Sunscreen facts and eco-friendly options

Joan Michelson, special to

WASHINGTON – With the sun beating down in this extreme heat, it’s important for you — and your kids — to wear sunscreen. But what sunscreen is effective and safe for both you and the environment?

Basic Sunscreen Facts and Recommendations

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sunscreens work by reflecting UVA and UVB rays, and the Food and Drug Administration recommends a sunscreen with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 15.

Recently, the FDA cautioned consumers not to trust advertiser claims about a “broad spectrum” of protection from the sun.

“Use sunscreen spray? Avoid open flames.” That’s the latest warning from the FDA.

The FDA warned in June that many spray sunscreens contain flammable ingredients, such as alcohol. The FDA has several reports of people wearing sunscreen who suffered burns when they were sparked by lighting a cigarette, or being too close to a grill or citronella candle.

The products that were reported in these incidents, by Banana Boat, have been voluntarily recalled, so they should not be in your local store. But next time you reach in your cabinet for sunscreen look twice: The flammable sunscreen could still be there.

Can Sunscreens Be Eco-Friendly?

The answer is yes. Both the EPA and eco-friendly experts, such as the Environmental Working Group, recommend consumers look for a sunscreen with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and avobenzone. This means these sunscreens are mineral- based and are not absorbed into the body.

The Environmental Working Group says to not use products with oxybenzone. JustLiveGreener explains that oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen that contaminates the body and rubs off in the water. Once it is in the water, it can also affect the aquatic life.

A National Geographic study found that 4,000-6,000 metric tons of sunscreen end up in the world’s oceans. The article says 10 percent of coral reefs are threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.

To avoid further damage to marine life, recommends biodegradable sunscreen products, like Tropical Seas.

If you use a facial product with retinol, which is popularly marketed as an anti- aging ingredient, then stay out of the sun. Retinol might increase your vulnerability to skin cancer, according to the Environmental Working Group.

WebMD also has more information on when to use, and avoid, retinol.

Make Your Own Sunscreen

Making your own sunscreen isn’t hard. You can do so from essential mineral oils, such as grape seed oil, citronella essential oil and eucalyptus and lavender essential oils.

You can find recipes on the website Please note that these are not FDA tested. Always check with your doctor before applying any sunscreen to young children.

Joan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Radio and a consultant on the green economy and cleantech. She can be reached at

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