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 (cosmeticsdatabase.com) 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.
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, albabotanica.com
2. Avalon Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18, avalonorganics.com
3. Badger Sunblocks, badger.com
4. Burt’s Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen soothes and moisturizes skin with hemp seed and calendula oils. www.burtsbees.com
5. California Baby SPF 30+, face stick or lotion, californiababy.com. A GreenerPenny top pick!
6. Ecolani SPF 15, evo.com
7. Epicuren Zinc Oxide Sunscreen, skincarelab.com
8. Jason Natural Cosmetics Earth’s Best Organic Sunblock, Chemical Free SPF 30+, drugstore.com. A fave of all Green Guide alumni.
9. Lavera Sunscreen Neutral SPF 40, lavera-usa.com
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 amazon.com. 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.
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 http://spectrumorganics.com/and other companies, sold at health food stores. Removes makeup, too, and a little bit on the hair relieves dry ends.
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