.

  9. Bean

    Both myself and my baby have super sensitive skin, and although we aren’t zero-wasters, we try to be low-wasters. We’ve come up with a great sunscreen solution – make your own! Basically, all you need is oil, water, zinc powder (or titanium dioxide, but the jury is out on that one where babies are concerned), an emulsifyer (beeswax, e-wax, or soy wax) and a pinch of xanthan gum to help it all stick together. Heat up about 1/2 cup of oil (I like canola because it absorbs quickly), and put in 3 tbsps of grated wax. Boil water to kill all the germs. Sometimes make a bit of a “tea” from calendula petals – but take them out before making the lotion. Once all wax is melted, slowly blend the oil into the hot water with a hand mixer. once all of the oil is added, then add the zinc and a pinch of xanthan gum and blend. You can even add citronella oil to make your own bug repellant!

  10. This note was sent to our email, but is good info, so I posted it:
    When I read your post about sunscreens from back in June, I wanted to go out and get you a tube of my favorite sunscreen – Devita Solar Body Block SPF 30. I was using Badger and, like the Burt’s Bees, it was too chalky. Then I sampled the Devita and I’ve never looked back! Devita makes a sunscreen for the face but it is sooo expensive; the Body Block however, is only about $28 for 7 oz and feels great on my face. My little niece, who complained that other sunscreens stung her skin, loves the Devita. It’s mostly organic and does not turn your face all white – I highly recommend it.

  11. Hello Jen: Another redhead with fair complexion checking in. I’ve gotten sunburned sitting UNDER umbrellas–not realizing just how many of the sun’s rays can get through even solid fabric.

    For cycling and other outdoor activities, have you tried SPF clothing (for example: I participated in Pedal to the Point for MS last summer (Aug 4) and road for more than 60 miles using a combination of sunscreen (SPF 70 for children) for only exposed parts and SPF jerseys. I’ve discovered that most of the lightweight, long-sleeve jerseys aren’t any hotter than the short sleeved (IMHO).

    As for the sunscreen waste in the ocean, when my husband and I visited Hawaii and went on a snorkel trip with a ocean conservation group, they told everyone to put on their sunscreen at least 30 minutes before entering the water. It allows the skin to absorb the lotion for better protection and reduces the amount that leeches into the water. Even with SPF 70, my neck, back, shoulders and face eventually burned some merely from repeated and extended exposure. If/when we return, I will only snorkel fully covered (probably in surf shirts).

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