The Hidden Dangers of Sunscreen (That the Drugstores Won’t Tell You)

I am probably the most anal (for lack of a better word) person on the planet about wearing sunscreen. You will never catch me outside without sunscreen (and a hat if it’s sunny) on.

About a year and a half ago, much to my dismay, a friend, Mallory Sullivan, told me about how sunscreen could cause skin cancer. I really didn’t think much about it until now – when another friend (Mareill Kiernan – who is basically a human encyclopedia of everything related to this blog) sent me an article that proved her right. 

I researched it a bit more and found that, indeed, many sunscreens are incredibly toxic – including the sunscreen brands that I have been using for 28 years!

Certain ingredients in these sunscreens are extremely toxic. At all costs, avoid sunscreens that contain the following: oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocreylene, octinoxate and homesalate.  Unless you are a scientist, you, like me, probably have no idea what any of those chemicals are. Basically, these chemicals can cause a multitude of problems, such as fertility issues,  skin tumors and lesions, hair loss, liver damage, osteoporosis and more.  Here’s the real shocker: it was found that sunscreen actually increases, not decreases one’s risk of melanoma. Read this article for a complete list and a better understanding of why these ingredients are harmful.

When I read this article, I felt like throwing my hands up in the air. I try so hard to protect my skin and instead I end up doing probably more damage to it than if I had not worn sunscreen in the first place! So what is the solution?

In general, you should avoid the most common brands that you see in the pharmacy, like Neutrogenia, Coopertone, Banana Boat and Aveeno.  But good news: there are brands out there that are safe to use.  The brands listed below meet EWG criteria:

  • 100% Pure
  • Adorable Baby
  • Alba Botanica
  • All Terrain
  • Allure
  • Arbonne
  • Aubrey Organics
  • Ava Anderson NonToxic
  • Babo Botanicals
  • Baby Pibu
  • Babyganics
  • Babyhampton
  • Babytime! by Episencial
  • Badger
  • Bare Belly Organics
  • Beautycounter
  • Belli
  • Belly Buttons & Babies
  • Beyond Coastal
  • Biosolis
  • Block Island Organics
  • Blue Lizard
  • Bull Frog
  • BurnOut
  • Burt’s Bees
  • Butterbean
  • California Baby
  • California Naturel
  • Celadon Road
  • Consonant Skincare
  • Coral Safe
  • CoTZ
  • CyberDERM
  • derma e
  • DHC
  • Dr. Mercola
  • Earth’s Best
  • Elemental Herbs
  • EltaMD
  • Goddess Garden
  • Grahams Natural Alternatives
  • HeadHunter
  • Jan Marini
  • Jason Natural Cosmetics
  • Jersey Shore Sun
  • Juice Beauty
  • Just Skin Food
  • La Roche-Posay
  • Lavanila
  • Lemongrass Spa
  • Loving Naturals
  • Luzern Laboratories
  • MD Moms
  • MD Skincare
  • MDSolarSciences
  • Melvita
  • Mustela
  • MyChelle
  • Naked Turtle
  • Nature’s Gate
  • NIA24
  • Nine Naturals
  • Nurture My Body
  • Poofy Organics
  • Radical Skincare
  • Raw Elements USA
  • RevaleSkin
  • Rocky Mountain Sunscreen
  • Safe Harbor
  • Sensitive Skin Clinic
  • Seventh Generation
  • SkinCeuticals
  • Solar Protection Formula
  • Solbar
  • Star Naturals
  • Substance
  • Sun Bum
  • Sunology
  • Suntegrity Skincare
  • sunumbra
  • Sweetsation Therapy
  • The Honest Company
  • thinkbaby
  • thinksport
  • Tropical Sands
  • TruBaby
  • True Natural
  • TruKid
  • UV Natural
  • Vanicream
  • Yes To Cucumbers

To be sure that the sunscreen you are using is okay, check the ingredients.

Where to buy the safe sunscreens? I just bought one bottle of Cyberderm and another of The Honest Company at Target. But if you can’t find what you are looking for, you can always buy online!

All of this raises a bigger issue and question: who can we trust and how can we know who to trust?

I grew up perhaps overly optimistic…blindingly trusting not only everyone, but everything. Doctors were always right.  Everyday products and food would never harm us. I mean…if they were harmful, they wouldn’t be sold, right?

Over the years, and especially recently, I have come to the unfortunate recognition that this is just not the case. Doctors are most certainly not always right (and a second or third opinion should many times be sought out)…much of the food we eat, packed with preservatives and questionable ingredients, can definitely be harmful and pose long term consequences on our health…and products that we ingest and slabber on our skin each day can also lead to health problems down the road.

We (or at least I) wonder why cancer seems to be so prevalent nowadays (here’s a depressing statistic: 43% of men and 39% of women will get cancer in their lifetime)…and all we have to do is look around us at all of the chemicals that we are inhaling and ingesting.  Take a look at your cleaning products, for instance.

Jessica Alba started The Honest Company for this very reason.  Everything from baby products to hair spray to makeup to laundry detergent….do we really know what we are exposing ourselves to on a regular (if not daily) basis?

Last week, I read an article of a girl who nearly died (and ended up losing her leg) from wearing a tampon for too long. Many females have at least heard of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Granted, this is very rare. But incidences like this, however rare they may be, should never happen. And it makes me wonder: what exactly are we putting in our bodies?

It’s scary and sometimes it seems like an impossible battle to fight – at the end of the day, there is only so much that we can do.  Admittedly, it’s not always that easy either, because these commoditites surround us in our everday life and at times, are pretty hard to avoid. Walking in the grocery or pharmacy aisles, we are bombarded by toxic products. We continue to buy them, if nothing else, out of pure convenience. Or we continue to disbelieve the effects they might have on us long-term.

I know that my home is definitely not entirely toxin-free.  But it is a goal that I am devoted to continuously working towards (throwing out every single toxic item in the house is not the most practical move…especially when you have flatmates).

But awareness is the first step.

I am far less trusting than I was even five years ago of the things that I eat and use on a daily basis – and now that I know that Neutrogena, Coopertone, Banana Boat etc are ridden with toxic chemicals, I will never buy them again.

It actually makes me angry that companies get away with this.  According to the EDF, the main problems are this: “Companies don’t have to test a chemical before using it in consumer products, and the Environmental Protection Agency has little power to remove hazardous chemicals from the marketplace.”

What’s scary is that a) most people are oblivious to this fact and/or b) continue to buy the products out of convenience – or c) perhaps we want to remain oblivious because the alternative is too much of a cumbersome task.

Consequently, the companies that sell these toxic products continue to reap profit and have no real incentive to change the product so that it would actually benefit the consumer. Why should they? They are still making money and revenue hasn’t decreased – at least not significantly.

So what is the solution?

It’s a widespread problem and one that will take a long time to change.  As the consumer, we can start by gaining awareness and gradually replacing these harmful products with ones that are organic.  Look for beauty products without sulfates and parabens, for starters. But beware: products that claim to be “natural” are not necessarily safe, since they are not regulated by the FDA.

In terms of household products, you can always make your own! A friend of mine, also wary of our chemical-heavy society, even made her own toothpaste using baking soda and coconut oil.

Of course, not all of us are as DIY savvy. While I am no expert when it comes to the best brands on the market, The Honest Company seems to be a pretty safe bet. At least comparatively.

And of course, the best alternative of all…abstinence. If you can, try to avoid contact with your household products for extended periods of time.  Do you really have to use that hair spray every day? Even after reading that many perfumes are toxic, I will probably never stop wearing it completely. I guess that is a risk I am willing to take to smell good! At the same time, it’s not something I wear every day. You get the picture…

It’s time that we, as the consumer, put the control back in our hands, and stop giving these money-sucking, duplicitious corporations our money.

We can also work towards changing the law, which would of course have the potential to take all of these harmful products off the market one day. Appeal to your senators to take action and make this a reality. Oh, and spread the word..please.


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