Summer is finally upon us and many of us Girl Campers (add link to homepage when site is live) will be spending our days outdoors. This means lots of sun, swimming, hiking, and you guessed it, sunburns. Many of us pick up our sunscreen products at Target, Walmart or other convenience stores but we never really think to question; are sunscreens safe for us? Are they safe for the environment?
We should never assume the answer is yes to either.
Sunscreens And Our Bodies.
The EWG (Environmental Working Group), and their team of scientists, investigated and tested over 1,300 sun protection products and found that over two-thirds offered inadequate protection, caused reactions on the skin, or contained worrisome chemicals like oxybenzone, a hormone disruptor that is readily absorbed by the body. Many of us don’t give sunscreens too much attention. But we should. We apply sunscreen to large portions of our bodies, several times per day and typically for several days or weeks in a row. And for those of us who live in the south, we can multiply that exponentially.
To help adhere to the skin, sunscreen ingredients soak directly into our skin by way of “penetration enhancers” (aka nanotechnology) and have been detected in human blood, urine and even breast milk. This is concerning not just for us adults, but considering we slather it all over our children starting at a very young age, it’s worrisome for those youngsters who are beginning to develop. You see, over time, these chemicals start to bioaccumulate in our bodies and with continued use, can be the cause of many hormonal issues and allergic skin conditions that can last a lifetime. Ingredients in sunscreen shouldn’t be irritating or cause any type of skin allergies. They shouldn’t be affecting our hormones yet several commonly used ingredients, including oxybenzone, appear to block or mimic hormones. With sunscreen sprays becoming increasingly popular, they also shouldn’t be harmful to our lungs or internal organs when we accidentally inhale when the wind shifts direction mid-spray.
And sunscreen ingredients should be able to withstand powerful UV radiation without losing their effectiveness.
Sunscreens and the Environment.
According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), sunscreen ingredients have been found in almost ALL water sources around the world. Disturbingly, they are not easily removed from wastewater treatment facilities. Additionally, in lab settings, oxybenzone has been implicated specifically as a possible contributor to coral reef bleaching. UV filters such as 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate—other sunscreen ingredients—have been identified in various species of fish, algae, sea urchins and mammals worldwide. All of this has possible consequences for the food chain.
This is really something for us to think about when we are camping and enjoying the outdoors as we all want to be responsible campers! We need the sunscreens to protect us from harmful UV rays yet we are inadvertently causing an invisible and consequential impact on the environment.
So what’s a Girl Camper to do?
• Start reading labels. Stay away from any products containing oxybenzone (note that sunscreens can also be in your make-up!)
• Understand that the FDA doesn’t regulate the beauty and personal care industry which means manufacturers can create products without testing for their safety. This isn’t just about sunscreens, it’s also about every beauty, skin hair and body care product we use.
3. Read the EWG’s 2019 Annual Guide to Sunscreens and learn more about the concerns about sunscreen ingredients.
“For 40 years, American’s have been told that sunscreen use is critical to prevent lasting skin damage and skin cancer from sun exposure. But the FDA has not ensured that the ingredients meant to provide such protection have been adequately tested for safety and efficacy.” ~ EWG (quote)
The good news is…that’s all about to change. The FDA is considering new regulations that would help ensure that ALL sunscreens are safe and effective and finally proposing sufficient testing for the active ingredients in sunscreens to test for absorption rates and health impacts. And it’s about time. As of right now, the FDA recognizes as safe and effective just two ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. In the past, these two ingredients would leave our skin looking white and greasy. But new technology has significantly improved how these products apply. Mineral sunscreens using these two safe ingredients now glide over our bodies and leave no residue and film.
Until these regulations are in effect (2020), here’s what you can do to stay safe and healthy this summer—and beyond.
• Avoid products that claim an SPF higher than 50+.
• Avoid spray and powders which can penetrate into the lungs.
• Choose sunscreen products made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—and avoid oxybenzone. You can order many brands online (see below for my recommendations) or find many options at a natural food market such as Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme or your local co op.
• Turn your products around and always, always, always read the ingredient labels. Most everything on the front of a product is marketing. Remember there is no regulation!
• Look up your sunscreen in the EWG Skin Deep Database to see how it ranks for toxicity.
MY SAFE SUNSCREEN RECOMMENDATIONS:
Beauty Counter—Highly recommend. I can’t say enough good things about this company and the safety and efficacy of their products.
SunBum—I love this brand because it doesn’t clog pores and is non-greasy which means we can apply our foundation right after.
Badger—highly reputable company for safe and healthy products.
Pacifica—I am loving their SPF 50 Bronzing Butter for my pale legs!
When using spray sunscreens, spray it into palms and then rub onto skin. This also eliminates overspray and wasting of product!
Upon waking up, apply sunscreen to your face and upper body right away! I wash my face, brush my teeth, apply sunscreen and then get dressed. Rain or shine. This way I am good to go if the weather changes and won’t get caught by surprise later in the day if I am out and about. I can’t tell you how many sunburns I have avoided by doing this.
(Please note: The EWG is a watchdog organization that depends on supporter donations. When you click on any of the links I’ve provided, they will always ask for a donation. Simply click on the X and continue to the site or feel free to support their important work with a contribution. Also, there could be signifiant “data gaps” with the information for some ingredients so please take that into consideration.)