Sunscreen (or maybe sunblock)

So before I left the natural parenting group, they convinced me that modern sunscreen is evil.  I’m not sure whether or not it’s true that sunscreen is actually evil, but what can you do?

Anyhow, there’s this webpage that rates sunscreens for toxicity.

The problem with it, the natural mothers say, is that companies will game the system and will use similar new or untested chemicals that aren’t included in the ratings list.

So what do they recommend?  Old fashioned sunscreens sunBLOCKS! that are mostly zinc oxide (and not micronized zinc oxide or whatever that term is).  These include:

Badger (we special order from Amazon)

California Baby (you can get this one at Target)

and I think that’s it.

These sunscreens tend to leave your kid kind of pale, and they’re much thicker than regular sunscreen.  But there’s my PSA.  If you’re worried about sunscreen toxicity, those are the brands to go with.  According to some possibly crazy ladies and a website.

#2 says:  NOTE  distinguish sunscreen (which works by chemical reaction with your skin) from sunblock (more of a barrier method than chemical, and often more natural minerals) (guess which one is better for those with skin problems?)

#1 notes that none of the other websites seem to distinguish between the two, so she thinks that sunblocks are a type of sunscreen, a subset of the greater sunscreen category.

#2:  bzzzt, wrong.  People tend to use them interchangeably but those of us with complex skin problems aggravated by sun exposure and allergies know the difference.  As summer approaches, vampiric #2 stocks up on sunblock and stays far away from sunscreen.


20 Responses to “Sunscreen (or maybe sunblock)”

  1. Everyday Tips Says:

    I never really thought about sunscreen vs sunblock. I generally buy sunscreen. But I am a bad person that didn’t consider the chemicals in sunscreen and I just wanted to prevent sunburn.

    I will have to look at the labels more closely.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    Coppertone also makes a zinc oxide spf50 sunblock for “sensitive skin.” It’s in a white bottle. Works okay but sunscreen is easier to put on and rub in. On the flip side I always seem to miss spots when I use sunscreen but not with the sunblock.

    It’s frangrance free and all that jazz too. Unfortunately, our family has very fair and sensitive skin so everything we buy is of this sort.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I was hoping you would comment! My knowledge of chemicals is not great.

      • First Gen American Says:

        Chemical Exposure is all about balancing risk vs reward. We are exposed to chemicals all day every day (whether naturally occurring or synthetic). To me, it’s worth exposing myself to a relatively inert sunscreen in exchange for lower risk of skin cancer. (Risk = low, reward high). We use hats and long sleeves and that stuff too, but you can’t always be covered up (ie swimming).

        It’s just like the BPA thing. I will continue buying food with bpa liners in tin cans because you know what happened before BPA liners? People died every year from botulism. I don’t want to go back there, personally. If there’s a more inert alternative, sure go for it, but with chemicals there’s always a trade off.

  3. Linda Says:

    To make it more controversial…do we need to use as much of this stuff as we do? Certainly it’s not good to get a sunburn, and if a person is taking a medication or has an allergy that makes one sensitive to sunlight then I can understand why using topical sun protection (how’s that for a dodge of the sunscreen vs. sunblock vernacular?) is necessary. BUT…

    I, too, am very fair and have at times gotten a rash from sun exposure. I find that I often have to do things like wear protective clothing (long sleeves, etc.) even if I have topical stuff on my skin. Nonetheless, unless I’m in an equatorial climate or at a high elevation, I’ve severely curtailed my use of sun block/sunscreen. I know this will mean I have more wrinkles as I age (shocking!) but I desperately need the vitamin D. Seriously. I have to take 5000 units of D a day in pill form; it would be nice to cut that down to every other day or less just ’cause I’m getting some sun.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I am a very big fan of hats.

    • Spanish Prof Says:

      I don’t want to sound preachy, but as the relative of two people who died of skin cancer (both with fair skin and a history of continuous sun exposure), wrinkles would be my least concern.

      • Linda Says:

        Yeah, I hear you on skin cancer concerns. Both my mother and my sister have had benign skin cancers removed in their lifetimes. Something is going to kill me one day and it will likely be some kind of cancer. I’m still not going crazy on blocking out sun, though. Vitamin D deficiency will have horrendous health impacts on me, too. There’s always *something* to worry about. (That seems to be the modern American mindset, at least.)

      • Debbie M Says:

        Not long after I started using sunscreen regularly, I was diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency. (So, yea! That worked!) So then I though that I have a choice between skin cancer and osteoporosis (both of which can lead to early death). I decided to just keeping using the sunscreen and keep taking Vitamin D supplements. I don’t think it’s that scary to have to take Vitamin D supplements (but then I was only taking 5,000 units per week when I was taking care of my deficiency).

      • Dr. O Says:

        Also had relatives who had skin cancer (an aunt – not benign, but cured), and an acquaintance in high school that died from skin cancer. It’s scary stuff.

        However, I wouldn’t think daily sunscreen use is all that big of a deal unless you get a lot of sun (not me, I’m more of an indoor vamp during the summer months; how did I ever live in the South?). A little sun from time to time can’t be all that bad, unless you’re very fair-skinned and have skin cancer in your fam. Then just take the Vitamin D.

  4. Cloud Says:

    We’re a family of fair-haired light-skinned people living in southern California. We wear sunscreen pretty much everyday. I’m not worried about wrinkles. I am worried about skin cancer. I’m just passing the age at which my Dad had melanoma (he caught it early and survived, but he has a big scar on his arm).

    We use sunscreen not sunblock, mainly for convenience. We also wear hats and cover up after awhile in the sun… but we need the sunscreen, too. We like the beach. Last I checked, the science wasn’t strongly indicating that there was any problem with the chemicals in sunscreen for someone who does not have sensitive skin. There was a big brouhaha awhile ago when some “research institute” released a report, but the report didn’t pass the scientific sniff test for me, so I decided not to worry about it anymore.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      … we also avoid plastics as much as we can…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 does NOT avoid plastics. I loves me some modern technology and don’t care that much about carcinogens. I don’t smoke, and I use sunblock because the sun gives me horrible itchy rashes (not sunburn). Mainly I stay inside and take Vitamin D… inside is where the couch is, anyway! I only avoid chemicals when they actively hurt me and I notice it. I don’t think sunscreens are toxic at all, unless you eat them, but I am allergic to some ingredients. Also I ramble a lot. sorry.

      • Cloud Says:

        I can understand that. I don’t worry about it, but I can understand why people do.

        I just hope that people will be as skeptical about the studies published by various advocacy groups as they are of studies sponsored by companies. Both sides have conflicting interests.

        In the sunscreen case, I think the study was a meta-analysis, not in a peer reviewed journal, and they didn’t disclose how they picked the primary studies to include. Which to me meant- hey, I can’t tell what I think about your numbers or conclusions!

        Also, I drink. So that right there is a chemical known to be associated with increased cancer rates that I ingest at levels that definitely have pharmacological effect.

        I sound flippant, but I’m not really. I just tend not to worry about these things until too late.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        but decreased heart problems!

        Really, we tend to avoid things that are uncertain but easy to avoid. Plus I don’t like the taste of drinking out of plastic (though I will drink out of a plastic water bottle if nothing else is available).

  5. bogart Says:


    The (admittedly little) I’ve read on this seems to run to two hypotheses (in the “sunscreen is bad” camp). One is that sunscreen is itself carcinogenic, which I admit I find kind of implausible on a grand scale (i.e. might there be some tiny effect or a few susceptible individuals? sure, but …) and the other is that sunscreen doesn’t block all the harmful stuff, does prevent painful burns, and therefore actually leads to greater exposure than we’d otherwise subject ourselves to. This I find plausible; I lean toward (a) trying to reduce/limit my sun exposure and (b) using “blocks” (presumably true blocks avoid this problem — I have to figure zinc oxide blocks everything). But I’m far from being totally committed to (b) as I figure if I do enough of (a), (b) won’t matter so much.

  6. hush Says:

    Sunscreen may very well be “bad” (sorry, but like @Cloud I’m not convinced.) But when I look in the mirror I know it works. I’ve been wearing SPF 30 sunscreen on my face since adolescence and now that I’m in my mid-30’s I happen to look really young compared to other people my age. The truth is I am a vain-ass woman who thinks fine lines, age spots, and wrinkles are not flattering on anybody. So I take my vitamin D supplements, slather on the inexpensive sunscreen (we like Coppertone), and try my best not to look like leather.

  7. How to avoid pointless parenting anxiety | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] ago they were things like:  not bringing store-bought baked goods places, using the right kind of sunscreen, avoiding BPA, etc.  I think there were a lot more, but that’s what I remember.  […]

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