Summer is here, and many of us in the upper Midwest utilize this crazy thing called warmth to gleefully attempt squeezing as much natural Vitamin D out of the sunlight as we can muster. And to ensure we can do this day after day after day without wholly inconvenient trips to the ER with third-degree sunburns, we lather on the
Courtesy NASAsunscreen. By the way, have you ever done a Google image search for third-degree sunburns? Not recommended if you’re eating or have just eaten. It’s nasty. Unless, of course, you’re trying to prove a point to someone about why sunscreen and the reapplication thereof are important, then by all means search away.
Anyway – it’s not often that we think about what’s in our sunscreen. First and foremost, sunscreens are categorized in two different ways – chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens have special, you got it, chemicals that penetrate the skin and absorb the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Physical sunscreens (often referred to as sunblocks) use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to sit atop the skin and flat-out block those rays from ever touching you. They usually went on in some bright color and stayed that way, impossible to rub in clear. Remember back in the day when lifeguards used to have bright-white (or neon pink, green, blue, or yellow) noses? Yep, sunblock.
Now you can find sunBLOCK in your grocery store/pharmacy/chemist/convenience store that excitedly claims on its packaging that it rubs in clear. And for that, you can thank nanoscale science. You see, scientists have figured out how to put tiny little nano-particles of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide into a solution – taking advantage of the concept of surface area – in a way that has the same sun-blocking properties without the embarrassing shock-white coverage. Way cool, right?
Ummm…maybe not? Here’s a charming and edifying video by the people who brought you The Story of Stuff, called The Story of Cosmetics. In it, they put a big huge lens up to the cosmetics industry, specifically the lack of labeling laws and regulations. Because right now, who KNOWS what we’re putting on our skin, and what affect it will have, because most of it is not even tested. The Story of Cosmetics says, “Less than 20% of chemicals in cosmetics have been assessed for safety by the industry’s safety panel, so we just don’t know what they do to us when we use them. Would you fly on an airline that only inspects 20% of its planes?” Nope. Can’t say that I would.
This concern about safety applies to products using nanoparticles, too. We just don’t know yet what is safe and what isn’t, and nanoparticles can pose new, significant risks. They talk a little about it here. And Andrew Maynard over at 2020 Science talks about it here .
Kind of overwhelming, right? So what can you do?
*You can do as much research as you can before you buy – a personal favorite is EWG’s Skin Deep database.
*You can call or e-mail or contact via post the companies who use toxic chemicals in their products, and tell them they’ve lost a customer until they cut it out.
*You can contact your legislators, and tell them that it’s important.
Until then – well – look at that nice shady spot under that tree over there…