The Mindful Merchant

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Sunscreen Surprises June 17, 2010

Filed under: Canada,children,health warning,heath and safety,non-toxic,safety,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 9:13 pm



sun The first official day of summer is days away. In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice officially begins on June 21st at 7:28 am EDT. As the weather warms and we shed our clothes, many of us are starting to think about sunscreen. Before you reach for your favourite brand, the Environmental Working Group published its 4th annual Sunscreen Guide. If you have time to read this year’s report, it is full of interesting and concerning cautions. If you do not, here is my “Cliff Notes” version.


The EWG tested approximately 1400 products with SPF – beach and sun lotions, lip balms, moisturizers, sprays and creams. 1361 of those products received poor marks. Only 39 earned the highest green rating. That means they recommend only 8% from the 1400 tested.  Kind of scary isn’t it?


So why did the majority of beach and sport sunscreens rate so poorly?  The EWG’s explanation, “A surge in exaggerated SPF claims above 50 and new disclosures about potentially hazardous ingredients, in particular recently developed government data linking the common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A to accelerated development of skin tumours and lesions.”


The EWG recommends we avoid two chemicals – oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (vitamin A). The research regarding vitamin A/accelerated cancer connection is not conclusive.  They suggest we avoid retinyl palmitate as long as there is doubt about its safety. Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates skin and enters the bloodstream.


Another interesting read is Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths. Here are a few points.

– The EWG reports there is “no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer”.  (?)

– There is some evidence that some sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest forms of skin cancer in some people”.   (what?!)

– There are more and more 50+ SPF products and higher on the market…”but no proof they’re better”.


If you hauled out your old sunscreen from last summer, do not throw it away just yet. It is easy to find its score on the website. Just type in the name and chances are the results will be there – hundreds and hundreds of products were tested.  Hopefully the brand you currently use is one of the safer products and does not appear in the Hall of Shame report.  If you are shopping for a new SPF products check out the top EWG recommended beach and sport sunscreens, lip balm, moisturizers and makeup.


mimesI have not found a safe sunscreen that my family likes.  We tried a few of the low hazard products on the EWG list with disappointing results. Last summer was particularly frustrating. I wasted money on a popular, highly recommended sunscreen at the health food store. It was thick, sticky and did not absorb or blend into our skin. We looked like a travelling mime troop at the park. 


So…this summer I have started my sunscreen search again. I am also looking into sun protective clothing.  (My husband and children are groaning and rolling their eyes!)  The EWG suggests the best protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays is clothing, hats and shade. Sunscreen is a secondary means of protection.


If you have a favourite sunscreen or any sun safe strategies, I would love to hear them.  





18 Responses to “Sunscreen Surprises”

  1. XUP Says:

    I’ve always been opposed to sunscreen in general. I’ve never worn it and I’ve never put any on my daughter. I had a few battles with teachers and summer day-camp counsellors about this since they always wanted to slather the kids with sunscreen before taking them outdoors. Neither of us have ever had a sunburn because we’re careful. No matter what you have on or don’t have on, sitting around in blazing sunshine for hours is gonna damage your skin. This year my daughter developed a crazy rash reaction whenever she spent more than a few moments in the sun and the doctor recommended sunscreen. So this post will come in handy.

    • It’s funny, I’m researching sunscreen because of camp this summer. The counsellors reapply it throughout the day. They also use bug spray but that’s a whole other post. It has never occurred to me to challenge them…even the school sends notes home reminding us to use/send sunscreen. I admire your insight.

  2. LH Says:

    Hmmm… I was so proud when I went away a few weeks ago and found Neutrogena SPF 100. I felt like I was in a hazmat suit on the beach. (True there was also a hat, an umbrella and applications every hour, but at the time, I credited not burning to the SPF.) Since I am the ultimate sun-worrier, I will definitely have to check these sites out for me and my kid. Thanks for the heads up.

    • This is just a tiny bit of the information out there. More studies will be coming…we’ll have to stay on top of the findings. In the meantime…it’s good you are cautious and careful. 🙂

  3. Lisa Pozin Says:

    I just got Badger sunscreen for my kids – it was on sale at Whole Foods for $10 off (might still be) and I thought for half price it was worth a try. It is pretty greasy to put on and doesn’t blend or smell as nice as some of the traditional sunscreens I am used to using, but seems to be working well. My son always gets a rash in the summer which we can’t figure out the cause of and I attribute to sunscreen – so far no rash with the new sunscreen – so I’m hopeful…

    • Ah Whole Foods…we do not have that here in Ottawa. I tried Badger last summer too…that was one of the “mime” sunscreens. My kids won’t wear it anymore it was so sticky and chalky white. It does get a great score on the EWG website though. I hope the rash issue clears up for your son. 🙂

  4. Lynn Says:

    My husband is allergic to oxybenzone so by coincidence we’ve never put it on the kids. I’m constantly searching for oxbenzone-free sunscreens as they are getting harder and harder to find. A couple of years ago we found some Banana Boat Baby that did not have it and I bought about six bottles but we’re on the last one this summer…yikes.

    I had heard great things about California Baby but unfortunately, it isn’t approved for sale in Canada yet. I really wanted to try it, though, so I ordered some online (from, I think). It is CRAZY EXPENSIVE — $22 for a tiny little tube, PLUS SHIPPING — but so far, I have been impressed. It is not greasy and goes into the skin with some extra effort at rubbing, and you only need a very small amount to cover your kid. Despite the cost I would buy it again – hopefully it will be for sale in Canada soon.

    I bought their face stick at the same time and it is easy to use and is going to last a long time — but it does not go into the skin in the same way, so my kids do look a little pasty-faced sometimes. Still, it’s quite waterproof and again, a little goes a long way, so…worth the cost, in my opinion.

    • Hi Lynn! 🙂 Thanks for the suggestions. I am familiar with California Baby products. My sister in law uses them in the US. and I’ve bought some when we visit. I really like them – especially the sunscreen but I didn’t mention because it isn’t available in Canada. Isn’t it too bad we can’t buy it here? I just sent a note to the company inquiring about that…will let you know their response.

  5. Finola Says:

    I have never slathered the sunscreen on either myself or my children. I do use it when we will be in the sun for a long time or anywhere near water, but I have read before that some exposure to sun could serve a protective effect. I don’t believe this has been proven, but to me it just makes good sense. Plus the vitamin D can’t be bad!

    I just feel like we are always being told what the flavour of the month is. One day it is “All sun exposure is bad” and then next it is “Sunscreen is bad”. I am more of a believer in everything in moderation is OK.

  6. Mo Says:

    What are we going to do build a bubble and live in it? I’m sick of hearing that healthy stuff is toxic. I agree with Finola – its all about moderation people.

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  8. Kif Says:

    Oh this is great to know!

    I’ve been buying Alba Botanica for a couple of years now (from the Glebe Apothecary) and it rates a “3” so I guess that’s not too bad. It uses zinc oxide to block the sun and the other chemical that gets a high warning is the benzyl alcohol. I see that you can buy Marie Veronique online – I may try that especially for my face!

    I also found that when I was using Greens for Skin last summer, I never burned. I really don’t know if it was definitely the reason but I garden outside and even if I forgot my sunscreen, I never was red. Mind you I wasn’t outside for hours and half of my yard is shaded so I was always mindful of how much time I was directly under the sun but there were still a couple of times I was sure that I was pushing it. Anyone else have a similar experience with Greens?

    I know there are some links between healthy eating and sun protection: But I agree – everything in moderation and covering up with clothes is the best!

    • I am not familiar with Greens for Skin. Is it part of the Green’s Plus health drink line or is it topical? Thanks for the link about healthy eating & sun protection connection. Very interesting information.

  9. meanie Says:

    i’m using a kiehls spf 50 right now but i’m not sure about the ingredients. i love the look and feel of it, and they do have a children’s line…..
    glad i read this. i almost bought a $20 tube for the kids at the health food store. i woulda been pissed if it was garbage!

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