Sure, it’s nice to have algae and feverfew in your sunscreen, but don’t assume because it says “natural” that it isn’t dirtying up our waterways.
Q: What happens when sunscreen gets into lakes and rivers?
A: It's hotter than a billy goat with a blowtorch out there (okay, so I stole that from redneckwordsofwisdom.com), and if you step into the sun you're gonna need some sunscreen.
But what happens when you step into a lake, ocean or shower wearing that sunscreen? It all depends on which lotion you're talking about.
You'd think that a product designed to be slathered on people who then jump directly into bodies of fresh and salty H20 would be safe for the environment it ends up in, but sadly, that ain't the case.
Take Aveeno Active Naturals Sunblock Lotion with Enviroguard, for instance. Sounds promising, for a drugstore brand. The so-called Enviroguard protection is the company's combination of five sunscreen chemicals.
Now, they can call it whatever trademarked name they want, but once you put "enviro" on there, it'd better be good for the environment, especially since it's water-resistant, thereby encouraging us to use it in the water.
Alas, some of these Enviroguard sunscreen chemicals are exactly the opposite of eco-friendly. Consider oxybenzone, found in 66 per cent of sunscreens (including Aveeno Active Naturals). This bioaccumulative endocrine disruptor has been found to feminize male fish and is a known coral reef killer.
Yes, even at low levels, sliding off swimmers backs, oxybenzone has been found to trigger viral infection outbreaks in coral reefs that inevitably bleach and kill them. Considering researchers' estimate that an astonishing 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers into the oceans every year, we're certainly not doing coral a solid.
And the coral reef bleaching and estrogenic effects continue with sunscreen chemicals like octinoxate (aka ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, found even in natural brands like Alba sunscreen and some Kiss My Face and Nature's Gate sun protection, including Nature's Gate Aqua Broad Spectrum for water sports). Parabens, too, have the same effect on reefs.
Octocrylene (used in three of the four sunscreens mentioned so far, as well as lots of other brands) is another suspected endocrine disruptor that's persistent in the environment and has been found building up in fish downstream from wastewater treatment plants. That means it, like oxybenzone, gets by our filtration systems and seeps out into our waterways.
To add to the environmentally nefarious mix, many sunscreens, including the Aveeno formula, contain skin-smoothing siloxanes like cyclopentasiloxane, which again accumulates downstream from our drains. Environment Canada had announced it was listing it as an official toxin until industry protested that it isn't using enough of the toxin to harm the world.
Not to pick on Aveeno, but these guys claim their active ingredients are natural. In the case of their sunscreen, this would be accurate if the active ingredients actually were. They ain't. Oh, sure, there's algae extract, feverfew juice and a mushroom stem extract, which is lovely, but the active ingredients in these products are chemical sunscreens mixed in with plenty of fillers such as petrochemicals, PEGs, siloxanes and beyond.
The brand's HydroSport spray even has retinyl palmitate, which last week's Alt Health and past Ecoholics have called out for its potential to increase skin cancer tumours in UV light.
Even with mineral-based sunscreens, be sure to pick one that's nano-particle-free, since scientists are still looking into the impact of nano zinc and nano titanium dioxide on fish and microbes.
Is there a more natural, water-safe sunscreen you can find at a pharmacy? Unfortunately, none of the drugstores I checked had much in the way of genuinely natural sunscreens. However, Shoppers Drug Mart does carry face and body sunscreen by Kibio, a European brand that's double-certified organic. (Ecocert certifies that it's nano-particle-free). But it's pricey. At $28 for 100 ml you'd be better off with Devita Solar Body Block, which costs up to $38 for 210 ml.
Green Beaver and Consonant also make good, non-whitening natural sunscreen. There are lots of natural products at health stores like the Big Carrot. You can find brands like Hara for less than $10, though I can't promise some won't leave a faint white sheen on some skin types. (Test samples in the store first or see ecoholic.ca for reviews.) I can, however, assure you they won't leave our lakes and oceans in a dirty mess.