If you’d like sunscreen choices that cost less than a car, you may have to deal with some chemicals, which sucks, but sometimes life isn’t fair.
My sunscreen rational this year is that all families need sunscreen, and since less toxic sunscreen is hyper costly, I need to recommend some other, more toxic, but less expensive choices.
- Which is worse sun exposure or chemicals?
- Why you shouldn’t ditch sunscreen.
- FDA rules on sunscreen – improved as of late, but still to be taken with a grain of salt.
- It’s hard to find sunscreen that meets all safety requirements.
Compromise by limiting chemicals elsewhere
By “more toxic” I’m not talking about sunscreen that’ll kill your family – be reasonable. You can make some compromises when it comes to green living and green products without the world imploding. For example, following are areas where you CAN cut your family’s chemical and pesticide footprint, without having to shell out thousands, like you would for non-toxic sunscreen.
- Make homemade cleaners and avoid toxic chemicals.
- Buy more organic food (yes you can afford this) and limit pesticides, chemicals and more.
- Make homemade ice pops to avoid fake chemical colors and flavors.
- Use reusable baby wipes instead of wiping your baby with chemicals.
- Switch to reusable water bottles to cut down on plastic chemicals.
- Buy safer body care products and slash chemical exposure.
What’s the deal with less expensive sunscreen?
Even if you’re looking for lower priced sunscreen, you still need to know how to choose a sunscreen you’re comfortable with. EWG rates their safe sunscreen list with the following criteria, which seems reasonably to me:
- UVB protection (SPF)
- UVA protection
- UVA/UVB balance
- Sunscreen stability
- Health concerns – which for EWG means chemicals
If you’re unclear about what some of the terms above mean, read basic info about unprotected sun exposure or common sunscreen questions. You may also like the Skin Cancer Foundation’s guide to sunscreen.
In general, price aside, you want sunscreen that offers correct protection and that limits any chemicals you’re really freaked about. I can’t tell you which chemicals to be most freaked about, because everyone has their own thresholds and opinions, but I can offer you some information.
The main chemicals of concern in sunscreen
There are three main reasons why a group like EWG would rate a sunscreen as “bad” – the sunscreen contains Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), oxybenzone or questionable fragrances. There are plenty of other chemicals of concern, but most safe sunscreen advocates agree that these are the three big bads. Read Safe Mama’s sunscreen cheat sheet to learn about other chemicals of concern.
What to know about Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate)
EWG is not a fan of vitamin A and their Skin Deep website rates vitamin A with an 8 (not a good score) which means any sunscreen rated at EWG that contains vitamin A automatically gets graded down. EWG points out that a 2009 study by U.S. government scientists says that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. On the flip-side, this study is controversial and not everyone agrees that vitamin A is harmful.
The American Academy of Dermatology has an opposite view of EWG and notes, “Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A (retinol), but is not an active drug ingredient in sunscreen. When used in sunscreen, retinyl palmitate serves cosmetic purposes as an antioxidant to improve product performance against the aging effects of UV exposure, or to enhance product aesthetic qualities. Despite recent concerns from in vitro (test tube) studies and one unpublished report using mice, “topical and oral retinoids are widely prescribed to treat a number of skin diseases, such as acne and psoriasis, and there is no published evidence to suggest either increase the risk of skin cancer in these patients.” They also note, “Unlike more potent prescription forms of vitamin A, there is no evidence to suggest that use of sunscreen with retinyl palmitate poses comparable risks.”
Depending on who you believe, the end verdict about vitamin A safety is still out. For more reading, check out the following links:
What to know about oxybenzone
The maximum concentration of oxybenzone allowed in U.S. sunscreens is 6%.
The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that, “Old research on rodents suggested that oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen, can penetrate the skin, may cause allergic reactions, and may disrupt the body’s hormones, producing harmful free radicals that may contribute to melanoma. However, there has never been any evidence that oxybenzone, which has been available for 20 years, has any adverse health effect in humans. The ingredient is FDA-approved for human use based on exhaustive review. The Photobiology Committee reviewed the studies on oxybenzone and found no basis for concern.”
The American Academy of Dermatology also thinks oxybenzone is safe enough and says, “Contrary to recent reports, available scientific literature and decades of public use does not support a link between oxybenzone in sunscreen and hormonal alterations, or other significant health issues in humans.”
Other folks aren’t on board with oxybenzone though. Of course EWG is against it, citing research that shows that oxybenzone is linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage, and low birth weight in baby girls. They also note that oxybenzone is a penetration enhancer, which means a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.
What to know about questionable fragrances
Questionable fragrances can contain a slew of various chemicals, and this is way too long a topic to cover here. In general, the term “fragrance” isn’t well-monitored. As Skin Deep says, “Fragrance” is usually a chemical cocktail, often containing individual chemicals associated with allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Some fragrance chemicals have not been assessed for safety. Until all fragrance ingredients are disclosed on the label, consumers cannot know what is in a particular fragrance.”
If you want to avoid fragrances, look for a sunscreen that’s unscented.
In the end…
Of course, someone will always disagree with your choice. On one end of this debate are folks like Henry Lim, MD, chair of dermatology at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital and chair of the science and research council of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) who notes that, “There is no safety issue. The risk of not applying sunscreen is greater than any the risk of any toxic chemical being in sunscreen.”
On the other end are folks who believe sunscreen use should be seriously limited or shunned altogether.
It’s a BIG debate.
Once you decide where you stand on this debate, head over to my sunscreen recommendation page to find the right sunscreen for your mindset and budget.
Lead image by ba1969 via sxc.