Thursday, June 21, 2007

Solstice Tips

Summer Stoke

Happy Solstice: The sunrise at Stonehenge this morning was welcomed by 24,000 revelers. Summer officially begins on June 21st, the longest day of the year, which also happens to be International Surfing Day. Double stoke!

Here are some tips for a greener summer out of doors.

Treat yourself to a little something in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified or reclaimed wood.

In addition to the sun, Druids worshipped the mighty forest, which provided them with wood for shelter, fuel and food. Trees also counteract global warming by storing carbon. The Amazon rainforest alone sequesters 70 billion tons of CO2, or 10% of the world’s carbon, an amount equivalent to total emissions of this greenhouse gas over the past 11 years, according to the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. When trees are cut and burned, their stored CO2 is released.

FSC’s chain-of-custody verification process allows every piece of lumber or furniture to be traced back to its source in well-managed forests, which are selectively harvested with the goal of forest preservation. Given recent reports of how illegally logged Indonesian and Burmese wood gets filtered through China and sold in the U.S. and Europe, supporting work like FSC’s is crucial.

Greenerpenny’s Sustainable Wood Choices:

New River’s square outdoor table, pleasing in its simplicity, made from FSC-certified jatoba hardwood (Brazilian cherry),with a linseed oil waterproof finish, $89 from Check out their FSC-certified Adirondack chairs, dining tables and benches, too.
Support your back—and standing forests—on a sweetly angled chair made from recycled oak wine barrel staves. It folds flat, too. $149 from

Save Your Skin

As longer days can mean more exposure to UV rays, beachgoers should wear sunblock and cover up as much as possible.

In the water and out, Xcel’s UV 50+ poly/spandex surf shirts provide protection with long or short sleeves, in solids or tropical prints, for Men, Women, Kids and Toddlers (find dealers in your zip code at In tropic conditions, you’ll stay cooler in this Hawaiian company’s sleeveless mesh with a UV 25+ rating, but note, you’ll only be protected half as long. For more cover-ups, see

For Greenerpenny’s Top Ten Least-Toxic Sunscreens, go to

Clean a Beach

To celebrate International Surfing Day, help clean a beach. Go to for events and ideas. Safety tip: Do keep your toddler from eating sand; researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that E.coli bacteria in beach sand can contribute to gastrointestinal illness.

Please send your friends to


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sheets, Unfinished

A reader asks, “Where can I get organic cotton sheets that are also free of chemical finishes?” A smart question, as the “certified organic” label applies only to farming, not processing, standards. Thus it’s possible that sheets and pillowcases, virtuously grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, might yet have been bleached with chlorine, dyed with heavy metal or synthetic colors that pollute waterways, and wrinkle-treated with formaldehyde, a skin and eye irritant.

The following sheets and pillowcases will help keep tears off your pillow while being kinder to the Earth:

New from Pottery Barn, The Naturals Collection 100% organic cotton sheet sets ($189 Q, incl 2 cases) are unbleached and free of conventional chemical finishes. They look and feel lovely, as I learned firsthand today in their Chelsea, New York store; to order at (check out their organic children’s bedding, too) or through Pottery Barn Bed and Bath catalogs, printed exclusively paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Extra E-credit!

Native Organic Cotton Homewares’ 100% organic cotton sheet sets are also certified as adhering to the fiber processing standards of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which prohibit chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, some azo chemical dyes, and plastisols (vinyl coatings). $160 for a Q set, at

Deep Pockets for Those Without

For those (like me) who blench at the high price of organic sheet sets and use a comforter in lieu of a top sheet, Coyuchi provides a welcome alternative. They sell a Q fitted organic cotton sheet for $68, a pair of standard pillowcases for $26. And, their processing is non-chlorine-bleached and nearly chemical-free, using low-impact dyes that don’t run off into waterways as much as conventional types do. Their fitted organic crib sheet is $29, at

While not certified organic, Bed Bath & Beyond’s “400 Natural” and “600 Natural” sheet sets (the numbers refer to thread counts) tempted me with their lack of formaldehyde, chlorine bleach, synthetic dyes/fixatives, at a reasonable price ($80 Q for the “400,” with a generous 18” mattress pocket depth). BB & B also sells very nice “Simply Organic” cotton sheet sets, some colors now on sale ($49); now, if they could only combine the two…at

Please share with your friends, and keep sending me your ideas and questions.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Top Green Sunscreens for 2009

Here’s Greenerpenny’s newly updated, 2009 Sun Products Short List of least-toxic, full-spectrum UV blockers.

The products on this list are free of benzophenone-3 (BP-3), homosalate, octinoxate, octyl-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, padimate-O, parsol 1789 (avobenzone) and 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor, all of which have been linked to allergic reactions, hormone disruption, damage to skin cell DNA, or the growth of cancer cells in lab tests.

A particular baddie, BP-3, has been implicated in the feminization of male ocean fish and promoting disease in corals as well as hormone disruption in lab tests, and is widely present in the bodies of the American population. I recommend the following physical sunblocks, based on the minerals titanium dioxide (Ti02) or zinc oxide (ZO), which coat the skin’s surface like, well, white plaster. The controversy: To make mineral sunblocks transparent and smoother to apply, some manufacturers use microscopic nanoparticles of TiO2 or ZO. that could conceivably penetrate skin, causing DNA damage. Nicknamed “Trojan horses” because they can carry toxic substances into cells, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide have been found to damage brain cells in lab tests. However, The Environmental Working Group and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Skin Deep database ( advises that the sunblocking effectiveness of TiO2 and ZO outweighs the risks of nano, at least so far as we currently know.

Buyer Beware: Watch out for sunscreens that call themselves organic and even, sometimes, use some certified organic plant oils, but have toxic chemicals as active ingredients! Ditto products advertised as "mineral" but which also contain oxybenzone/benzophenone-3 and other synthetic agents.

Sunblock Titans

The following products * use only Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide as active ingredients, and are full-spectrum (designed to block both UVA and UVB rays). They also contain no parabens, which are also suspected hormone disrupting chemicals.

1. Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18,
2. Avalon Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18,
3. Badger Sunblocks,
4. Burt’s Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen soothes and moisturizes skin with hemp seed and calendula oils.
5. California Baby SPF 30+, face stick or lotion, A GreenerPenny top pick!
6. Ecolani SPF 15,
7. Epicuren Zinc Oxide Sunscreen,
8. Jason Natural Cosmetics Earth’s Best Organic Sunblock, Chemical Free SPF 30+, A fave of all Green Guide alumni.
9. Lavera Sunscreen Neutral SPF 40,
10. Nature's Gate Mineral Kids' Block
11. Neutrogena Sensitive Skin SPF 60 and Sunblock Stick are definitely nano-ized, but also very highly rated for protectiveness by EWG.
12. Tru Kid Sunny Days Mineral Water Resistant Sunscreen, rated highly effective by EWG.
13. UV Natural Sunscreen, Sport, SPF 30, at Stays on, but feels sticky greasy.

To round out a baker's dozen, any beach bag ought to contain Zinc Oxide Ointment, straight from the tube, at drugstores everywhere. Truly drop-dead white pasty, but can't be beat for cheap. I dot it on my sun spots for reverse freckles.

Next Best:

The following sunscreens use only mineral active ingredients, but contain parabens. They are also very effective, which is why I recommend them.

Solar Protection Formula SPF 58 allover lotion and TiZO3 Solar Protection Facial, nicely tinted, SPF 40. A new discovery, I used it on my face on a windy surf session in midday Hawaiian sun, and remained untouched by rays. Plus, it's totally matte and non-greasy, and with the tint, it works as makeup!

For the workaday world (if you don't work on the beach):

Clinique City Block non-greasy cream is lightly tinted and all the "foundation" most anyone needs.

For a pure mineral powder that blocks sun:

Peter Thomas Roth Mineral SPF 30 (they also make a moisturizer with sun protection).

Almost pure: I can't help but love my Physicians Formula Solar Powder SPF 20 Bronzer for touch-ups during a sunny day, and hope they'll remove those parabens. Can't hurt to ask!

*Note: Buy the specific product listed, or read labels. Some of these companies use synthetic chemicals in other sunblock products, including some for kids!

Also hot off the presses, Environmental Working Group's 2009 Sunscreen Guide rates specific sunblocks' effectiveness against UVA and UVB rays. They've looked at hundreds of products, and only 1 out of 10 offeres full protection, EWG says! Find out which, here.

What's safest, of course, is staying out of the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. But when the surf is perfect at 11:30, you gotta go. Go coated, and reapply frequently. If you're worried about nano, which manufacturers aren't required to disclose on ingredients lists, choose the opaque instead of transparent mineral products. I do. And here's a secret: On my face, I cover my ghostly white Ninja block with something tinted and stay-on, like:

Shiseido Very Water Resistant Sunscreen Stick Foundation. It's mostly mineral, with a little chemical, but at least it's not resting directly on my skin.

Surfers swear by Vertra for its stay-on waterproof power. Again, I'd layer it over a preferred nontoxic base like California Baby No Fragrance Face & Body.

Got a favorite product you want to vet? Search for it on EWG sunblock rating list (least toxic gets a 0 or 1, goes up to 10)

Sunblock removal tip: A good sunblock sticks to skin. When you want to take it off and let your pores breathe, try my surf buddy Cristal's tip: Organic virgin coconut oil, unrefined. Works like a dream, moisturizes your skin, and doesn't clog pores! From Spectrum Organics other companies, sold at health food stores. Removes makeup, too, and a little bit on the hair relieves dry ends.

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