Thanks to lemonz4us over on MUA’s SCB: link to a jolly decent post on the Kitchen Stewardship blog featuring real-live testing of (mainly all-physical) suncreens:

It’s OK, I haven’t softened up completely in my old age: I still cringe at references to the EWG as a fiable source—yes, they are an information source, and a very useful one for parents of small children; but they’re one source amongst many, and not as pure, innocent, high-minded, and devoid of self-interest as they’d have you believe. I also still cringe at basic scientific ignorance and idiocy, as witnessed by some of the more witless / lackwit comments on that post (not by the author, Katie, I hasten to add: she’s a found of sound common sense and wise tact). But what I liked was the splendid proper testing methodology, sensible criteria, and write-up of results. Lots of sunscreens tested out. I admit, I also liked the post as I’d come to the same conclusions about many of the sunscreens on it…

Here’s the exemplary criteria, anyway:

How we tested: I always put two kinds of sunscreen on, one of each half of our families’ bodies.

Even when in the sun all day, unless we made a mistake and didn’t reapply properly, we hardly had any sunburns. Once I did forget to apply sunscreen to my own face, and it got slightly, slightly pink while my shoulders did not. I was encouraged to know that the zinc oxide based mineral sunscreens clearly do something effective.

Here are the criteria I attempted to analyze with each product:

  • Did anyone get a sunburn? Since I used two kinds almost every time, I was always looking to see if there was a difference in the tan/burn on either side. Sometimes (on myself only) I would leave one side without any treatment just to try to really test the product to see if I could burn. (And I did, ahem…)
  • EWG Safety Rating? The Environmental Working Group rates tens of thousands of personal products based on each ingredient’s safety: cancer-causing, hormone disruptors, etc. A rating of 0-2 is generally deemed “safe,” and 3 is close enough for me!
  • Stays on in water? Repels water? I was very surprised to see water actually beading up on our skin with most of the zinc-based mineral sunblocks. I liked it! I felt like I was visibly able to see that the sunblock would remain on while in the water. Some of them still repelled water after 3+ hours. 
  • Stings eyes? How often have you comforted a screaming child whose eyes were stung by a chemical sunscreen? I’ve seen it happen, and stinging eyes is one of the reasons my husband has liked his “sport” sunscreen so well. I don’t want to purchase a sunscreen that will make my kids afraid to put it on because it hurts. You won’t see me mention this much in the individual reviews, because no one ever screamed, cried, or complained about stinging of any kind. 
  • Greasy or creamy? For many people, consistency can be a deal breaker when everything else is similar. I don’t really care as long as it works, but I will tell you what I can about how the product feels on the skin. 
  • Rubs in well? Mineral sunblocks, by nature, just don’t rub in well. They’re sitting on top of the skin to block the sun. That said, some rub in better than others. 
  • Separates? Some of the products separate in the tube. This one doesn’t really matter to me, but I thought I’d share in case it does to you. 
  • Forms visible barrier? Although this is pretty much the opposite of “rubs in well” and might be a negative to some people, it makes me happy if I can see the sunblock at work. Then I know if it’s come off in the water. 
  • In the individual reviews below I’ll classify the four categories above as “Ease of application” and rate it overall with a (+) as a high score, a (+/-) for the middle ground and a (-) for a negative rating.
  • Pleasant scent? My aromatic addict 5-year-old kept me straight on this one, giving his immediate and honest opinion on how each sunscreen smelled upon application.
  • Skin reaction? I’ll tell you if anyone got a rash from any of the products. That’s a pretty important indicator of quality!
  • Inclusion of antioxidants? With all the free radicals caused by the sun, it doesn’t hurt and almost certainly helps protect your skin if your sunscreen includes antioxidants like Vitamin E or green tea.
  • Nano vs. micronized minerals? Whether this matters or not, I think it’s important to know what’s in the sunblock choices so you can make an informed decision.

How do I Evaluate a Sunscreen Not Included Here?

Although it sure felt like I had a sample of every natural sun protection cream in the entire world, I didn’t even come close. If you’re wondering about a brand that I didn’t get to test, here’s how I would go about figuring out a sunblock’s worth/safety:

  • Go straight to the ingredients.
  • ONLY the two minerals (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) should be “active” ingredients.
  • To be really safe, many say zinc is better than titanium.
  • If you can find out about nano particles, do so. Non-nano is better.
  • There should be some sort of antioxidant included (Vitamin E, aka Tocopheryl acetate, green tea, etc.)
  • No retinyl palmitate (synthetic Vitamin A).
  • No parabens, synthetic or unlabeled “fragrances” – that’s a general rule for all body products.
  • If you can pronounce all the other ingredients, all the better!

A quick comment to explain why I haven’t gone ballistic ape on the EWG etc. references: see, parabens and certain other things are a worry for this blogger because she’s applying sunscreen to small children, whose skin—especially in the case of her very young children—is structurally different from an adult’s, with different requirements. The EWG information is useful for this situation (though is also preys on maternal protective instincts and fears of anything that could harm their children: manupulative abuse at its sickest). Other quibbles, with reference to adults: vitamin A can act as an antioxidant and boost sun protection; non-nano is not necessarily better; no further comment required on “If you can pronounce all the other ingredients, all the better!”

NB: there’s also a certain religious bias in the Kitchenstewardship blog: just warning any readers who might be allergic to such things, or who are from other rival faiths. For more tolerant readers: there’s lots of good there, and of course the “good” of being well-intentioned to boot. Either which way, the Catholic backdrop is straight-up, sincere, honest, and gives you some background/explanation for the pro-nature, conservationist stance. Whatever you may or may not think of the one true faith, the end result remains doing good and looking after our planet: surely, common goals uniting us all, humanists and environmentalists alike, of all shapes and sizes on the belief-front. We’re all part of the same whole ecosystem…

But any such quibbles and caveats aside: main point: those testing methodology and criteria for judgement are about the best non-professional ones I’ve seen, anywhere.

Updates to that post:

This all seemed useful and à propos, because any time soon we’ll be getting the EWG’s fresh seasonal papal bull missive to the faithful, and sunscreens are already starting to fill the shelves. My big question is: will Vancouver’s Whole Foods finally start stocking some decent sunscreen? Will we have a repeat of last year’s ridiculous correspondence with them? Will Eco Logical repackage their 2012 sunscreen in better tubes, and either remove the squidge-element or make it a more fun integral part of the whole sunscreen experience?

We wait with bated breath. And not “baited” as I keep seeing on MUA discussion boards. Tsk. That’s breath containing bait. The usual use for bait is putting it in a trap to snare something. That bait is often in the form of a dead animal: somewhere between fresh and still bleeding, and decomposing. I do not want to smell such things on anyone’s breath, figuratively or otherwise.

And I certainly don’t like the idea that someone is opening their mouth and breathing all over me so as to ensnare me. Eeeps.

Anyway. Breath bated, until the tension abates.

Only time will tell…

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