Angry Toxicologist

A couple of readers have asked bout the NYTimes article about sunscreens so I thought I’d weigh in.

80 lbs.

Okay, with the lame humor over, let’s get to the particulars. The most common question has been
1) What do I think is best/do I agree with the NYTimes?

3Answer: the advice they gave stunk. They said most doctors suggested a combination of “avobenzone and oxybenzone”. Good Lord, I hope not. Micronized zinc or titanium products are best. Excellent protection, no exposure (absorption), no problem, go enjoy the beach.

Question 2) is there a problem with oxybenzone?

Answer: Maybe. I think my favorite quote from the piece is:

At this point, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to firmly claim that sunscreens containing oxybenzone are unsafe.

Yeah, it’s only likely that they’re unsafe, so what’s the problem? Oh. I see. Maybe if there’s an alternative that’s safe for sure, then maybe we should just use that? Just a thought.

(I also enjoyed the same person saying that to protect yourself from the harmful effects of oxybenzone you just reapply constantly. While this may have some scientific basis, it’s more than a little out of touch with the real world.)

Question 3) Is EWG’s scoring system any good?

Answer: Yeah, kinda. Judging from what I can see from the site and how it works, you can be confident that the ones on the top of the list are much better than those on the bottom. The relative rankings of those that are near each other on the scale probably don’t mean a whole lot. Also, they made their stance on nanotech a little more clear, which is a good thing.

Also, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the little scorecard that lists possible harms (e.g. ‘reproductive toxicity’); without exposure information to compute a margin of safety, this is a hazard index, and not that helpful, especially when not all ingredients are tested. When not all are tested, an untested chemical would look better than one that has been tested. This is because almost all tests are positive because they run the dose up until they see something. The chart doesn’t note if it took 3 mg or 3 tons. So unless EWG has access to the amounts of chemicals in the sunscreens (confidential business information) and did an exposure assessment, this isn’t worth much.

What they did do is do a good job of looking at the relative safety of different active ingredients and paired that with information on how effective they are at blocking UVA and UVB. This is information I don’t think you can easily get anywhere else. For this alone, it is a useful tool. FDA is currently working on a rule to give you more information on this. But until then, simply pick something up off of the EWG best bets list.

Personal Toxicologist Shopper.

As for me, I’ve been using this brand for a while. There is a sport version as well that’s good. For the smaller set, I use the same thing or this depeding on how squirmy the situation is (the CA baby stuff is thick and not as easy to put on, but my guess is that it stays on better).

Comments

  1. #1 Em
    July 24, 2008

    Well thank you for this. I missed the NY Times article but only this summer bought some “expensive” (not drugstore kiosk) sunscreen. I got Blue Lizard Sensitive, which so far has really impressed me. It truly doesn’t smell like anything, and I haven’t burned.

  2. #2 Adrienne
    July 24, 2008

    Just as an FYI: Trader Joe’s brand of sunscreen is titanium-dioxide based.

  3. #3 SciLibby
    July 24, 2008

    So, most of the things that the normal, common parent can buy at the regular ole store is unsafe! And the problem is the zinc oxide/titanium sunscreens are often thick and pasty and kids HATE them. There has to be a better way!

    Beyond this, for the first time in many years, I successfully avoided sunburn at the beach for a week using one of the EBG-rated highly risky but effective sunscreens. Hmmm….which is worse? exposure to chemicals in sunscreen for one week? or cumulative effects of sunburn?

  4. #4 Andrew
    July 25, 2008

    Simple answers with details. That’s why I like this blog. I take it the newish spray sunscreens use the bad stuff? That’s a shame if so, they’re so convenient.

  5. #5 AT
    July 25, 2008

    SciLibby, Unfortunately, I’m normal and common. But I can still buy things at drugstore.com As the the second question, make it a moot point and get the zinc/Ti stuff. No, kids don’t like them, but fortunately they’re not in charge. ;)

    Thanks Andrew. I think you’re right about the sprays…for now anyway. Anybody seen any different?

  6. #6 SciLibby
    July 28, 2008

    Are you familiar with the digital divide? Of course there are many normal, common folk who don’t regularly shop at drugstore.com. And when you run out at the beach, what then? Come on, be realistic. These Zn/Ti sunscreens have got to become more prevalent on the shelves of WalMart and the like to really be adopted by the masses.

    And, I don’t know how old your kids are, but try dealing with tweens/early teens on this matter. good luck and hello reality.

  7. #7 AngryToxicologist
    July 28, 2008

    I don’t know about Wal-Mart, but you can get ‘em at Target.

  8. #8 Ashley
    July 29, 2008

    What’s your take on parabens? I was shocked to see that that particular California Baby sunscreen contained propylparaben, which I avoid like the plague. I also use California Baby sunscreen–oddly it goes on my son with a bluish tint.

  9. #9 erotik shop
    January 5, 2009

    erotik shop

  10. SciLibby, Unfortunately, I’m normal and common. But I can still buy things at drugstore.com As the the second question, make it a moot point and get the zinc/Ti stuff. No, kids don’t like them, but fortunately they’re not in charge. ;)

    Thanks Andrew. I think you’re right about the sprays…for now anyway. Anybody seen any different?