The dark side of sunscreen…

Eco Mama – Day 22

Coppertone Ad

I figured it was about time to tackle that big, bad bear called sunscreen.  As Americans, we love our sunscreen just about as much as we love our hamburgers, apple pie and GMO corn.  Sunscreen is now applied almost literally at birth (“The baby’s head is crowning!  Quick! Squirt some Coppertone 50 on it!”) and then worn continuously through out childhood.  The sun, once worshiped by our ancestors, is now just that big, glowing nuisance in the sky.

But I believe this sunscreen obsession isn’t entirely our fault.  For years, we have been fed non-stop warnings and advertisements about the dangers of skin cancer and nothing gets parents to buy a product faster than fear — fear that you’re going to make a mistake like, I don’t know, GIVE YOUR KIDS CANCER IF YOU DON’T PUT SUNSCREEN ON THEM CONSTANTLY!

But what if the sunscreen we’re putting on ourselves and our families is preventing skin cancer, but causing other types of cancer?  Most sunscreens are crammed with seriously nasty chemicals.  I didn’t want to sound all hippie/conspiracy-theorist about my sunscreen rant today, so I went online to look for a very mainstream opinion on the dangers of sunscreen — and I immediately found it on Dr. Oz — and I don’t think you can get more mainstream than the wacky and oh-so-dreamy Dr. Oz.  Oprah even nicknamed him “America’s Doctor”.


“My squat says I’m approachable. My scrubs say I’m knowledgable.”

This is what Dr. Oz’s website has to say about sunscreen

“There are 17 individual sunscreen ingredients that are FDA approved in sunscreens: 15 of these are clear chemicals that absorb UV light and two are made of minerals that reflect UV light. Of these 15, nine are known endocrine disruptors. To be effective, chemical sunscreens need to be rubbed into their skin 20 minutes before sun exposure. They do a pretty good job at blocking UV light, but they actually get used up as the sun shines on them. In fact, some sunscreens lose as much as 90% of their effectiveness in just an hour, so they need to be reapplied often. This is not the case with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the two mineral, or physical, sunscreens. These two work very differently – they sit on the surface of the skin and physically block UV light. Chemical sunscreens don’t sit on the surface of the skin – they soak into it and quickly find their way into the bloodstream. They scatter all over the body without being detoxified by the liver and can be detected in blood, urine, and breast milk for up to two days after a single application. That would be just fine if they were uniformly safe – but they’re not.  As I mentioned, nine of the 15 chemical sunscreens are considered endocrine disruptors. Those are chemicals that interfere with the normal function of hormones. The hormones most commonly disturbed are estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid.  Endocrine disruptors, like some ingredients in chemical sunscreens, can cause abnormal development of fetuses and growing children. They cause early puberty and premature breast development in girls, and small and undescended testicles in boys. They cause low sperm counts and infertility. Endocrine disruptors that act like estrogen can contribute to the development of breast and ovarian cancers in women, and other endocrine disruptors may increase the chance of prostate cancer in men.  Sounds pretty unsettling, doesn’t it?  But there’s more. As I said earlier, chemical sunscreens function by absorbing UV light. In the process, some may get used up and mutate. Some generate DNA-damaging chemicals called “free radicals.” These may lead to cancers.”

Wow, that was a fun read, wasn’t it?  Now there has never been an “official” study to prove that sunscreen can cause cancer.  But I ask you, who would fund such a study?  Sunscreen is a billion dollar industry.  Do you think the companies that make sunscreen would enjoy reading the results of that research?  What would they say to all the parents who have been dunking our children in sunscreen like a dilly bar at Dairy Queen for years on end?  “Oooops.  It does cause cancer.  Sor-ry.”

So what’s the answer?  Since it’s imperitive that we still protect ourselves and our children from skin cancer, I suggest going the Eco Mama route and greening your sun routine.

Here’s what I do –

*  When we’re at the beach or pool, I make my kids wear those sun protection rash guard suits that make them look they’re in a bad futuristic movie from the seventies.  This gives them a lot less surface area to burn.  I wear a long sleeve SPF shirt also.  I find the skin tight material has the nice effect of flattening my breasts while enlarging my stomach at the same time.

* Then I let them/me play out in the sun for at least twenty minutes without any sunscreen on at all.  It’s vital for our bodies to have vitamin D and being out in the sun is the only free way to get it.  And it does feel good.  Remember, the sun on your face?  No need to fear it! (For twenty minutes at least.)


*  After vitamin D time is over, I apply Goddess Garden organic sunscreen to all the body parts that are exposed to the sun.

*  I never, ever re-apply it.  Ever.  This stuff is so good you don’t have to.  I’ve been using Goddess Garden since this summer and we’ve never gotten sun burned (and that includes a two week vacation to Florida).  It’s expensive for sunscreen (twenty one dollars a bottle) but I’ve had the same bottle since June and it hasn’t run out.  Probably because I don’t have to re-apply it.

In addition to being 94% certified organic, Goddess Garden sunscreen is “biodegradable, reef safe, gluten-free, cruelty-free, vegan and non GMO.”  It’s like having your own Portlandia episode in a bottle.

So that’s how I do it, but what I really want to know is, how do you do it?  Any homemade sunscreen recipes?  Or do you use a chemical free sunscreen that you just love?

Or maybe you just use an old-fashioned remedy called “a hat.”  Let me know and we can all continue on our path towards eco mama enlightenment where organic living is essential and hairy pits are optional.










  • Robin says:

    I’m late to the party with this, but the Environmental Working Group (EWG) produces awesome consumer guides on all kinds of products. Here is their 2013 Sunscreen guide:

  • Mojca says:

    I’ve been using Badger’s one ( for me and my 2,5 years old and I’m loving it. Works wonderful! I have severe allergies to chemical filters and sun and with this one no rash at all.

  • Marsha Calhoun says:

    Now, to avoid parabens and the other awful things whose name I can’t remember (oh yeah, phthalates), we are using Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby sunscreen, broad spectrum spf 60+. At least we don’t break out the next day, as I did after trying Kiss My Face (just asking for it rather embarrassed me) Face+Neck Face Factor spf 30. At my age, I care mostly about wrinkle prevention but I still don’t want to get cancer, either from the sun or from the sunscreen. So I’ll probably try the Goddess Garden stuff, and pray that I don’t break out. And yes, my doctor is fussing that I probably don’t get enough vitamin D – the same doctor who laughed out loud at the weird suntan pattern on my feet. Can’t win for losing, sometimes.

    • My Year of Fabulous says:

      I’ve heard that the Kabana brand is really good too. It’s for sensitive skin. But I do really love goddess garden.

  • Julia says:

    I’m not sure if you use it, but figuring out a lipstick that actually gives you some real color without also giving you cancer has been a problem for me. Any ideas on that one?

    • My Year of Fabulous says:

      I don’t know actually. I never use lipstick except chapstick when my lips get dry. I know that I’ll have to wear lipstick for my bombshell month next month, so I will research good lipsticks and let you know.

  • Jenn says:

    We use organic baby sunscreens made with only physical uv blockers. It’s a pain to rub in (and you’ll still look a little ghostly) but it’s worth it. I just pick it up at Target, there’s usually a few options.

  • Cali Rose says:

    My daughter and I both have sensitive skin, and will get a rash from any and all chemical containing products. We can’t even use products will alcohol(so pretty much everything on the shelves) This has been a blessing in disguise for us as it has lead to extensive reading and researching, and kept us away from all those nasty chemicals. So many products labeled “Organic” or “Chemical free” still contain an amount of “Bad Stuffs”, so never trust the label! Yes, you can call me crazy, but I don’t like to shop at whole foods because I think they are Posers, and get this one(someone might call CPS) I hardly ever put sunscreen on my kid, unless we will be out for more than an hour. That’s right a whole hour in the Sun! I am a firm believer in the Sunhat and my daughter has never had a sunburn on her Eastern European skin.

    • Garrett says:

      I work with Goddess Garden, the sunscreen mentioned in the above article. You are completely correct. There are a ton of “natural” sunscreen companies that claim to be natural but they actually have many unsavory ingredients (octinoxate is one that most common ingredients the “natural” companies include in their sunscreens… octinoxate is still a hormone disruptor).

      That being said, any time “organic” is seen on the front of the label, that means that the product has been certified organic by a third party. We have this claim as does Badger, who is one of our competitors. Both of us have the QAI/NSF seal on the back of our sunscreens affirming that we are ACTUALLY organic.

      Obviously, this complicates things for consumers, but we all just have to be informed on what is and is not good for our bodies. Rest assured, our sunscreens are as pure and safe as your can get on the market (they’re also nice and non-whitening too!).

      Thank you for the mention Eco Mama! We’re glad you enjoy our products!

      • Cali Rose says:

        I have studied your product and tried a tester, but unfortunately the Alcohol content causes a severe and instant Eczema outbreak for my daughter and a temporary burning sensation along with redness for me. Please consider a Truly sensitive formula and you have me sold. I realize we are extra sensitive and most will not have this reaction, but for now we are forced to use Green Screen by Kabana Skin Care, until more companies get on board. I would love a Non-Nano spray option for easy use and so would My Daughters Daycare(They hate me and my Sunscreen) Every other kid at Daycare Uses a Neutragena Spray and whenever a lazy teacher puts it on her, I have a sneezing fit in the car on the way home, and the next day Marin’s arms are covered in a demon like open sore bleeding Eczema that is torture I would never wish on any kid! All I want Momma’s to know is that just because you can’t see the damage instantly, like I get to, doesn’t mean there is no damage being done. I highly recommend the Enviromental Working Groups website and see how your products measure up. These are our Babies and the future generation! P.S. F@#% Monsanto and all GMO’s Thanks for calling this out Holly and giving me a place to rant :)

        • My Year of Fabulous says:

          Please! Rant any time! I’ve heard about Kabana skin care and that it’s amazing. I should try out their sunscreen. I have been reading about nano particals in sunscreen and I was going to put that it too but I didn’t want to overwhelm everyone. I agree though — so is the Kabana sunscreen non nano?

        • Garrett says:

          The “alcohol” in our product is cetyl alcohol, which is very different than the alcohols used in other sunscreens (those are ethyl alcohols). The cetyl alcohol used in our sunscreens is actually derived from coconuts and is a moisturizer. Ethyl alcohols in other sunscreens actually dries out the skin.

          That being said, I can’t be sure if your daughter is allergic to the cetyl alcohol in our product or not. Regardless, people are always going to be allergic to ingredients in products whether it is natural or not. I personally have eczema and have no reactions to our products. Our company was created because our founder’s daughter had reactions to conventional body care products similar to your daughter.

          You might want to try our baby sunscreen, which is the gentlest of our sunscreens. Also, every year, we change our ingredients slightly to constantly improve our products, so you might want to try another tester next year to see if the reactions continue.

          And one final note, all of our sunscreens are non-nano including the both the pump and continuous sprays. So nothing to worry about there!

          Thanks for your comments Cali! Even though we try to make our sunscreens as natural and pure as possible, we totally understand that people may still be allergic to some of our ingredients. Keep putting the good stuff on your daughter!

      • My Year of Fabulous says:

        Thanks, Garrett for commenting. I love your sunscreen and the squirt bottle works great. I keep it in the car and all my kids can use it all by themselves while we’re driving somewhere without sunscreen spraying everywhere or glopping onto their laps.

    • My Year of Fabulous says:

      I think you’re right — just putting a hat on and avoiding sunscreen altogether is the way to go. The only reason sun safety is so heavily promoted in the US is because sunscreen is a billion dollar industry. It has nothing to do with helping people — and most of the time it’s actually hurting people because of all the chemicals in sunscreen. Plus, human beings need vitamin D! It’s what keeps us from getting sick in the winter… although if we don’t get sick in the winter than we wouldn’t need a flu shot and that wouldn’t go over well with the pharmaceutical companies, would it? Uh, oh, I’m ranting.. better stop!

  • Angela says:

    When we lived in AZ we wore hats and sunglasses, and went to the covered swimmming pools. I actually harkened to the idea of a “base tan” for myself, and slathered the zinc sunscreen on my kiddo so she looked like a vampire.
    Here in OR, I let the kids run around naked in the sun to get as much VIt. D going as possible. I like the idea of the sunscreen you use…during those 8 or 9 weeks when we actually need it, :)

    • My Year of Fabulous says:

      The zinc oxide I think is the only safe way of going because it sits on your skin rather than soaking in. But I think getting a little tan and vitamin d and wearing a hat works the best.

  • Amy says:

    I really appreciate your research on this one.

Comments? Fire away.