Sunscreen is bad, here’s a coupon

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published its 2010 Sunscreen Guide a couple weeks ago and, while it’s super helpful, it’s also a perfect example of just how ineffective the FDA really is and a disturbing reminder of the need for cosmetics regulation in this country.

While I would encourage you to read both “Sunscreens Exposed” and the FAQs, I will summarize the most cogent facts for you here:

  • Clothing, not sunscreen, should be your first choice to protect your skin. There seems to be a lack of consensus onwhether sunscreen prevents cancer and there is some evidence that it may actually cause cancer (for a variety of interesting reasons), so rely on clothing as your first line of defense. In other words, you might look hot in that bikini now, but payback’s a bitch.
  • As with anything you put on your skin, choose a natural product. Sunscreens are rife with hormone disruptors such as oxybenzone, parabens, and phthalates, not to mention a slew of other chemicals that the wary consumer would do well to avoid.
  • When you do use sunscreen, choose mineral rather than chemical protection. Zinc offers broad-spectrum protection and is the safest, cleanest, and most effective choice. Titanium dioxide comes in close second, as it offers the same benefits as zinc except that it’s not as clean…
  • Resist the urge to go for the oh-so-convenient spray bottle. Titanium dioxide is dangerous when inhaled.
  • Avoid Vitamin A. Data shows that Vitamin A is likely a photocarcinogen, as it seems to spur the growth of cancer when it’s combined with sunlight. Vitamin A in the synthetic form retinyl palmitate is in 41% of all sunscreens.
  • Don’t count on SPF ratings. Think of SPF as an advertising stratagem, not a scientific rating. SPF measures UVB (sunburn) protection – it tells the consumer nothing about protection from UVA rays. UVA protection in U.S. sunscreens maxes out at about 15 regardless of the SPF on the bottle.
  • Apply adequately and frequently. SPF effectiveness also heavily depends on proper application. Applying half the recommended amount of an SPF 50 sunscreen will only provide SPF 7 protection! Inadequate and infrequent application can also cause free-radical damage. While SPF ratings range from 15 to 50, equivalent “free radical protection factors” fall at only about 2.

EWG researchers recommend only 39 – 8 percent – of 500 beach and sport sunscreens for this season. Check out their list of top sunscreens.

I recommend Badger, as it is made from natural ingredients and is the safest of all the ones I looked at. Thanks to Money Saving Mom, I got it shipped from the other day for only $6.99 with their $10 off any purchase coupon!

And, yes, those appear to be breasts (or, more accurately, “boob sacks”) attached to her mid-section.


Sources I Use to Avoid Toxins

I’ve been meaning to share these first two resources with you since I began this blog, so forgive me for holding out on you.

The first is Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database.  I’ve always been a label reader, but for all my years of practice identifying chemicals I try to avoid, I still need help.  Though the database was first released in 2004, I didn’t discover it until 2007 when EWG released their improved and expanded current edition.  I was elated.  No more wandering the chemical engineering world (which is actually more like a galaxy) searching for credible, coherent information on suspected and known toxins.  While Skin Deep isn’t perfect, it is an incredibly informative and easy to use free resource.  You can search for any cosmetic product, discover its toxicity score, read about its individual ingredients, and more.  Your skin is a living organ that absorbs most of what you put on it – get informed!

The second is the Guide to Less Toxic Products from the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia.  This I stumbled upon serendipitously a few years ago.  I use this guide mostly for household cleaners, but it also covers personal care and baby care  (pest control is coming soon!).  It lists less toxic alternatives for each item, but I find the numerous recipes for home-made alternatives the most helpful.  Methinks Nova Scotia must be pretty cool.

Lastly, don’t forget the Pesticide Action Network’s What’s On My Food?, which I’ve covered separately here.

Sugar Stacks

A label can tell you there are 39 grams of sugar in your soda, but what does that much sugar look like?


Back in May of this year, a web site called Sugar Stacks was launched to help consumers actually visualize the amount of sugar found in common food items.  They use “regular sugar cubes (4 grams of sugar each) to show how the sugars in your favorite foods literally stack up, gram for gram”.

Note that they don’t differentiate between different types of sugar, they just use cubes of white sugar as a visual aid.

What’s On My Food?

Last week, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) launched their new searchable online database, What’s On My Food?.

The website uses data gathered from the EPA’s Pesticide Reregistration Status, the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, and PAN’s own Pesticide Info Database and compiles the information into easy-to-understand graphs and charts, placing each chemical in one of four categories (Carcinogen, Hormone Disruptor, Neurotoxin, or Developmental/Reproductive Toxin).  You can search by food item or chemical.

So lets look at strawberries, for example.  Captan (a known carcinogen) is found 70.1% of the time and Myclobutanil (a developmental or reproductive toxicant and suspected hormone disruptor) is found 34.7% of the time in conventional strawberries.  These chemicals were not found (0.0% of the time) in domestic organic strawberries.

Some domestic organic produce does still contain pesticide residue.  Domestic organic apples, for instance, are found to contain an average of 0.004 micrograms of Thiabendazole (a probable carcinogen) 20% of the time, versus an average of 42.5 micrograms 89.7% of the time for conventional apples.

The USDA tries to prepare the food the same way you would so most foods are washed and/or peeled before testing.  Many pesticides are systemic, however, meaning they are actually absorbed by the plant.

I know I don’t buy all organic, all the time, but this is a good resource to use when deciding which conventional fruit is most toxic and should be avoided.  While I still think any fresh fruit or vegetable is better than none at all, it’s rather disturbing to be so vividly reminded that I’m not eating just a strawberry or an apple – I’m eating, and my body is absorbing but not eliminating, all the toxins too.

Honey Face Wash

Lovely honey.  It’s been used for skin care as far back as Cleopatra.  It’s antimicrobial, humectant, and full of antioxidants.

I’ve been using partially crystallized honey as a weekly exfoliant for a long while now, but a post at Crunchy Chicken’s new blog, Green Goddess Dressing, has inspired me to rethink its use for my daily routine.  And Sweet Moses, my daily routine has been lacking, to say the least.  I struggle with “girlie laziness syndrome” and constantly need new motivators to spank me into cultural submission.

I’m blessed to have an endless supply of beautiful honey from my grandfather-in-law’s bees.  Although I would guess that, as with most produce, the fresher the better, you can use any honey (including creamed or whipped honey, but know that these are processed).

You can use honey only, or mix it with other natural ingredients.  I’ve tracked down a pretty helpful fact sheet from the National Honey Board (a good thing from the USDA?!?) for our cleansing pleasure.  I think I’ll try this honey, glycerin, and castile soap combo:

Mix 1/8 cup of honey, 1/4 cup of glycerin (I would use natural vegetable glycerin, not synthetic glycerin aka “propylene glycol”), and 1 1/2 teaspoon of mild liquid castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s) in a small bowl until well blended.  Store in a sterilized (boiled) container.

What?! There’s no such thing as Crunchberries?

Over at GOOD (my favorite) there’s a post about a California woman’s lawsuit over the absence of actual crunchberries in Crunchberries cereal.   This is one of those things that makes me embarrassed to be human.  Anyway, the stupid, ridiculous lawsuit is not the point.  I think Smith makes the point when he says:

Misleading advertising is ingrained in our food culture. Consumers seem to be rarely, if ever, presented with clear, concise information about a food’s origin. But the extreme presented in Sugawara’s case (how could any regular supermarket shopper be so gullible?) raises a larger, more legitimate question about labeling claims that imply a positive effect without any explicit data. Crunchberries may or may not lead a “reasonable consumer” to a never-never land of nonexistent fruit species, but manufacturers continually use the same advertising space to make claims about food safety, health, or nutrition—and expect these front-of-the-cereal-box claims to be taken seriously.

Contains No Saturated Fat!  No wait, we mean Great Source of Omega 3s!  Oh, damn, now it’s Contains No Trans Fats!  Or is it May Help Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease?  *Sigh*

We as consumers are wholly responsible for what we buy and eat (no buts about it!)  Food packaging = advertising.  Period.  This goes for organic food, too, which is probably the most hyped and over-marketed niche in the food industry today.  This extends into Michael Pollan’s apt idea of “Supermarket Pastoral”.  Every company is jumping on that bandwagon.  This doesn’t mean I don’t still prefer organic; it just means I recognize that most “Free Range!” chickens are anything but free range.