physical sunscreens: some amusing correspondence

All names have been removed to protect anonymity; let us just say that the shop/store concerned is one of the largest (possibly the largest?) health-food chain(s) in North America.

I’m fussy about sunscreen; my skin is reactive, and one of my ways of coping with that is to try to understand it, educate myself, and take responsibility for it. Common sense aside, I’m very far from being a masochist as I have a ridiculously low pain-tolerance threshold–this has, allegedly, something to do with being a redhead. For all these reasons, I actively avoid skin reactions. I also have a very low tolerance level for BS. In which I include the ad auctoritatem and ad populum  fallacies. More on physical sunscreens here, on ingredients here, and on fallacies here.

Before launching into my copy-pasted correspondence, however, a positive comment: standing ovation for transparency and honesty; I’d always reckoned this was a company that cared about their customers, and means well, and that I-guess-sort-of-commercial-faith hasn’t been blighted. Bless them, they forwarded all the internal correspondence to me…

From: Website Comments [mailto: Gingerrama]
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 10:05 PM
To: xxx contacts
Subject: Website Comments: Product Request
From: [Gingerrama]
To: xxx
Store: xxx [Pacific Northwest]

Message: A suggestion: to improve your sunscreen range; not just in line with the EWG guidelines (which I know are a major source/resource for xxx as a whole), but in line with known good sunscreens. I.e. more all-physical ones, ideally fragrance-free (inc. essential oils!), photostable (physical ones are anyway), and broad spectrum, so part or wholly ZnO-based.

Suggestions:

BurnOut Eco-Sensitive Clean & Clear SPF 32
DeVita Daily Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30
John Masters Organics SPF 30

The above are all zinc oxide-based, fully fragrance-free, vegan, paraben-free, etc…

Best wishes and otherwise keep up the great work!

_______________________________

From: A @ xxx
Sent: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 8:17 AM
To: B @ xxx
Subject: FW: Website Comments: Product Request

Hi B,

this is just an fyi.
customer feedback re: sunscreen selection. Also I didn’t know that John Master’s has an spf 30 sunscreen as the guest mentioned below.

PS I do intend on responding mentioning that we are getting more soon as it starts to warm up. Anything else I could add? Like new sunscreens you intend to list in the future?
A

_______________________________

From: B
Sent: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 10:36 AM
To: A
Subject: RE: Website Comments: Product Request

Hi A,

I don’t believe the JMO product is available in Canada – but will have to double check that with Integral Sense. The other brands she mentions are not to my knowledge marketing in Canada either. Likely because they have not applied for or received approval for the SPF claims from Health Canada.

No product can make a claim for SPF protection in Canada without registering to make that claim and providing proof their products meet their SPF rating. Many products don’t make it across the border due to that requirement.

We do have a lot of new sku’s coming in the March timeframe. They will all be part of the plano’s though some will likely not even be available to us until late March.

You can expect new items from:

Green Beaver (certified Organic/ Canadian made / quite advanced informulation)
Alba – (all new items replacing older skus – all with improved formulations)
Aubrey – (all new items replacing older sku’s)
Badger – new product for babies –

B

_______________________________

On 2011-02-23, at 1:42 PM, A wrote:

Hi [Gingerrama],

Currently we do sell Badger, which is a very clean and natural line of sunscreens. We plan on extending this line as soon as the weather warms up. Our sunscreen selection is usually lower during the winter months and builds up as soon as we start hitting some warmer weather.
I have contacted my regional buyer, B re: our sunscreen selection (you can read his response to products you were inquiring about below) and he mentioned that many products don’t make it across the border due to the requirment of certain claims and proof that products meet SPF ratings in Canada. As for John Masters, he dosn’t believe it is available in Canada but will look into it further and possibly get it listed here at xxx.
You can expect to see new sunscreens at xxx in late March for Green Beaver (certified Organic/ Canadian made / quite advanced informulation), Alba – (all new items replacing older skus – all with improved formulations), and Aubrey. You should see these in our stores apx. late March.

Thank you for your feedback and comments, and if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an e-mail or you can call me at the number listed below.

A

_______________________________

[Then I replied, and immediately felt snarky, though still boiling with impotent rage–so much folly in the world, so dangerous, spreading at such rate: a veritable plague.]

From: [Gingerrama]
Subject: Re: sunscreens
Date: 23 February 2011 2:12:59 PM PST
To: A

Hi A,

1. I am well aware of what you are currently selling in-store; that is why I was suggesting improvements to the current stock. I have also been monitoring what’s in store from season to season, starting when I first moved here in July 2009. Having lived previously in the US, and being back there periodically for conferences, I know what’s in stock in xxx and the like there (and have done for a good ten years); I am also back in Europe fairly frequently, and keep up with sunscreens there (mainly the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland).

2. With all possible due respect, Badger is an entirely different class/league of sunscreen. It is virtually unwearable. Unless, say, you are a small child or someone with incredibly dry skin. It is one of most aesthetically unappealing/cosmetically inelegant sunscreens on the market. Now, I have been using sunscreens for nearly 30 years, and daily for 20. I have tried a lot of them–it would be arrogant to say everything on the market–and I am sufficiently scientifically educated to know the difference between a functionally good sunscreen and one that isn’t. And I know there are plenty out there that are better: in terms of wearability, usability for a range of skin types, suitability for sensitive skin, and of course actual functionality.

3. John Masters Organics is available in Canada. Google it. I’ve ordered sunscreen direct from them just a couple of months back…

4. Alba: I’ve seen the new formulations. These do not answer my question.
Alba: still EO-loaded, and though there is a fragrance-free one, there is now no physical sunscreen in the line (a.k.a. mineral, i.e. just titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide and working as a physical “block”/”shield”, rather than by chemical reaction with solar radiation–look up Wikipedia or the like for further full scientific explanation…). Also, as far as I can see they’re not photostable!
Aubreys Organics: information not yet publicly available.

5. Green Beaver: sounds interesting, and while I’d love to buy Canadian, I’d rather know this was a well-formulated sunscreen (with SPF at least 30, PPD at least 10, photostable, and as enquired before, all-physical…) rather than “organic.” Especially as “organic”, when it comes to sunscreens, technically means the same things as “chemical”: made from hydrocarbons aka chemically organic, rather then minerals, which are chemically inorganic. Mineral sun filters can’t be organic, as they come from rocks or are synthesized in labs, rather than plant-sourced.

6. Badger for babies doesn’t answer the question: babies aren’t the only people who need sunscreen, and most adults would rather wear something that is more wearable than a paper bag over the head.

7. The comment on SPF testing is useful, and I know that does indeed explain product variation across markets; witness the same in the US with regard to Asian and European sunscreens, and in the EU with regard to North American ones.

I’m sorry, but I have to say I’m not otherwise awfully satisfied by your response; it suggests a lack of knowledge of sunscreens (incl. how they work) and the global sunscreen market. I shall continue to buy my sunscreens elsewhere. But thank you very much for your reply, and its promptness, and for taking the trouble to ask other people too: that is much appreciated!

Many thanks and best wishes,

[Gingerrama]

_______________________________

That was the last installment from that front.
I had also emailed the same thing (copy-pasted, cos I’m lazy) to my other local store at the same time (2011-02-22). This is the sum total of response from them; as with the previous correspondence, the only editing I’ve done is to anonymise all concerned. To which I did not bother to reply. At least, I composed a reply, which makes the one above look like sweetness and light, and–fortunately–hesitated before pressing send. And put it in the trash instead. Sometimes that is the best thing to do, and the nearest available route within a stone’s throw of the Path of Virtue, without going down the Windy Lane of Dishonesty.

From: C (at a different branch of xxx)
Subject: Thanks for your seuggestions
Date: 24 February 2011 11:07:53 AM PST
To: [Gingerrama]

Hi there!
I apprecaite your suggestions. I have heard of the John Masters and DeVita product and agree they are top notch. The other one sounds good too. It is a bit of a challenge getting sunscreens that readily available in the USA to sell in Canada. They require a DIN (Drug Identification Number), and ideally should have bilingual packaging. Because it is somewhat perishable item some companies are reluctant to do a portion of production strictly for Canada.
Currently, the Badger Sunscreen in the “cleanest” we have with the highest rating on EWG of the sunscreens we do have available for us to order. Having said that, I will leap at the chance to bring any of these in if they do become available for the upcoming sunny season.
Thanks for shopping at xxx and taking the time for some great suggestions.!

_______________________________

Sigh. This might be this blog’s first in the category of rants, by the way, and there will be one on the evils of the EWG. And I do mean evils.

Posted up not only for pertinence, but because Gingerrama rather likes this film.

8 comments

  1. Clare

    Ginger, I share your frustration at finding a good, wearable sunblock that is spf 30. I also love the JM one very much (thanks to your suggestion of it actually). I can see how the first response was ignorant, but the second seemed pretty understandable. I mean if it’s a genuin legal concern that the sunblock have a DIN and bilinguial packaging, what are they supposed to do? And bigger corporations like xxx are probably more concerned about this. Anyway, I could never wear the Badger either, so yeah, I share your frustration and rely mainly on etailers. Best,
    ~Clare

  2. mej5s

    The Green Beaver I sampled (as in asked for and received a sample from my local health food store) and alas this product had to be washed off immediately – the product is a highly emollient version of Badger and just as useless in terms of aesthetics due to shine although the white cast was significantly reduced. It caused my face to turn red undoubtedly due to its occlusive properties (waxes and oils – it is anhydrous almost with water at the tail end of the ingredient list) — I can’t recommend.

    I am interested in toying with Aubrey’s new formulations now that they removed Padimate O 20 years after everyone else did. I have a feeling these will be a non-starter too.

    I will email Burnout and ask if they have plans to apply to Health Canada for a DIN so they can sell their product with its FDA approved claims up here as a) it would do well compared to the p1ss poor physicals on the market here and b) I can’t see that it would have any issue passing Health Canada guidelines if Green Beaver’s product can make it through.

    Keep on fighting the good fight

  3. gingerama

    Spelling, crass ignorance, and so on aside–these people cannot possibly wear sunscreen.
    But, agreed, issues of fact and suchlike aside: the big issue seems to be national(ist) protectionist point-scoring, out-FDAing the FDA in silly kindergarten politics.
    I like BurnOut so much that at one point after receiving an order I actually emailed them to thank them, profusely, to suggest they try to get on the Canadian market (which is frustrating), and to offer translation for free …

  4. mej5s

    Just as a follow up here are the ingredients to said Green Beaver product in order of percentage (vs alphabetical)

    Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Isostearate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Glycerin, Sorbitan Olivate, Glyceryl Stearate, Acacia Decurrens/Jojoba/Sunflower Seed Wax/Polyglyceryl-3 Esters, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil*, d-alpha Tocopheryl acetate, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters (and) Jojoba Esters, Aqua (Water)

      • gingerama

        thanks for the info!
        hmmm, looks interesting. if it’s that occlusive, might be an option for body rather than face? or in drier climate?
        also: how is their lipbalm?
        (and now, return to work…)

  5. mej5s

    yes it most certainly could be used for body although it could be a bit sticky – would have to try it there to see.

    The lipbalm is slightly whitening but not Badger-whitening — it’s useable in a pinch. I haven’t tried Burnout’s yet to make a comparison but have some on the way and will follow up

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