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I wanted to pass along an awesome resource called the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep site.  In the US, the government isn’t required to review the safety of beauty products before they are sold, so Skin Deep fills a void by “comparing the ingredients on 70,340 personal care product labels and websites to information in nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases.”

Lately, in the comments section, there’s been a lot of discussion about more ‘natural’ beauty products that continue fewer chemicals – specifically, sunscreen.  Sunscreen does work – compared to people who never use sunscreen or slather it on infrequently, sunscreen users have a lower incidence of squamous cell carcinoma.  That’s a great thing. 

 

But according to the EWG, research on whether sunscreen prevents the deadliest type of skin cancer (melanoma) is mixed. 

I found this paragraph particularly interesting:

 

Some researchers have detected an increased risk of melanoma among sunscreen users. No one knows the cause, but scientists speculate that sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer and absorb more radiation overall, or that free radicals released as sunscreen chemicals break down in sunlight may play a role. One other hunch: Inferior sunscreens with poor UVA protection that have dominated the market for 30 years may have led to this surprising outcome. All major public health agencies still advise using sunscreens, but they also stress the importance of shade, clothing, and timing. (Source)

 

Sunscreens Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths is a great read for more info. 

The Food and Drug Administration does not test sunscreens for toxicity or require manufacturers to prove protection claims.  Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group independently tests sunscreens, approving only 20% of more than 1,700 products on the market.  Amazingly, three of five U.S. sunscreens wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe because of the chemicals used or the UVA protection offered (Source).

 

The EWG recommends avoiding sprayable or powdered sunscreens, as you inhale the chemicals during application. Sunscreens that contain Benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone), Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), Padimate O, or Vitamin A (retinyl palamitate), which are potential allergens, hormone-disruptors, and/or carcinogens, should also be avoided. When I was shopping for sunscreen this summer, I was hard-pressed to find any sunscreens at the pharmacy that didn’t contain oxybenzone (more on this here). You’ll definitely want to skip the sunscreens containing Vitamin A: one study (by the FDA itself!) indicated that lab rats developed sunlight-related tumors and lesions 21% faster when treated with a 0.5% Vitamin A-laced cream (Source).

 

Sunscreens that contain minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safer alternatives, and many major brands now offer formulations with these ingredients.  EWG says that these sunscreens are “the right choice for children, people with sensitive skin and others who want the best UVA protection without potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone or vitamin A, which may be carcinogenic on sun-exposed skin.”  Furthermore, these sunscreens are not sprayed or powdered, so you don’t have to worry about inhalation issues.   (Source)

The point of this post isn’t to scare you away from using any sunscreen but to look for healthier and potentially more effective alternatives.  Also, remember that being in the shade, covering up with long sleeves, pants, and a hat, and not staying in the sun for too long is important, too.  For more information, you can check out the EWG’s sunscreen page.

 

All pictures from our epic Dominican Republic beach vacation this past May – I wanna go back!

{ 46 comments }

 

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  • Brandy February 5, 2012, 11:50 am

    We love Badger sunscreen and I’ve been seeing it in more mainstream outlets lately. I bough our most recent bottle at Ulta (an even better deal with a coupon). Thanks for posting this valuable information!

    Reply
  • Megan (sweeton) February 5, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for this resource! The EWG site is AMAZING and so user friendly. Thank you thank you!

    Reply
  • Sneakers2Sandals February 5, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Awesome information. I am getting laser hair removal (eeek!) and I have to wear sunscreen all the time. I use a random SPF 50 that I got at Target but I will definitely read up on all these suggestions/warnings and select a wiser sunscreen.

    Reply
  • Nina February 5, 2012, 12:22 pm

    Reading this, I am glad I live in Europe, but I still think that not all is done that could be. I wished the customers would be more protected when buying products, especially products like sunscreen, which we buy because of our health!

    Reply
  • Cm @ Lazy Healthy February 5, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Oh god. I ALWAYS use the sprayable kind. I’m so pale (plus lazy) this is the only way I can talk myself into consistently applying everywhere. Maybe I can just practice holding my breath for a really really long time??

    Reply
  • Emily February 5, 2012, 12:45 pm

    Definitely a lot of good info here, and even fits in with your naked face project. Naked faces will look younger and prettier if you keep good sunscreen habits, right? :)

    Reply
  • Sara February 5, 2012, 12:57 pm

    I recently came upon the No More Dirty Looks blog (http://nomoredirtylooks.com/) and devoured their book! The authors write great reviews of all sorts of natural personal care products (sunscreen, shampoo, lotion, makeup, etc.) and tell you where you can buy them. I’m in the process of swapping out chemical-laden products for the natural stuff, and their reviews have been really helpful!

    Reply
  • Alex @ Raw Recovery February 5, 2012, 1:06 pm

    I have recently (in the last few months) starting using the brand Arcona, which is 100% natural. I LOVE their Reozone 20, which contains Zinc Oxide (natural mineral with SPF 25 protection), Micronized Titanium Dioxide (natural mineral with SPF 25 protection) and smells like peaches. They have a body sunscreen that I want to try this summer but the Reozone 20 is great for every day use on my face.

    Reply
  • anon February 5, 2012, 1:06 pm

    You may want to check out think baby sunscreen–it is completely nonchemical. Also, they sell yoga mats and baby bottles. I love the company.

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 6, 2012, 11:08 am

      Awesome rec, thanks!

      Reply
  • Ali February 5, 2012, 1:14 pm

    Oh no…I never gave it a thought that you actually inhale spray sunscreen! I LOVE spray sunscreen and use it almost every day in the summer as I can put it on very quickly and not get my hands greasy (and I am less likely to miss spots and burn). Looks like it’s a good thing that I ran out of all my spray sunscreen this past fall! Time to get something new (and healthier)!

    Reply
  • Rebecca February 5, 2012, 1:34 pm

    “you inhale the chemicals”
    Um. Close your eyes and mouth and have someone else spray you. And maybe have them do it from not that great of a distance so that it hits more of your skin rather than going all over. And you can inhale (er, ingest) the “regular” kind of sunscreen, too, if you’re not careful.

    “one study (by the FDA itself!) indicated that lab rats”
    I watched Legally Blonde 2 yesterday, and according to their script, the results are not always the same in humans. Rats are different from us. (Incidentally, Elle fights for the ending of lab tests on animals…) Every person is different, too. You can’t be sure that a side effect one person experienced is going to happen to you, because our bodies are different (allergies, etc). On those drug commercials, they have to tell you the side effects even if just ONE person experienced it. At least, so I’ve heard.

    Reply
  • Maria February 5, 2012, 1:36 pm

    I love the work that EWG does! I believe they also put out a Cosmetics Database website similar to this sunscreen one. I am VERY sensitive to fragrances in products and always use their resources to find non-fragranced lotions, sunscreen, shampoo, etc. Great post!

    Oh and I’m happy to see that Coppertone Free and Clear sunblock has a good rating. I used it on my last tropical vacation and it works so much better than the other brands I’ve tried.

    Reply
  • JenRD February 5, 2012, 1:48 pm

    Great post! Spring is just around the corner (at least I like to think so), and I have been wanting to find a sunscreen safe for both myself and my daughter. It is especially important to me, as I was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma on my scalp last fall. Luckily, it was removed without a problem, but as I now have a 50% chance of skin cancer recurring, I have to be super careful. Wile I am always good about applying sunscreen to my body, it was my scalp that got neglected, and all it took was one bad burn last summer. You bet I will be sporting some hats thie summer!
    Interesting about the spray-ons–I guess you pay a price for convenience! Do you have any sunscreens which you recommend after your research?

    Reply
  • Amber K February 5, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I feel like I’m going to get crucified for saying this, but I never wear sunscreen. Not in the winter, not in the summer, never. I wish I could wear it every day. But literally every single kind I’ve used has made me break out into a giant rash. Even the ones for sensitive skin, even the ones with only zinc oxide. I still haven’t found one that doesn’t turn me into an itchy lobster.

    Reply
  • Ashley @ Cooking for John February 5, 2012, 2:14 pm

    I have been using Mission’s line of athletic sunscreen, and was lead to believe it was more natural and safe. I just used EWG and found it has a rating of 8! :( Boo! So frustrating!

    http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/product/388341/Mission_Skincare_All-Sport_Premium_Sunscreen_Continuous_Spray,_SPF_30/

    I just typed in a few other products we use, like Alba organics Acne dote face wash- which also received a poor score. Somehow Neutrogena products fair better than Alba. WTF!?

    Reply
    • Ali February 5, 2012, 3:11 pm

      Nooo! I love Acnedote! So disappointing.

      Reply
  • Ashley @ Cooking for John February 5, 2012, 2:15 pm

    FARE, not fair. Oops.

    Reply
  • Stephanie February 5, 2012, 2:19 pm

    I love this post! I’m very interested in natural beauty cures. I don’t like the idea of slathering toxins all over my body in the name of vanity and I’m glad there are people like you out there who feel the same way. I am also loving your Naked Face Project updates. I pretty much already do that too (minus the no shaving – I have weird body hair issues). Keep up the good work and stay positive. You are such an inspiration to me and many others.

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 6, 2012, 11:07 am

      Thank you hunny!

      Reply
    • Sunscreen Fan February 6, 2012, 11:16 am

      Oh COME OFF IT! Sunscreen isn’t for vanity!! It’s to protect your skin for years to come.

      Reply
      • Caitlin February 6, 2012, 11:20 am

        I don’t think she meant sunscreen – I think she meant makeup and lotions in general.

        Reply
  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats February 5, 2012, 2:31 pm

    I am ridiculously pale and burn very easily, so I always have some sort of sunscreen with me, although less now that I live in Chicago instead of Charleston, SC!

    Reply
  • Stacey @Starpulp February 5, 2012, 2:38 pm

    This is really interesting. I’m curious which sunscreens you’ve selected?

    Reply
  • Amber @ Bold, Busy, Blessed February 5, 2012, 3:26 pm

    Thanks for addressing this issue. I’ve never considered that some sunscreens could be bad for you. And it seems crazy that they don’t test beauty products. You continue to open my eyes, thank you!

    Reply
  • Ann @ Turbo Teacher February 5, 2012, 5:21 pm

    I work outside during the summer months – Really appreciate this post!! Thanks!

    Reply
  • Mel @ Post Grad Mel February 5, 2012, 9:58 pm

    I am all about sunscreen (and dorky, wide brimmed sun hats for that matter too). I suffered a 3rd degree burn on my face this summer. After spending a day of hiking at Mt. Rainier and the next day kayaking in the San Juans (both in western Washington) my lips, chin, and the skin surrounding my lips were blistered and burned badly. I know it sounds dramatic, but it was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t venture outside for days and was constantly stared at by strangers when I finally did. Even eating was difficult! I felt like the Elephant Man! Of course, I did learn several good lessons from the incident (like not staring or rudely probing people with physical deformities). Suffice to say, sunscreen and I have taken our relationship to a whole new level! I’m glad you brought some awareness to the issue. Have you seen the ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’ video? I bet you’d like it.

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 6, 2012, 11:05 am

      Yes! That is such a good video. Very powerful.

      Reply
  • Rachel February 6, 2012, 1:32 am

    Also be careful with SPF and how long you stay out in the sun. I have fair skin so if I burn without sunscreen in an average of 4 minutes, but I’ve applied SPF30+ sunscreen prior to sun exposure then I can stay in the sun for 4×30=120 minutes (or 2 hours). This time limit includes any reapplication after swimming, sweating or towel drying (e.g. if I have to reapply after 1 hour in the sun, I still have only 1 hour left, not an extra 2 hours because I reapplied sunscreen). Even after my 2 hours is up, reapplying sunscreen will not extend my allowed time in the sun. Just something to keep in mind.

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 6, 2012, 11:04 am

      Good tip!

      Reply
  • Katie February 6, 2012, 9:16 am

    I just booked a vacation at Catalonia Royal Bavaro for me and my boyfriend this June!

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 6, 2012, 11:03 am

      I hope you have a blast!

      Reply
  • miss pip kelly February 6, 2012, 11:26 am

    http://www.p20.co.uk/

    My favourite sunscreen! As a freckly blonde I use a facial sunscreen every day, living in England however I am normally otherwise covered up from the sun. It really does work all day – it’s miraculous. Also not greasy – boyf has sensitive skin when it comes to oily things and such and his didn’t act up at all using this.

    I’ve read that 5 – 10 minutes in the sun before you put on sunscreen can be beneficial because of the Vitamin D content (something my nails will tell you I don’t get enough of!)

    Reply
  • Sarah February 6, 2012, 12:24 pm

    As much as I would rather use lotion sunscreen (and do), when it comes to putting on SPF before a run I almost always use the spray. It’s more convenient and a time saver.

    Can I just hold my breath while applying? ;)

    Reply
  • Laura February 6, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Have you read/heard anything about the claims that with a proper diet sunscreen isn’t necessary? The idea is that with a proper diet, the Vitamin D from the sun is far more beneficial that the risk of skin cancer. http://medical.melanomaonline.info/blog-news/the-truth-about-sunlight-cancer-and-vitamin-d-part-13/

    Reply
  • Finding a skinnier me February 6, 2012, 1:24 pm

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I had actually just added sunscreen to my list of things to buy this weekend when I realized it was getting sunny again (though I do wear face sunscreen even in the winter) and I was completly out. I had heard a lot of rumors about sunscreen and since I spend most of my summer outdoors, I am really glad I found a few on the list of good sunscreens I can buy and try out!

    Thank you for this post!!

    Reply
  • Axel February 6, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Thanks for posting this Caitlin.

    I lost my father to melanoma and am a survivor of it myself thanks to early detection. Since BabyHTP is on the way I’ll pass along the fact that both our pediatrician and my dermatologist don’t recommend ANY kind of sunscreen for babies under 6 months… they need to be protected the old fashioned way (shade etc.).

    Reply
  • Jeff February 7, 2012, 5:52 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a well thought out article on sun safety.
    Congratulation on the upcoming birth, I am a proud father of 3 children.
    We make a SPRAY, yes spray sunscreen, that was highly rated by the EWG and received a #1 for two years on the EWG site, then moved to a #2 and is now at a #3. We haven’t changed our formula but their evaluation methodology has changed. You can go to our site and see the VP of EWG speaking about sunscreen and the only one she mentions by name is KINeSYS. KINeSYS does not contain oxybenzone or Vitamin A in it’s sprays.
    KINeSYS, also makes a 25% pure zinc ointment but I will never market them as “Organic or Natural” as Titanium and Zinc are minerals, so they are Inorganic. There is nothing natural about micronizing or nano sizing these minerals.
    If you want a safe, effective and cosmetically elegant product to use, our ointment and yes our sprays, are second to none.
    I like the EWG’s mandate and think they are doing great work. In regard to Suncare, there are many questions in regard to the methodology, as we are human being, not rats or genetically mutated mice. They also don’t “test” any products for efficacy.

    Reply
  • Ashley May 17, 2014, 2:02 pm

    Just gotta give you a (friendly) hard time…..your vacation “this past May” was actually from 2011. Lol. I was like, wow – I don’t remember her going to DR last year??? Clicked on the post, and yeah. You didn’t. Glad it wasn’t just my mommy brain failing me again lol!

    Reply
  • Julie May 18, 2014, 12:05 am

    Do you have any specific brand recommendations based on your recommendations here? I was hoping so especially after I clicked over to a 2+ year old post. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Honeycolony June 4, 2014, 8:36 pm

    Wow, what a great and informative article on the dangers revolving around conventional sunscreen! As luck would have it, we here at Honeycolony have recently partnered with 3rd Rock, a company focused on creating sunscreen so safe, clean, and green, it is actually edible! This sunscreen not only blocks harmful UV rays, but it also is void of those nasty toxins that seep into your skin and body from run-of-the-mill sunscreen! This sunscreen is truly America’s safest sunblock! Don’t take our work for it, click this link for more information: http://www.honeycolony.com/shop/americas-safest-sunscreen-3rd-rock-spf-30-sunblock/

    Thank you again for your brilliant and well-written article on such a prevalent topic for the season and today in general!

    Sweetly,
    Your friends at Honeycolony (www.honeycolony.com)

    Reply

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