Sun Protection 101- What you need to know about the ingredients in your Sun Protection Product

There’s been a lot of discussion lately as to terminology for sun protection products. I saw a news broadcast the other day where the news anchors all discussed what terms were currently in use today. The question posed was what term do you use to refer to your sun protection product. The three options given were Tan Lotion, Sun Screen and Sun Block. This type of discussion trivializes the importance of understanding the risks of sun exposure as well as the risks of the products used to mitigate sun exposure. What they did not seem to realize was that these three terms do not refer to the same thing and are not simply a colloquialism indicating the times.

Suntan lotion is a generic term that was used when the sun protection products such as Coppertone were marketed. It refers to a lotion with a small SPF measure usually no more than 8, often times closer to 2, that is used to block UVB rays, but not UVA. The intent is to moisturize the skin and allow a longer amount of time in the sun before burning.

Sunscreen is a chemical product that penetrates into the skin and absorbs UVA rays. UVA rays are responsible for oxidation and skin damage, but do not cause a sunburn.

Sunblock is a physical barrier that shields against UV rays including UVA and UVB. The FDA no longer allows the term to be used commercially as it can be misconstrued to cause the user to believe they are getting more protection than they actually are.

A small explanation about UV. There are three kinds of UV (ultraviolet) light that comes from the sun. UVA has longer wavelengths and penetrates further into the dermis which is why it can cause DNA damage. UVB has shorter wavelengths and is responsible for sunburns. UVC has an even shorter wavelength, but is absorbed by our ozone layer so is not a cause for concern.

The types of chemical sunscreens are octyl methoxycinnamate also known as octinoxide, octyl salicylate aka octisalate and octocrylene. According to the Environmental Working Group all of these have potential issues with endocrine disruption, bioaccumulation, and are allergenic. While it has been known for some time that these ingredients may have potential impacts as endocrine disruptors or allergens, it was not known that they are persisting in the skin longer than just during general use.

Since we are all becoming more aware of the risks of skin cancer due to sun exposure on a daily basis people are using these these products on a daily basis instead of just during longer durations of exposure. The persistence of these chemicals in our systems is more like a few weeks and the impact of these chemicals was likely not assessed for this type of exposure. Because of this we should all be cautious.

The most widely known physical sunblocks are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are widely used and can generally be recognized by the whitish cast left on the skin. This is because they sit on top of the skin rather than penetrating. While these are more effective in preventing skin damage from UVB rays they are less popular due to the heavier nature of the product. Manufacturers are getting better at formulating this in a lighter consistency.

According to a 1997 study conducted by the Federation of European Biochemical Societies titanium dioxide (TiO2) absorbs about 70% of incident UV, and in aqueous environments this leads to the generation of hydroxyl radicals which can initiate oxidations. These oxidations are known as free radicals. “Free radicals seek to bond with other molecules, but in the process, they can damage cells or the DNA contained within those cells. This in turn could increase the risk of skin cancer.”

These studies have shown that in shorter duration these physical sunblocks are effective but in longer duration there is potential for them to oxidize and release free radicals. Free radicals are the bane of our skin’s existence by causing damage to the skin’s ability to function normally which in turn cause premature aging and inflammation and potentially cancer.

So what is a person supposed to do? Ultimately we should all avoid spending longer amounts of time in direct sun. Shade is an effective way to avoid getting burned, but it is not able to prevent all sun damage. This is because the sun’s rays get reflected off of surfaces which means you are still getting UV indirect exposure and potentially oxidation.

Can we feel confident just finding a tree to hide under? Not really. “Factors that increase the amount of scattered or indirect UVB, such as reflective surfaces, will decrease the protection trees can provide. The same tree actually gives less protection earlier and later in the day, when the proportion of diffuse UV is high, than it does in the middle of the day when the sun is more directly overhead. Similarly, someone sitting under a tree on a sunny day with little indirect UV is better protected than someone sitting under the same tree on a cloudy day, when there is more indirect sunlight.15 However, any tree cover is better than none.” (

Since we all live in the real world and can’t always plan the time of day or the type of tree, we seek shade from, we should seek to mitigate the risk of exposure by pairing the sunblock products with antioxidants.

Antioxidants counteract free radicals because they’re essentially “self-sacrificing soldiers.” … they donate an electron to free radicals to “calm” them down and are consumed in the process. (Dr. Axe)

There are many antioxidants, but some of the most widely used and stable are carrot seed oil, vitamin E, vitamin C, grape seed which includes both vitamins E and C. Vitamin C is also an effective collagen booster which is why you will find it used in many facial serums.

Many sunblock products formulated today have already taken these steps and included carrot seed oil, myrrh, lemongrass, lavender, chamomile…

Please feel free to check out some of my hand-picked sun protection products.

Source: If You Can See Sunlight, Seek the Shade –

Source: Chemical oxidation and DNA damage catalysed by inorganic sunscreen ingredients – Dunford – 1997 – FEBS Letters – Wiley Online Library

Source: Sunscreen Chemicals Soak All the Way Into Your Bloodstream | WIRED

Source: Causes of Aging Skin: Free Radical Damage

Source: Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin AgingSource: OncoSec – Sunscreen vs. Sunblock, What’s the Difference?

Source: 9 Antioxidants That Can Help Prevent Premature Skin Aging | HuffPost Life

Source: Chemical oxidation and DNA damage catalysed by inorganic sunscreen ingredients – Dunford – 1997 – FEBS Letters – Wiley Online Library

Source: UVA radiation damages DNA in human melanocyte skin cells and can lead to melanoma — ScienceDaily

Source: Sunscreen ingredient may increase skin cancer risk -- ScienceDaily

Source: Sunscreen vs. Sunblock – There’s A Difference | The Block Island Organics Blog

Source: UVA radiation damages DNA in human melanocyte skin cells and can lead to melanoma — ScienceDaily

Source: Fighting Free Radicals & Free Radical Damage – Dr. Axe

Source: 10 Pre-Sunscreen Methods for Dealing with the Sun | Mental Floss

Source: From Ancient Greece to Modern Times: A History of Sunscreen

Source: Photosensitization of the Sunscreen Octyl p‐Dimethylaminobenzoate by UVA in Human Melanocytes but not in Keratinocytes¶ – Xu – 2001 – Photochemistry and Photobiology – Wiley Online Library

Source: An in vitro systematic spectroscopic examination of the photostabilities of a random set of commercial sunscreen lotions and their chemical UVB/UVA active agents – Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences (RSC Publishing)

Source: Photosensitization of Guanine-Specific DNA Damage by 2-Phenylbenzimidazole and the Sunscreen Agent 2-Phenylbenzimidazole-5-sulfonic Acid – Chemical Research in Toxicology (ACS Publications)

Source: Characterization of DNA Damage Inflicted by Free Radicals from a Mutagenic Sunscreen Ingredient and Its Location Using an in vitro Genetic Reversion Assay – McHugh – 1997 – Photochemistry and Photobiology – Wiley Online Library

Source: A Review of Sunscreen Safety and Efficacy – Gasparro – 1998 – Photochemistry and Photobiology – Wiley Online Library

Source: Photochemical behavior of nanoscale TiO2 and ZnO sunscreen ingredients – ScienceDirect

Source: Effective sunscreen ingredients and cutaneous irritation in patients with rosacea. – Abstract – Europe PMC

Source: Microfine Zinc Oxide is a Superior Sunscreen Ingredient to Microfine Titanium Dioxide – Pinnell – 2000 – Dermatologic Surgery – Wiley Online Library

Source: Performance of Six Sunscreen Formulations on Human Skin: A Comparison | JAMA Dermatology | JAMA Network

Source: Photochemical Formation of Singlet Molecular Oxygen in Illuminated Aqueous Solutions of Several Commercially Available Sunscreen Active Ingredients – Chemical Research in Toxicology (ACS Publications)

Source: Development of assays for the detection of photomutagenicity of chemicals during exposure to UV light. II. Results of testing three sunscreen ingredients | Mutagenesis | Oxford AcademicSource: Sunscreen May Not Have It Made in the Shade | Flashback | OZY

Toxic holiday ornaments, decorations, and children’s toys.

For awhile now I have been curious as to the toxicity of objects made out of “resin” or “polyresin”.  These items are found everywhere.  Items such as holiday ornaments, indoor and outdoor decorations ,and of course, children’s toys.

Chemical substances such as 1,2-dichloroethane, or DCA, and trichloroethylene, or TCE leach out of the resin.  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control),

“1,2-Dichloroethane, also called ethylene dichloride, is a manufactured chemical that is not found naturally in the environment. It is a clear liquid and has a pleasant smell and sweet taste. The most common use of 1,2-dichloroethane is in the production of vinyl chloride which is used to make a variety of plastic and vinyl products including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, furniture and automobile upholstery, wall coverings, housewares, and automobile parts. It is also used to as a solvent and is added to leaded gasoline to remove lead.”


“Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a nonflammable, colorless liquid with a somewhat sweet odor and a sweet, burning taste. It is used mainly as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts, but it is also an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids, and spot removers. Trichloroethylene is not thought to occur naturally in the environment. However, it has been found in underground water sources and many surface waters as a result of the manufacture, use, and disposal of the chemical.”

According to three different organizations these compounds are considered to be cancer causing agents.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) lists 1,2-Dichloroethane as a probable human carcinogen, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) lists it as possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the NTP (National Toxicology Program) lists it as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) lists Trichloroethylene as Carcinogenic to humans.  the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) lists it as Carcinogenic to humans (evidence for cancer is based on kidney cancer, limited evidence for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer, as well as, various tumors in animals), and the NTP (National Toxicology Program) lists it as Known to be a Human Carcinogen.

The Case of the toxic gingerbread man by Science News found that the toxicity of the products was not isolated to when they are in use, or when they are produced, but also when they are stored, such as the method most of us use to store our Christmas decorations.

polyresin ornament
RUN, RUN… This polyresin ornament was offgassing dramatic amounts of a toxic additive.
OH NO, MR. BILL! Doucette and his team scratched the surface (and amputated the legs) of this ornament to find the source of its toxic emissions.

I am sharing this information as it is a prime time of the year for use of these items and I also hope that you may consider disposing of these items instead of storing them for future use if you happen to find them in your home.

I hope that you think twice about purchasing items that are made out of resin.  Not only is it toxic if it is in your home, but it is toxic in your yard as many lawn and garden ornaments are made from resin.  Think of the probability that the toxins are leaching out of the decorations and into ground water, or your garden where you intend to harvest produce to eat as well as the toys that your children and pets may put in their mouths.  Lastly, consider the toxicity to the people who are working in factories to produce these items for our pleasure.

Source: Case of the toxic gingerbread man | Science News

Source: ATSDR – Toxic Substances – 1,2-Dichloroethane

Source: ATSDR – Toxic Substances – Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Is Greenwashing Marketing as Usual or a Growing Concern?


Is greenwashing marketing as usual or a growing concern?

First we need to ensure that we understand what it is.

Merriam Webster defines it as “the act of misleading customers and potential customers into believing that a product or service is environmentally friendly.”

Wikipedia defines it as “‘green sheen’, a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.”

and lastly Oxford Dictionary “Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”

There are many kinds of greenwashing the most obvious are false and misleading claims about an individual product.  The most recent example that falls in this category is Goop’s unsupported claim that their Jade and Rose Quartz eggs could balance hormones, regulate uterine prolapse, and incease bladder control.  They also claimed that their Inner Judge Flower Essence Blend oil could help prevent depression according to the Orange County, CA District Attorney’s office.

Civil penalties amounting to $145,000 were imposed on Goop as well as being barred from making claims regarding efficacy of their products without complete and reliable evidence.  This may seem severe for misrepresentation of a product, however it is appropriate considering the potential for people to delay seeking medical advice for conditions that require it.  In this case the issue was more serious as doctors believe the use of the product to have the potential for causing infection or injury.

This disinformation can be defined as greenwashing and was prosecuted due to their very specific claims for improved health without documented evidence to support them.

There are more insidious forms of greenwashing though and they are harder to spot.  The Seven Sins of Greenwashing were developed by, a company that acts as a watchdog for consumers and partners with retailers to provide testing, inspection, auditing, training and advisory services.  The seven sins are as follows:

  • Sin of the hidden tradeoff
    • A claim suggesting that a product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.  For example paper that is sustainably harvested but is then treated with chlorine or other processes that are not compatible with sustainable practices.  A specific form of this is called “forgetting the lifecycle” according to Building Green.
  • Sin of no proof
    • An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.  An example would be a paper product that claims it has recycled material with no proof.
  • Sin of vagueness
    • A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.  Using the word “all natural” when there are many natural ingredients that are hazardous such as arsenic, or formaldehyde.
  • Sin of worshiping false labels
    • A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.  Using a logo that is similar to a logo that is used for certification.
  • Sin of irrelevance
    • An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products such as aluminum free baking soda while no baking soda has aluminum.  The claim would only be relevant if it was baking powder so is easily confused.
  • Sin of lesser of two evils
    • A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.  For example, organic cigarettes.
  • Sin of fibbing
    • Environmental claims that are simply false.  For example claiming certification when none has been established.

Building Green has a few more categories as follows.

  • Bait and Switch
    • A company heavily promotes the environmental attributes of a single product, while selling and manufacturing a bulk of otherwise similar products that lack the same environmental attributes.  For example Clorox which owns Burt’s Bees or Schmidt’s deodorant which is owned by Unilever.
  • Rallying behind a lower standard
    • A product earns an apparently valid, third-party certification–but the product’s manufacturer or trade association had influenced the development of the relevant standard in a way that makes the certification less meaningful than it appears
  • Reluctant enthusiast
    • A company publicly embracing similar measures while secretly lobbying against them.

Other than potentially duping customers into unwittingly purchasing products that  disappoint what is the danger in this?

Ogilvy & Mather writes that greenwash is “insidious, eroding consumer trust, contaminating the credibility of all sustainability-related marketing and hence inhibiting progress toward a sustainable economy.”

If consumers can’t tell the difference between greenwashing and genuinely sustainable products they will inevitably stop believing that there are actual choices to be made or that their choices even matter.  Making consciencious consumer decisions is known as ‘dollar voting’.  To quote “Where you spend and invest your money is a powerful way of voting each day to support local communities, fair wages, and a healthy planet.”  This can and should be done no matter what is happening in the legislative branch, but will only be effective if people can use their critical reasoning skills to tell the difference.

First thing that might be helpful is to know the symbols that actually represent legitimate certifications of products for being organic, humane, fair trade, and sustainable to name a few.  Mother Nature Network has compiled such a list and it is worth a review.

Source: Green product certification: 21 symbols you should recognize | MNN – Mother Nature Network

Once you’ve reviewed this you may want to test out your knowledge using the Seven Sins ‘Name that Sin’ game.  This is a fun and very useful tool to help you gauge your own knowledge and to become more proficient.  We should all “shop with intention because the collective power of consumerism can steer companies towards more truthful and ethical products” Our Changing Climate.

As usual, if you want to explore these topics more fully my sources are all linked below.

Happy reading!

The Seven Sins | The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition

Source: The Seven Sins | The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition

Source: The Nine Types of Greenwashing | BuildingGreen


Source: From Greenwash to Great. A Practical Guide to Great Green Marketing (without the Greenwash)

Source: The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition

Source: Retail Brand Protection | UL Consumer and Retail Services

From Greenwash to Great: A Practical Guide to Great Green Marketing (without the Greenwash). Source: Avoiding Greenwash and Its Dangers

Source: 5 ‘Green’ Products That Aren’t As Environmentally Friendly As You Thought | Alternet

Source: Organic, Eco-Friendly Brands? They Might Not Be What You Think…

Source: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Hit With Big Fine for Telling Women to Put Eggs in Their Vaginas

Source: Experts advise against jade egg to strengthen pelvic muscles – CNN

Source: Avoiding Greenwash and Its Dangers

Source: 5 Brands You Think Are Eco…But Really Aren’t – Eluxe Magazine

Source: Misleading Marketing: Beware of Greenwashing! – Eluxe Magazine

Source: The Top 25 Greenwashed Products in America

Source: Organic, Eco-Friendly Brands? They Might Not Be What You Think…

Source: What Does it Mean to Vote With Your Dollar? | Green America

Source: Consumers Increasingly ‘Vote’ With Their Dollars | Investopedia

Green beauty is very much coming into vogue, which is super exciting for multiple reasons: It’s healthier for our bodies, healthier for our children, and healthier for the environment. (If you aren’t familiar with the fact that the cosmetics industry is essentially unregulated, read all about that here.)

Source: What is Greenwashing and How to Protect Yourself | naked truth beauty

Source: Corporate Sustainability: Profit, Motive and Intention in Greenwash | ONEPLANET Sustainability Review

Source: Greenwashing | Definition of Greenwashing by Merriam-Webster

Source: Greenwashing – Wikipedia

Source: greenwash | Definition of greenwash in English by Oxford Dictionaries

Are Lavender and Tea Tree Oil Endocrine Disruptors? Lack of Evidence

There have been various reports suggesting that these two essential oils are endocrine disruptors as well as others that conclude the opposite.  My own opinion on this matter is that there is more recent and conclusive evidence that these two essential oils are not endocrine disruptors.

The original study coming from the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2007 concluded that there is a link between these two essential oils and abnormal breast growth in young boys—called prepubertal gynecomastia.  The information on the NIEHS site refers to the original study in the New England Journal.

Since then there have been other reports that disagree with their findings.  For example the 2013 study in Reproductive Toxicology which used immature female rats with daily observations including viability, clinical signs, body weights, and body weight gains and found “no evidence of estrogenic activity”.

An opinion paper by Robert Tisserand published in March 2018 states that

“No connection was established between the in vitro work and the three cases, and the evidence for tea tree oil having an effect on prepubertal gynecomastia is non-existent. Phytoestrogens generally have a very weak hormonal activity, and it is implausible that the amounts of essential oil that enter the body from product use would have a significant effect.”

The most recent report restating that there is a connection appears to be utilizing the same information from the 2007 report and has no new metadata analysis or clinical studies cited.

As with all information relating to the health and well-being of our families or personal health everyone should proceed with caution and is encouraged to come to their own conclusions.

Feel free to review the information in the links below and respond with your own opinions.

How Lavender and Tea Tree Became Labeled As Endocrine Disruptors

Source: How Lavender and Tea Tree Became Labeled As Endocrine Disruptors – Earth Mama® Organics


Neither lavender oil nor tea tree oil can be linked to breast growth in young boys

Source: Neither lavender oil nor tea tree oil can… (PDF Download Available)

Tisserand, Robert. (2018). Neither lavender oil nor tea tree oil can be linked to breast growth in young boys.

Int J Toxicol. 2013 Mar-Apr;32(2):123-9. doi: 10.1177/1091581812472209. Epub 2013 Jan 28. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t

Source: Uterotrophic assay of percutaneous lavender oil in immature female rats. – PubMed – NCBI


Full-Text Paper (PDF): Lack of evidence that essential oils affect puberty

Source: Lack of evidence that essential oils… (PDF Download Available)

Scientists studied chemicals in both oils and found they affected the cells in a way that would encourage abnormal breast growth

Source: New research shows lavender and tea tree oil may be making young boys grow breasts | National Post


The mission of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives.

Source: Lavender and Tea Tree Oils May Cause Breast Growth in Boys


A new study lends further evidence to a suspected link between abnormal breast growth in young boys—called prepubertal gynecomastia—and regular exposure to lavender or tea tree oil, by finding that key chemicals in these common plant-derived oils act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The study results will be presented Monday at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago.

Source: Chemicals in lavender and tea tree oil appear to be hormone disruptors | Endocrine Society

Original Article from The New England Journal of Medicine — Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils

Source: Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils | NEJM