greenwashing (6): sunscreens (2)

Quack, quack

Positively revving up now…

I encountered a curious incidence recently–just earlier today–of a silly sunscreen. It’s one of those mentioned in the previous post as unwearable. I should add: I have not tried it, I’m working on paper here. You’ll recall that I criticised the EWG for doing precisely that. But:

  1. I’ve tested out sunscreens with similar-to-identical formulae in the past (note: tested: had to be removed from face fast, due to reaction, and near-visible spot-formation in progress).
  2. I know my irritants… some of them, anyway…
  3. rhetorical/BS allergic response was triggered

Herewith the exchange. (And the only way I can put up with this sort of nonsense on a daily basis is in the knowledge that, with names removed, it can be repeated here; oh, and knowing that I have a day-job too. *Sigh.*)

ANONYMOUS PERSON #1 (think: cute, friendly, enthusiastic, ebullient–but not terribly smart, a bit ADD, and prone to over-trusting–puppy):

[Company X] finally have their new sunscreens! Can’t wait to try and see, if it works it’ll save me a lot of pennies …or maybe not? I still love [Y: to which I say “pfff” as I not only had irritation but burning too. Whatev. I digress. Back to our puppy.] but lets see how this brand works as well

[…] the email they sent me today!

Hi [puppy],
Our new clear sunscreens are now available for sale on our website! Please let me know if you any questions on the new products or anything else. Also to be available over the next week or two, our new Anti-Aging cream, Bubblegum Body Wash and Lotion and our Adorable Baby Line! [sic(k)]
Enjoy the sunshine!
[big scary guard-dog, who’s mean, smart, has big teeth, and eats puppies for breakfast]
[Company X]
Website: […]
Facebook: […]
Skin Deep: [… aka our friends at the EWG]
ANONYMOUS #2 (A Wise And Sane Man who’s being rather more delicate than usual here):
This is loaded with oils – the zinc might be clear but this would be very shiny and oily on anything but the very driest skins in a dry desert climate. Anywhere humid this would likely only work for sports and not for everyday wear.


ME (who’s had it up to here with silly questions from silly people about, especially, silly sunscreens: but still thinks, cussedly, that warning people they’re being abused might wake them up to it and help them to grow some eyes and a functioning attached brain some common-sense and back teeth, and learn to look out for themselves…)

well, let’s have a look hmmm…Pretty standard, unadventurous formula; there are many other variations on the same theme around the place. I’ve seen worse!

Ingredients: Active Sunscreen Ingredient: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide 24.8%
Ingredients: Grape Seed Oil, Organic Sunflower Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides (derived from Coconut Oil), Soy Wax (Non-GMO), Organic Sesame Oil, Organic Plum Kernel Oil, Candelilla Wax, Organic Cocoa Butter (Fair Trade), Organic Hemp Seed Oil, Organic Macadamia Nut Oil, Organic Cocoa (Fair Trade), Organic Green Tea, Sea Salt, Water



1. Grapeseed, sunflower, sesame: good choices, 0-to-low probability of irritation and breakouts. Water, ditto. Plum kernel and hemp seed: generally well-tolerated, though heavier.

2. No fragrance.

3. As they say, good bet for kids as you can see it’s on them (NB: well-off, neurotic, but scientifically-illiterate mothers are a major demographic for the EWG and those in their pockets). Reminds me of my youth… in the early 1970s. I can see this being great on kids; less great on anyone beyond pubescence (hormones, zits)…

4. Full ingredient lists.

5. Decent prices. But, given that it’s basically repackaged relabelled diaper-/nappy-rash cream: that’s rather expensive baby butt paste.

6. Marketing BS: tolerable–prickles on back of neck, slight itching, I’m not coming out in hives and running a screaming fever. (It’s still there, but, again: I’ve seen much, much worse.)


1. Cocoa butter and macadamia nut oils: heavier, high probability of comedogenicity. Avoid unless you’re dry and not acne-prone. Soy in skincare not always well tolerated. Coconut-oil triglycerides ditto, for many acne-prones.

2. I’ve seen so many formulae like this, in person and in paper, that I would put money on what it feels and looks like. Indeed: it’s formulaic… In a word: Badger. Thick, gloopy, and white. High probability of bonus zits.
Anything with that much large-size ZnO in it will protect you: forming a coat on your skin. The same is true of diaper cream. Or covering up. A bag on the head has the advantage of not leading to zits.

3. The formula is so simple that you could actually probably put something very similar together yourself, using a better selection of oils (ex. ditch the cocoa butter), although the SPF & PPD would be a gamble unless you had access to a lab…

4. Mindless/blind copy-pasting of silliness about nano-particles

5. Misuse of the word “safe” (and correlates)–I’m getting so used to this, though, reacting less, hopefully not becoming inured/numbed.
Also, passim, EWG-inspired “toxin”-abuse:

6. “we earnestly research”: thesaurus-abuse. If done properly, research needs no adjective; it should by definition be serious, proper, full, and indeed earnest.


and a few more quibbles:

I’d like to know how 24.8% large-size (“.5-10 microns” [sic]) uncoated ZnO can be clear? miracle? magic? BurnOut is nearly clear, and it’s at the smaller end of the micro- scale.

[http://www.[…] /#!about]
“The burden of toxins in our bodies today can be overwhelmingly heavy.”

Not if you have functioning kidneys.
“[…] ingredients being absorbed into our babies skin.”
Grammar aside: this whole section suggests blissful ignorance of how human skin works, as a semi-permeable (and mostly impermeable) membrane; and missing the subtle distinction that if it’s working properly, it blocks many things (as it ought to) and lets others in (some of which it ought to, ex. air).
“We found that many of the so called “natural products” didn’t seem so natural after reading a long list of unexplained ingredients that we had never heard of or could not pronounce.”
From which I deduce that these “earnest researchers” are not scientists, of any shape or form. I would expect a high-school student to be able to pronounce these; anyone who’s done science beyond age 15 should know more or less what most of them are; and anyone, regardless of education, should have the gumption and curiosity to look things up.
Interesting paradox on the “research” “skills”: Googling and getting as far as the EWG vs. not looking up what an ingredient is (Wikipedia, for starters).
“We would often use a product that we thought was safe and find out later it contained a harmful ingredient.”
Copy-pasted straight from the EWG.
“We also learned that companies can disguise a chemical as simply “fragrance” and can actually omit “key” ingredients on the label if they have been “proven” safe.”
The kind of “research” that would take a person of modicum intelligence about a minute on the internet (Google and include EWG in your search term).
is a worrying use of quotation marks; connoting an ellided “so-called” and, more dangerous, showing base ignorance of “science” and “the scientific method”: resting as they do on, well, proof, disproof, and provability. As contrasted with statements (or indeed hypotheses) which are unprovable, and therefore unscientific (and often illogical, and cannot be true or false; worse, some will be pseudoscientific and/or circular). This PR statement is riddled with such statements. For example:
“[…] provide consumers with a product they could trust.”
A customer shoud trust us rather than any one else because… let’s see… we say so? because we’re *not* scientists and *don’t use* proper “scientific” methods? And that research… which, as far as I can see, looks rather like consulting the EWG database.
“You can be assured, we will earnestly research every ingredient we use, use the most natural or organic ingredients available and always disclose every single ingredient.”
This statement is repeated elsewhere on the site. It smacks of second-hand cod legalese. For example,
“research every ingredient”
doesn’t mean doing any actual lab-based evidentiary research; a kid could do this sort of “research” on a computer. Also, I stopped counting after spotting the fifth repetition of “earnest(ly) research.” Thesaurus fail…
I note also with interest, from
that there is no mention of product research, development, production. Not even adherence to minimum legal health & safety standards, let alone basic hygiene. Yet kow-towing to the EWG–who are a pressure-group, not any sort of legal authority (or an independent expert one, ex. hospitals, universities, journals, science institutes)?
Ending with a third response to the OP, cos I’m a woose even if I’m a bitchy woose:
sorry to rant: but untruths, daylight robbery, & abuse of weaker more trusting people makes me angry


I rest my case. More shortly, doing final cross-checks, making sure the fuel tank’s full…
Says it all, really (if you click the image), in more ways than one


  1. mej5s

    Brilliant entry and naturally (as you undoubtedly already were aware) I concur — this post is why, much to the ire of those who purport to be “authentically” green, I continue to wholeheartedly endorse and purchase Clinique City Block and Vanicream vs the likes of Badger (died watching vid btw) — one could argue that Clinique’s use of tint is unfortunate but beyond the tint, the product actually has been submitted to proper testing and conforms to standards that can actually be described as providing some modicum of assurance that the product is hypoallergenic vs merely lambasting all other brands for their inclusion of the illusive toxins…I can’t say the same for the Hemiboreal Forest Kingdom Sunscreens (Badger, Green Beaver et alia) – keep it up (and I have much reading to do on this blog!)

  2. gingerama

    ITA. I’d add, also, that the Clinique–while I can’t wear it–was very important in showing the way to other skincare companies, in how to make a wearable but functional sunscreen. Fond memories of the old City Block SPF 15…
    It’s very much the Arts & Crafts principle, and now-as-classic Scandinavian modernist design: no reason that form and function can’t be united.
    An exemplary recent case: Marie Véronique’s move from one tint to three, one of which is clear; Colorescience has been doing this for years. Any company who cared enough about their customers–looking good, comfort, and thus contentment–would and should make sunscreens available in a range of tints. I mean, come on, if you can add one balanced quantity of oxides, to product one tint, why not offer different tweaks?
    I’d also like to see more people (in publicity materials, not necessarily walking around in the streets) wearing lab-coats with their hair tied back, and wearing spectacles. And using words like “clinical” plus phrases like “lab/test conditions.” Less of the floaty tie-died loose-hair soft-focus business. I mean, it’s not very sanitary; I wouldn’t even cook like that at home.
    And less of the “earnest”–let alone enthusiastic–and more of the extensive, meticulous, complete, thorough, painstaking, … you get the picture. Not to forget by a competent professional expert.
    Possibly also more strong coffee, less herbal tea in the workplace.

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