Memorial Day Safety: Your Sunblock May Speed Skin Cancer

woman sunbathingBuying sun protection products is one of my least favorite activities. Usually, I adore shopping for cosmetics of any kind, but not sunscreen/sunblock. Maybe it's because I tend not to remember to get it until it's The Day We're Going to the Beach, and I have to grab some in a mad sprint through my local drugstore before hitting the road. And ever since reading that oxybenzone is a toxin linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage -- even low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy -- I've steered clear of any product that uses the ingredient. I ended up going with Neutrogena Baby Pure & Free Sunblock Lotion SPF 60+ on more than one occasion, because it seemed like it lived up to its name.

Seemed is exactly the right word. Upon perusing the Environmental Working Group (EWG) 2011 Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens list, I discovered my go-to, supposedly "safe" Neutrogena wasn't anywhere to be found.


So I searched for it on their nifty site tool and found that it's scored a 7 out of 10 on their toxicity scale. AGH.

Of course, upon seeing that big, glaring, RED number, I wanted to know why! Why on earth is my fave, supposedly "pure & free" sunblock actually more hazardous to my health than I thought?

Turns out, despite using titanium dioxide and zinc instead of oxybenzone, it also has retinyl palmitate. A recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study shows that retinyl palmitate may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. Awesome. So, in other words, the sunblock I was going out of my way to buy ... to make sure that I didn't increase my risk of skin cancer while laying in the sun ... is actually speeding my chances of getting skin cancer. I don't know whether to laugh or be livid!

Well, at this point, all I can say is thank you, EWG! By pointing out how most sun protection products at the drugstore are blatantly misrepresenting themselves or just flat-out toxic, we're more informed as consumers. Now that I know the truth about the Not-So-Pure & Free sunblock, I have no choice but to make a switch. I'll have to prioritize picking up a safer lotion ahead of time while shopping at a natural health store, Whole Foods, or even Target (thankfully, they are one big box store where I've seen California Baby products, which EWG ranks as "low hazard"). In the end, maybe this discovery of mine was a good wake-up call. Now I'll know that grabbing any old product off the drugstore shelf is bound to make for a haphazard-ous decision. 

Do you go out of your way to get less toxic sun protection products? Does it aggravate you that you can't find something safe at the drugstore?


Image via gtall1/Flickr

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