The pools are opening, our picnics are planned, the sun is shining! It’s summer!
Which, for me, means fuuuuuck, dehydration headaches and sun poisoning.
I had a patch of skin cancer removed recently. I'm Irish. I have more freckles than there are stars in the galaxy.
People have asked, “Why are you wearing white pantyhose?” when in fact, it was only my bare, offensively pale skin showing.
My kids are every bit as translucent as I am.
As such, keeping safe in the sun requires nothing less than the hardest of hard-core sunscreen.
It’s painfully obvious when we Irish folk get burned, but my friends with dark skin are every bit as at-risk of burning as me.
Since we’re all Reductionists who are further concerned about exposure to fragrances and harmful chemicals, finding the right sunscreen can be a challenge.
Add to that the fact that sunscreen is destroying the coral reef, and now we humans have to do triple duty to choose wisely while we’re trying not to get fried.
What’s the correlation between sunscreen and the coral reef anyway? You may have heard that, just a few weeks ago, Hawaii announced it’s banning the sale of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which some scientists believe contribute to coral bleaching.
WTF is coral bleaching? It’s when the coral turns white because it’s not able to absorb its critical food source, a certain type of algae, which gives it its healthy orange glow. In other words, it’s hungry, pale, frail and at risk of dying.
Why should we care? According to the Australian government, not only do coral reefs’ rich environs give shelter to an extremely diverse set of sea organisms, but they also feed many ocean creatures and also produce rich nitrogen that helps to recycle nutrients.
What’s likely of more critical interest to humans is that coral reefs act as a barrier around our coast lines, providing a first line of defense against tropical storms that strike, threatening ginormous waves and insane flooding on land.
Ahem, Houston? Puerto Rico? Just sayin’…
Alrighty then…maybe we should be careful not to wreck them with the skin care products we use.
Thank God for the Environmental Working Group to provide us some guidance on where to turn! If you haven’t been to their website, a primo place to start is by downloading their Guide to Safer Sunscreens or perusing their sunscreen tips pages, which contain LOADS of information and ratings on the good, the bad, and the pretty-terrible.
According to EWG’s report, “Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, mineral and chemical filters.”
Most products on the shelves at Target and Walmart today are made with the chemical kind, and you’ll see those buzz words again, like “oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate” on their list of ingredients.
We avoid them. These are the sunscreens that get a bad grade on EWG, because along with bleaching the coral reef, these chemical components “may mimic hormones.” Studies have found oxybenzone even acts as a “weak estrogen.”
“In a recent evaluation of CDC-collected exposure data for American children, researchers found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower total testosterone levels (Scinicariello 2016). The study did not find a similar effect in younger boys or females. The researchers cautioned that their results are a single-day snapshot instead of a controlled study of the effect of multi-day exposures.”
Still, you gotta stop and wonder, right?
Further, “Animal studies report lower sperm counts and sperm abnormalities after exposure to oxybenzone and octinoxate, delayed puberty after exposure to octinoxate, and altered estrous cycling for female mice exposed to oxybenzone. Recently, Danish researchers reported that eight of 13 chemical sunscreen ingredients allowed in the U.S. affected calcium signaling of male sperm cells in laboratory tests, which the researchers suggest could reduce male fertility (Endocrine Society 2016).”
Holy smokes. I’m staying away from that stuff for good!
The only down side is, because it doesn’t use chemicals as thinning agents, it’s harder to spread on than the old toxic stuff. It’s thick like peanut butter, so you often end up walking around town with a big white glob of it still stuck to your ear or the tip of your nose without knowing it.
Sorry, folks. Sometimes being a Reductionist is humiliating. Get over it.
Incidentally, we’ve always put those heavy long-sleeved swim shirts on our translucent kids, but only recently have started buying them for ourselves.
But I have faith in innovators who’ll come up with something to make sun protection hip, and I have faith in those of us who have committed to the Reductionist movement to help. It seems our pals at Coolibar have already come up with a range of products, from pretty scarves to cute dresses, to begin tackling that very first-world problem.
No matter what you do in the sun this summer, stay safe and have fun! And let the rest of us know what you do for protection (from the sun, you perv!) in the comments below.
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.