September 7, 2008

Year 2, Week 12 Results: 1.0 oz of plastic waste. Plus questions about Sunscreen.

Just woke up from a long summer’s nap. Here’s the tally. But please stick around for a few questions afterward.

Plastic items used this week but purchased before the plastic project began:

  • 2 filthy skanky disgusting synthetic sponges. I think I’ve gotten way more use out of them than they were ever meant to have. We still have a few more synthetic sponges in the house before switching to 100% natural sponges, wich we use for the few dishes that we hand wash. The synthetic sponges are for the more icky jobs, usually involving cats in some way.

And the new plastic waste:

  • 1 plastic seal from around the neck of a jar of Fudge Is My Life. I think I’ve got 4 jars left from the case my dad sent. And no, I didn’t eat it all, although I could have.
  • Plastic packing tape from a package received this week.
  • Plastic from around a stainless steel container which was shipped in above package. I plan to write more about the container this week.

So, here’s my question. It’s about sunscreen, which I hardly ever use even though I know all about the dangers of skin cancer. The laziness that makes me “green” by default because I can’t be bothered to put makeup on my face or use other girlie skin products is the same laziness that results in way too much unprotected sun exposure than this white girl should be allowed.

So anyway, I was going through cabinets in my house doing a routine plastic purge, and I found 4 nearly full plastic bottles of sunscreen. I looked up Enviroblog’s article How To Choose A Better Sunscreen and found that all 4 of them fell squarely in the bad category, containing either oxybenzone or benzophenone-3. Mere hours after listing them on Freecycle, they were gone. I should have taken a picture, but I can tell you the brands were Coppertone, Banana Boat, No Ad, and Swim n’ Surf, and each container held about 8 ounces of product.

Question: Is it wrong of me to give away a product on Freecycle if I’ve read that it contains ingredients that might not be good for my health? If so, what should I have done with it? If not, why not?

The next day, I popped over to Whole Foods with EWG’s Sunscreen Guide in hand to replace the previous products. But what I found took my breath away… they were HELLA expensive! I expected the healthier products to be somewhat more pricey. But holy cow! The tiny 2.9 ounce container of all natural Badger brand sunscreen cost nearly $16! EWG says to apply sunscreen liberally. How long do you think a 2.9 ounce tube would last at a “liberal” rate?

Not to mention the plastic. I was willing to buy new plastic in order to replace my toxic sunscreens with a less toxic version. But how much plastic will I have to go through buying such small quantities at a time? NONE of the brands at Whole Foods were sold in any larger size than 4 ounces. And all of them cost at least $10 each.

So I thought, I’m just not rich enough to spring for the super premium natural brands. I’ll head over to Walgreen’s drugstore and check out the few common brands that EWG recommends. Well, at first I couldn’t find any on the shelves at all, among the Coppertones and Bullfrogs and Banana Boats. I did finally find the Neutrogena Sensitive Skin sunscreen, but also that it was full of parabens, preservatives that we are also warned to stay away from. And it wasn’t any less expensive than the natural stuff.

So I am currently sunscreen-free and in a quandary. What should I do?

What sunscreen do you use, if any? Do you worry about questionable ingredients or do you just go for the cheapest and figure the chemicals are less of a worry than the UV radiation? Do you buy the expensive ones?

Or do you just avoid the sun altogether? Wear a hat and long sleeves? Carry a parasol?

What’s the solution? Cuz I have no idea at this point. And part of me feels like I’ve been so lax about sunscreen up until now, I’m probably screwed anyway. Is that a bad attitude?


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4 years ago

I use Alba Botanical and wear a hat and sunglasses. I also try to keep my shoulders covered with sleeves.

10 years ago

Have you tried Ava Anderson? The bottle is plastic, but the recipe is toxic-chemical free. I just got mine and it’s one of the best on ewg’s database. It takes a while to rub in, and the first time I used it I looked a bit like a ghost. But no sun damage!

12 years ago

No way it’s wrong to freecycle that stuff. You can’t control what other people do, and anyway what else would you have done with it? It’s probably worse just to squirt it down the sink. The people in the wrong here are the dudes who made the stuff to begin with.

Condo Blues
15 years ago

I’m so fair skinned and I burn very easily. Unfortunately, only the non-natural sunscreens keep me from burning (no matter how often I reapply them) so I go with them. I usually apply them once and try to go with the hat and parasol route if I’m out and about in sun during say, an outdoor festival. My parasol is an Asian one (it’s paper too! No plastic!), actually I got it at an Arts festival because I needed some extra portable shade – my baseball hat at the time wasn’t doing it. :)

I don’t know or really care if I get strange looks when I carry the parasol. Getting sun poisioning or skin cancer is a lot worse in my book.

15 years ago

I love parasols. They are totally commonplace in Asia – women pop them up to cross the street so they don’t get sun on them, like Americans would treat heavy rain! I’d love to keep carrying one here now that I’ve moved back, but haven’t quite been able to bring myself to do it due to the funny looks I would get. So at them moment I go the long-sleeves-and-hat route, and put sunscreen on my hands when I remember.

15 years ago

Even if you’re not worried about the chemical effects on yourself, it’s worth worrying about where they go when you’re done with them.

I can’t find a news article that says *which* UV blockers kill coral, but definitely some of the sunscreens do.

Kim from Milw
15 years ago

Beth, I’m fair-skinned like you, and I’ve been using a mineral makeup type powder on my face, and the minerals in it are natural sunscreens, and they WORK!!!! I realized this last summer when the family went to an airshow. I had mineral makeup on my face, and regular sunscreen on my arms, legs, neck, etc. Well, my face was the only part of me that didn’t turn fluorescent pink. Voila! My new solution to sunscreen. I didn’t have to reapply it, either!

15 years ago

I totally think you could bring back the parasol as a fashion accessory.

15 years ago

Google “How to make sunscreen”. You’ll find out everything you need to know.

15 years ago

I guess it depends on how one uses sunscreen – If I was applying it several times a day every day of the year, I’d probably spring for the more expensive non-tox stuff. But for the few days a year when I slather up the whole body when I’m at the beach (always after 3pm, mind you), then I’m gonna go for the chemical-laden stuff. I just choose sensitive skin whatever because sunscreen can be so irritating to sensitive skin. But I reckon the best thing to do for regular sun exposure is just cover up. It’s a whole lot less greasy, for one thing.

15 years ago

Stay in the shade, wear protective cothing, hats etc and try to stay out of the sun during the “danger hours” when the sun is highest in the sky. I only wear sunscreen if I can’t follow my own rules.
For the kids, they wear sun suits handed down from the oldest to youngest and worn by cousins in between the years until they fall apart. Sunscreen with good quality sunscreen on exposed parts only. The suits cover a lot of skin if you get good ones and they last a long time.
I think it is great to freecycle your old sunscreen because it is likely that the recipents would have bought those products anyway and you may have saved them from having to buy a brand new bottle then throw that one out too.

15 years ago

I use Aubrey Organics face spray on my whole body. It’s a very clean product and the spray is a lighter sunscreen than the lotion.

I give away my old, chemical-laden products as I replace them with better choices. I know my friends are going to continue to use the old stuff, so I’m saving them money. When they’re interested in trying chemical-free, they know who to ask for advice!

15 years ago

I like your question about whether or not you should give away things you wouldn’t use yourself, on freecycle. I’ve definitely pondering this question myself and totally agree with burbanmom.

My take on it is that there are people who use freecycle for environmental reasons (to keep good stuff from being trashed) and there are people who use it because well, they like free stuff. And of course many people use it for both reasons. Anyway, there are plenty of people who are going to use products you wouldn’t, like these sunscreens. And these people are going to buy these items anyway. I figure if you can keep them from buying ANOTHER product that we know is not so great, by giving them yours that you don’t want, you are reducing waste by that little bit more. I’ve thought about this when changing to eco-friendly cleaning products and want to get rid of the non-eco stuff. I hate the idea of them being used at all anywhere, but disposable of this stuff is also a problem. I figure if there is someone on freecycle who is going to go out and buy windex or bleach or whatever, anyway, i’d rather they just use up mine.

…The one thing that always concerns me is that the people who take my stuff, won’t dispose of it properly when they are done (i.e. they won’t recycle the plastic bottles the sunscreen comes in). Personally I’ve given away a lot of electronics that I don’t want on freecycle, and it’s so important to dispose of them properly at end-of-life and I get very nervous people might just throw them in the trash.

…I suppose you can always put a request in your freecycle post asking them to make sure they do recycle when they are finished – then at least you put the idea in their head.

15 years ago

I always burn. I tried Burt’s Bees SPF 30 and 15 and was disgusted with both of them. One turned me white, one turned me yellow, they were both flaky and gross.

I ended up buying a bottle of Blue Lizard after I saw it on EWG and found it at my store! When I’m outside for an extended period of time, I use it. I’m fair and tend to burn, but the best thing I’ve done is avoid the sun when it’s the worst time of the day.

I seem to always burn no matter how much sunscreen I apply. I’m just hoping the days of paleness representing wealthiness will return soon because then everyone will think I’m rich :)

15 years ago

I too, am lazy about sunscreen. ANd I drive a convertible and ride scooters- But now am glad because I never knew that about sunscreen. I will occasionally use baby oil,but then start to think about all the babies it takes to make the baby oil. But usually I forgot to put anything on and then wonder why my bald head looks like something from Red lobster. and Yes, I know that baby oil is mineral oil, Sheesh.

Anarres Natural Health
15 years ago


I just read that a lotion maker did not know how to make a sunscreen. Here’s how.

To a set lotion, bought or made, add 20% of the following, warmed up or melted, in any combination:

~ sesame oil (not toasted)
~ coconut oil ($7 a kg!!!)
~ shea butter (should have a colour and odour)
~ avocado oil and butter
~ hemp seed oil (should be green)
~ cocoa butter (needs to be melted into an oil – try coconut)

The shake, stir or blend until it’s set. Add vitamin E and/or grapefruit seed extract to preserve. Put it in a reused pump bottle to keep germs out.

Happy lotioning!

15 years ago

I’m very fair skinned with a lot of sensitivities and some bad burns in my youth. I cover up like crazy, wear a hat, and use Neutrogena on my face, neck and sometimes arms. I spent a lot of time researching sunscreens, what was green, what was effective, what was cheap, and in the end decided that to risk the chemicals and use the chemicals on this one.

15 years ago

I'm super pale and I do the hat & shirt plan. And we make our 3 year old wear a big-brimmed hat all the time too, and often a light-colored long sleeved cotton shirt.

I got wrinkles in my cleavage, though, as a result of the hat & shirt method – apparently I was showing too much skin on my chest all those summers.

Also, i'd give away the product with a disclaimer ("This product contains X, Y & Z which I avoid because…") and let people decide. But doesn't sunscreen expire after a while, too?

Anarres Natural Health
15 years ago

Oo! Oo! Oo! It's my funnest summer topic EVER!

Yes, I give away crap. Sometimes I mitigate the harm by giving away Isolpropyl Alcohol to a coop bike shop though, instead if letting people poison themselves mistakenly using it to sterilize their skin. (I ounce is a fatal dose! It's for sterilizing things, not people!) I give away toxic crap all the time as it floats in here. People give me "Ocean Breeze" bath salts, and "hypo allergenic" skin creams etc and I leave them at the free store. At least it saves someone from paying money for the crap.

Now as for sunscreens, the following natural oils are SPF 15 at minimum just as is:
~ sesame oil (not toasted)
~ coconut oil ($7 a kg!!!)
~ shea butter (should have a colour and odour)
~ avocado oil and butter
~ hemp seed oil (should be green)
~ cocoa butter (needs to be melted into an oil – try coconut)

Honestly, you just put these on. I make two kinds of sunscreen and two kinds of sunscreen lip balm from combinations of the above ingredients, all presderved with vitamin E. SPF 30 is only 1.3% more effective than SPF 15. So no matter what you are wearing, don't lie out in the sun at high noon, or you'll fry your skin. Lavender essential oil helps if you do…

Hats are essential. Wearing a light long sleeved shirt midday is a good idea.

Everyone needs at least 20 minutes, preferably 2 hours of sunshine a day to make vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency affects every organ system in the body, and contributes to cancer, diabetes and mental illness, to name a few. So give yourself some nice sunshine every day before 11 am and after 2 pm.

I can send an article I wrote to anyone who is interested…

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

15 years ago

I am what is technically referred to as a light skinned freak. I wear Neutrogena on my face everyday as instructed by my dermatologist. You can’t really hide your face. I do avoid the intense sun hours of the day if I can. Otherwise I slather up. Just about everyone in my family over the age of 30 has had some run in with skin cancer…and I’m sure I will too. I guess it is about weighing your risks. If I had a choice between no sunscreen or the chemically stuff I would choose the chemicals so I don’t think you are evil for free cycling it.

15 years ago

I don’t use sunscreen. I don’t like greasy stuff on my skin, I hate the cheap perfumes, and many of the ingredients are said to be carcinogenic. So what’s to like?

If I have to be out in the noonday sun, I use a hat and a sunshirt. I also work myself up in the spring, getting a base tan without burning. I don’t think sun is fatal to us, otherwise humans would not have survived on this planet for 200,000 years.

15 years ago

I just remembered. I saw an article somewhere about making your own using your favorite lotion. You buy Zinc off amazon or ebay and add it.

Look for it amongst other blog articles.

15 years ago

I found some of the good sunscreens at the Vitamin Shoppe on Clearance. Not sure if you have those by you.

15 years ago

I agree that the best solution is to avoid the sun when it’s at its worst (11 am – 2 pm). Other than that, use common sense and a hat.

As for giving away items you have deemed toxic, I ran into the same problem when I freecycled my household cleaners and teflon coated pans. It really is a quandry, but I think MOST folks use these things, regardless of the risk, so it’s ok. Kind of like quitting smoking but giving the remainder of your cigs to a smoker. I mean, they’re gonna buy smokes ANYHOW, might as well smoke up your leftovers, eh?

15 years ago

Too much sunscreen is just as bad, if not worse, than not enough. Our bodies need the essential vitamin D that the sun’s rays provide. If you look it up online you’ll find a preliminary study at Harvard University that points to a natural vitamin D deficiency as a highly possible cause for the rise in various cancers.

For my son and I, I choose to only use sunscreen when we’re forced to be out in the hottest part of the day for extended periods of time. No need to slather on ridiculous amounts of the white stuff every single day of the year as the industry would have us believe.

I can also attest to the fact that a 75% or higher diet of Raw foods nearly, if not altogether, negates the need for sunscreen. If I’m not mistaken in my understanding, the sun naturally helps our bodies to detox by drawing toxins up to the surface of the skin where they are released. Cooked foods, particularly cooked fats, however, are drawn to the surface just the same but because the food is chemically altered from its natural state by cooking, it reacts with the sun’s heat and light forming dangerous carcinogenic compounds on the skin’s surface. Thus, skin cancer.

15 years ago

Interesting topic… I really don’t have an answer, but I’m considering writing on sunscreen packaging and ingredients soon.
While you decide how to sort this (get protected somehow though, getting burned is not good), use Aloe vera after being in the sun. You can get a plant and grow it almost anywhere. You cut a leave and spread that sticky substance, is the best after sun i know. Renewable as well. If you like it, get two plants and let one grow untouch, the older the leaves, the better they work.

Mrs Green
15 years ago

I don’t use sunscreen – I use the shade, long sleeved clothing, hats etc.

I am very dubious of sunscreen – has the skin cancer rate descreased since we all did the slip, slap, slop routine? No, it’s INCREASED.

Think about it – you put on sunscreen, go outside and think ‘oh. it’s ok, I’m safe’, so you stay out much longer than you normally would in the sun.

You might feel your skin uncomfortably hot, but we still stay out there thinking we’ll be ok.

If your skin feels too hot, then the sun is too hot to be out in. However, we do NEED some sunshine, in small doses it is vital for our health and wellbeing.

So with all things, balance is the key.

The chemicals in sunscreen scare the crap out of me, whereas the sun doesn’t – I respect it and don’t let it fry me – but it’s all down to perspective and personal choice.

Good luck in your decision making.

15 years ago

Hi Beth-

Your $16 sunscreen seems like a bargain to me! I buy the super expensive sunscreen (Lancome SPF 20) from Macy’s and put it on my face, neck and chest every morning. If it’s a hot day and I know I’ll be outside I’ll put a little of a cheapie brand on my arms. Generally, though I try to avoid the sun altogether and keep covered up. I’m fair, with a lot of moles (much to my chagrin) and am in the highest category for skin cancer. I’m also v. vain and don’t want any more freckles on my face or wrinkles so tend to overlook the plastic/chemical factors… Another brand that I really like is Neutrogena in the metal can. It has a nice smell, is easy to apply and good for the hard to reach places that tend to get burned like the hairline. Not sure about the chemical factors though and I assume the metal container is recyclable… ?

Let me know what you find out b/c this is a topic that I am v. interested in. Also, I took a lotion making class and one of the students asked about making your own sunscreen and the teacher wasn’t aware of any homemade methods.

Green Bean
15 years ago

Ha! Those sponges made me laugh out loud. They look just like my last synthetic sponge, which, btw, I’m still hanging on to. I can get some use out of that sucker yet!

As to the sunscreen question, how about trying to stay covered up a bit more. I generally (not when you met me, of course!) try to wear a hat and sunglasses. I do have a Whole Foods sunscreen – Earth Science that I use sometimes. Mostly, I’ll dab a little Califonria Baby (from Whole Foods – children’s section) on my nose and shoulders and call it a day. Raw Food Diva is a greenie and a skin specialist. She left a comment a while back on my blog urging me to skip sunscreen as it’s chock full of chemicals and just cover up.