Sunscreen: A Blissfully Ignorant Mom Sets Out to Become an Informed Consumer
07.12.11 Sunscreen: A Blissfully Ignorant Mom Sets Out to Become an Informed Consumer
This is a guest post written by a new member of the MightyNest community. She is just beginning her journey towards creating a safe and healthy home for her family. Amanda will be writing posts periodically, sharing her journey with us.
Up until about a month ago, I would call myself a blissfully ignorant consumer. I took everything at face value. Any claims made on a product’s packaging I would believe. After all, why would a reputable company deceive their consumers? Then I had the opportunity to talk in depth with the founders of MightyNest whose mission is to educate consumers like myself who are concerned about the impact of chemicals and toxins on their family’s health.
Last summer there was some press about estrogen in Neutrogena sunscreen. My friends started talking about how this might affect our daughters. We all worry about them reaching puberty too early. After all, that's one of the reasons why I purchase organic milk for my family. Anyhow, the sensible part of me said that I should research this concern and perhaps find a sunscreen that didn’t contain this chemical. The admittedly uninformed side of me didn’t feel ready to give up the convenience and low cost of my favorite drug store brands.
Don’t get me wrong, I care deeply about the health and wellbeing of myself and my family. In fact, I truly believe that I can deal with just about any challenge or obstacle, as long as my family is healthy. After spending time on MightyNest.com and talking with Chris and Kristen Conn, I decided that I owe it to myself and to my family to become better educated on this topic so that I can make an informed decision about which sunscreens I purchase this summer. I don't believe in putting synthetic estrogen into my body, so why should I put it on my skin?
I consulted three reputable sources:
- The Environmental Working Group (EWG): A non-profit organization which, through research, works to expose potential health and environmental hazards. Their 2011 Sunscreen Report is a comprehensive resource rating more than 1,700 products for effectiveness and safety.
- The Safe Mama: This web site, started by a mom of two, is a resource designed to educate parents and save them time by pulling together information from a wide variety of sources that relates to the safety and health of children. Recently, the Safe Mama published her list of approved sunscreens which are all free of many harmful chemicals. You can read her report here.
- The Huffington Post: This article by Mindy Pennybacker, The Best Sunscreens to Use – and Lose, combined scientific research from the EWG with consumer testing and feedback to produce their top-ten list of the least toxic sunscreens.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
- The sunscreen industry is not regulated by the FDA. In fact, the FDA has promised to regulate sunscreen manufacturers since 1978, but has yet to follow through on that promise.
- Because this industry is not regulated, claims made in advertising or on packaging do not have to be true or proven.
- Neutrogena sunscreen, which recently received buzz in the press concerning its high levels of oxybenzone, bears the American Cancer Society seal of approval. Neutrogena pays a royalty to use the ACS logo, but is not endorsed by the ACS. I had NO IDEA that sunscreen wasn't regulated by the FDA or that a major corporation would falsely advertise their product. I trusted that the ACS seal meant it was SAFE.
- The main chemical found in a vast majority of sunscreens is Oxybenzone (aka Benzophenone-3), which seeps into the skin and enters the bloodstream. The properties of this chemical are such that it mimics estrogen. It is an endocrine and hormone disruptor which may accelerate the growth of cancer cells.
- SPF (Sun Protection Factor) applies only to UVB rays – the harmful effects of which are visible as a burn. SPF does not apply to UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate the skin accelerating the aging process and potentially cause cancer.
- All sunscreens have UVB protection, but not all sunscreens protect from the harmful effects of UVA rays. Look for a UVA/UVB or broad spectrum sunscreen.
- A 2007 study “reported that 96% of 6 to 8 year old girls had detectable amounts of oxybenzone in their urine.” You can read more in this article published by the EWG.
- Products that bear the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation meet a set of criteria less rigorous than those of the EWG or American Academy of Dermatology. Among the criteria not assessed by the Skin Cancer Foundation are UVA protection and the potential health effects of the ingredients contained in these products.
- Vitamin A is a common ingredient found in nearly 30% of all sunscreens. Vitamin A is an anti-oxidant that slows the skin’s aging process. However, when exposed to sunlight, it may speed the development of skin cancer.
- The safest, least toxic sunscreens are those with the active ingredient Zinc Oxide.
MY TAKE AWAY
I was shocked when I read that the sunscreen industry is not regulated. This fact alone was enough for me to seriously consider making a change and after all of my research, I've decided it's in order. Here's are the changes I intend to make:
- I will purchase sunscreens that primarily consist of zinc oxide.
- I will not use an aerosol sunscreen. Not only is it bad for the environment, but it is wasteful and harmful to my children’s lungs.
- Rather than slathering my children with sunscreen all over their bodies – before they put on their suits – I will only apply sunscreen to the exposed skin.
- We will take advantage of sun hats and swim shirts.
If I can change one thing to keep my family safe, it’s worth it. One small change is bound to lead to another small change. I know now that I’ll begin to look at what I purchase with a more discriminating eye. As a mom, it’s my job to keep my children safe and that includes making sure that what goes into and onto their bodies is the least toxic available option. I’m willing to give it a try – one small change at a time.