Thursday, June 10, 2010

Soap Box Wednesdays: Sunscreen, Protection or Poison?

I bet you thought I forgot about SBW?? Well, I did but I didn't. Either way, better late than never, right?

But to back to matter at hand. I spent close an hour in Wal-Mart yesterday while shopping for vacation necessities, one of the most important being sunscreen. I don't know about you, but I have gotten into a very serious habit of reading the list of ingredients on anything I put on my body. I'm on the look out for known carcinogens and parabens. When it comes to sunscreen, there's been some debate about the benefits versus the risks of use. So I did some reading [as this blog indicates that I am prone to do] and this is what I found:
Most sunscreens, especially the major brands are chock full 'o poison. Allow me to cite this article from
"The regular use of sunscreen lotion might provide some protection from sunburn, but it may also have quite serious health risks - for ourselves and the wider environment.
An investigation by the Environmental Working Group of over 1,500 sunscreens and other sun-blocking products currently on the market found that 3 of 5 sunscreens either don't protect skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals - or both. Leading brands were the worst offenders. Of all the preparations tested, only  92 were recommended, 1,203 scored the "caution" flag and the EWG recommended avoiding 319 products altogether."
It gets worse when they start listing the ingredients in sunscreens.
Aminobenzoic acid - possible carcinogen may be implicated in cardiovascular disease.
Avobenzone - possible carcinogen
Cinoxate - some evidence of skin toxicity
Dioxybenzone - strong evidence of skin toxicity and possible carcinogen; hormone disruptor and has been found in waterways, soil and air. Has been shown to have a "gender bender" effect in animals
Diazolidinyl urea - possible carcinogen, endocrine, central nervous system and brain effects, skin toxicity an compromises the immune system
Ecamsule - may be carcinogenic
Homosalate - endocrine disruption
Methylparaben - interferes with genes
Octocrylene - found to be persistent and bioaccumulative in wildlife, liver issues and possible carcinogen
Octyl methoxycinnamate - accumulates in the body, may disrupt liver and is a possible carcinogen
Octyl salicylate - broad systemic effects in animals at moderate doses
Oxybenzone - possible carcinogen and contributor to vascular disease, may affect the brain and nervous system in animals
Padimate O - suspected carcinogen
Phenylbenzimidazole - possible carcinogen
Phenoxyethanol - irritant, possible carcinogen, endocrine disruption
Sulisobenzone - strong evidence of skin toxicity, affects sense organs in animals
Titanium dioxide - suspected carcinogen when in nanomaterial form
Zinc Oxide - bioaccumulative in wildlife, evidence of reproductive toxicity
So then what the hell are we supposed to do? Here's where I start to get annoyed with this article. Basically they go on to say, sunscreens are all poison for our bodies and the environment, blah blah blah, avoid the sun at all costs, especially between 10 and 3, wear a hat and UV sunglasses, blah blah blah.

Umm excuse me green living tips, what fukin' world do you think I live in? Avoiding the sun like some sort of vampire is neither realistic nor desirable. If I weren't a Christian, I would worship the sun, ya dig? Besides, I'm black so I disregard about 90% of skin cancer concerns [gotta love that melanin!] BUT I am not completely reckless, I fully plan on traipsing under the Spanish and Moroccan sun for two weeks, with minimal clothing, so I definitely plan to protect my skin.

After all that ingredient reading and rationalizing that any variation of "benzone" and other chemicals that are hard to pronounce weren't something I should be putting on my skin, I thought I was doing myself a favor by purchasing Burt's Bees sunscreen (spf 30). That was until I read that it's active ingredient, Titanium Dioxide" is a possible carcinogen. fuck. me. sideways! The realization that I may have made the wrong choice just got real-er [is that a word?]:
Comment #6 (Posted by Dr. Tony Kovacs)
I agree with your concerns about sunscreen and most of them are quite valid. The standard ingredients in chemical sunscreens are nothing short of toxic for both people and the environment. However, not all sunscreens are tarred with the same brush. There is a new wave in sunscreens - chemical free (zinc only) that people should be aware of. Certainly zinc does have a bioaccumulation issue in the environment but when you look at how much zinc truly needs to be exposed to the environment for this to happen and considering that your skin absorbs the majority of sunscreen you place on it - how is the environment going to be exposed to the zinc issues from sunscreen? Bioaccumulation in humans is equally hard to create with sunscreen. Considering the majority of people are zinc deficient and the zinc in the sunscreen does not absorb into the blood (unless you are using nano zinc which is a "no no") then you are not going to elevate serum zinc levels at all. 
Look at the ingredients, avoid the chemical UV Absorbers (this includes titanium), stick with zinc and READ your labels. There a re a handful of high quality sunscreens on the market and they are listed on the EWG sunscreen guide list. Do your homework and choose wisely. The sun is not evil and does not need to be avoided but some people, especially those with really fair skin, need to be conscious about safely increasing their SPF levels. I support people getting as much "safe" sun as they can, going brown is a natural body reaction to protecting from UV but not everyone's skin goes brown easily. Burning is not the alternative you want and it can happen so easily for a fair skinned person. Staying out of the sun during the peak times is not always possible. Do you stop your kids from playing in sports teams if the game is scheduled between 10-4? 
There are safe alternatives for sunscreen available, and now you can add that to
your conscious decisions if you know you are going to be exposed for longer than
your skin is comfortable with. 
Read your labels!
Thanks for clearning that up Doc. But then again, maybe this guy isn't really a doctor, the internet is full of crazies, right?

Then I remembered this email I got from my local organic esthetician about sunscreens:
"The only safe ingredient to protect against both UVA and UV is zinc oxide.  According the Environmental Working Group many sunscreen products contain oxybenzone which is a hormone disrupter."
Damnit! I tried, and failed. Sad. Face! That's $15 I just wasted on "natural" sunscreen that didn't make the Environmental Work Group's list. But the money is spent, its only 2 weeks, I think I'll risk it. But just so you won't have to, see the list of recommended sunscreens here. I hope this was helpful.

Happy Soap Box Wednesday! [OK, its really Thursday morning, my bad]


  1. Yikes!!! Who knew there was so much crap in sunscreens! But seriously, maybe we should let the sun do its thing. People in other countries (I'm thiking DR) don't bother with sunscreen and I don't hear of too much sun damage issues (but then again, I don't have research to back that up). So how do they manage?!

    BTW- Sunscreen should be the least of your worries!! You're going to Spain and Morocco!! AHHH!!!!! So exciting!!

  2. I know Maddy, its scary to think that i've slathered my skin in toxic chemicals so many times! I was thinking the same thing, that people in Nigeria are def not worrying about sunscreen, so why should I, right? But i also thought that because they live there, their bodies have probably adapted to that type of sun exposure versus what i'm used to. and you're right, sunscreen is the least of my worries now, its this sharp pain the arch of my foot. NOT GOOD!



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