Ah, summer. It’s that time of the year again for fun in the sun. When packing for your beach picnics, one of the most important items alongside the beer cooler is sunscreen. However, when you go to buy a sunscreen you are faced with the daunting prospect of choosing from hundreds of products lining your store’s shelves.
What makes your purchase even more complicated is that you have been told that not all sunscreens are created equal, false labeling is rampant and often misleading. So, what brands are safe for you and the kids and what should you know before making that very important purchase. (photo – Women’s Health)
Fortunately, there are a number of resources to help guide you in making a purchase that insures you do not sizzle or slime the ocean.
Some Sun Suggestions
Use shade, find it or make it with a beach umbrella and keep infants in the shade. Wear clothes whenever possible, especially hats. And don’t forget to wear sunglasses, this is a must to protect your eyes from what could become permanent damage. Consider rash guard shirts, they’re flexible, protect against sunburn and abrasions, light weight and quick drying. (photo – Kris Carr)
First a Few Sunscreen Facts
There are sunscreens, which protect by absorbing ultraviolet rays and there are sunblocks, that protect by applying a physical barrier to rays hitting your skin. (photo – medicalnewstoday)
Avoid or at least take with a grain of beach sand, sunscreens that claim high SPF (Sun Protection Factor), the FDA claims these products are “inherently misleading”.
Sunscreens that contain chemicals can impact your health. Since sunscreens are applied directly to the skin, this allows chemicals to be absorbed into the body. There is limited data insuring the safety of sunscreen ingredients and some evidence that they may cause skin rashes or hormonal issues.
Avoid sunscreen sprays. Chemicals in these products can be inhaled and the spray is more likely to stick to the sand than to your skin.
Is Your Sunscreen Bad for the Planet?
This was the lead to a Vogue article that asked how the chemicals in sunscreens can damage coral reefs. In 2005, Craig Downs received a call from the US National Park Service asking his advice on what was killing the coral reefs around Trunk Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Downs is a forensic ecotoxicologist and the perfect person to answer this question.
When he visited Trunk Bay, Downs was stumped until he talked to a local who described the sea after a day of 2,000-5,000 beachgoers, snorklers and surfers. (photo – Cosmos Magazine)
“The surface of the water would look like an oil spill—it had an iridescent sheen.”
14,000 Tons of Sunscreen Slime Coral Reefs Annually
When you realize that approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion finds its way onto coral reefs annually, you can begin to see the magnitude of the problem. After 12 years of research Downs pinpointed certain ingredients contained in sunscreens, (specifically oxybenzone, but also others) that pose a serious threat to not only coral reefs but marine life worldwide. (photo- hellocharlie.com.au)
“We did studies under controlled conditions and we were horrified at what we found,” Downs said.
Oxybenzone can damage coral DNA resulting in reefs that look “healthy but are actually sterile and dead—so they cannot reproduce.” As a result of the research of Downs and others. Mexico has banned products with oxybenzone from its eco-reserves and similar legislation is being proposed for Hawaii.
New Products Protect the Marine Environment
Companies have responded with eco-conscious products containing ingredients that are less harmful to the underwater environment. Autumn Blum, a chemist with Stream2Sea had an “aha” moment while diving in Palau several years ago.
“We were showering on deck, with fragrant suds running right overboard, putting leave-in conditioner in our hair, slathering on chemical-based sunscreens, then jumping back in the ocean to repeat the process.”
When Blum returned to the US she discovered that products that were marketed as “reef-safe” contained chemicals that she knew were not safe. The result of her research is now the Stream2Sea Sunscreen, a biodegradable product that has passed numerous independent clinical tests
Generally mineral sunblocks (those containing titanium oxide, zinc oxide, or both) are thought to be safer for the environment than chemical sunscreens (which usually contain oxybenzone).
Grist.org tested some of the most available lotions, four sunscreens and three sunblocks, here are their results.
Alba Botanica produces several products. Hawaiian Aloe Vera (SPF 15), Hawaiian Green Tea (SPF 30+), SUN/Sport (SPF 30+)
Aubrey Organics Natural Sun offers Green Tea (SPF 25)
Burt’s Bees Chemical–Free sunscreen, Hempseed Oil (SPF 15 and 30) got a definite thumbs down.
Jason Sunbrellas Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Kiss My Face, SPF 30
Desert Essence Organics Age Reversal Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
Aveeno Active Naturals Continous Protection Sunblock
The Bottom Line from Grist.org: they found Kiss My Face, Desert Essence, and Jason to be the most effective (and Alba’s sunblock, (not reviewed) may be a good bet, given the effectiveness of its sunscreens). Whatever, stay clear of Burt’s Bees — it’ll leave you seeing red.
Also consider sunscreens from Patagonia and Kassia + Surf.
Eco-novice.com stays with sunscreens that are mineral instead of chemical. Their researcher also avoids sunscreens with fragrance and parabens (a preservative). This limited their suggestions to two products and she found them at Target, however in the infant section, not the sunscreen section.
A Comprehensive Resource From Environmental Working Group
One of the best resources that everyone seems to tap into is the Environmental Working Group that publishes their comprehensive rating of sunscreens.
Or Make your Own Sunscreen