sunscreen experiments

The challenge: to be a sunscreen.
Criteria: um, does what it says on the tin.
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Does what it says on the tin.

Here follows a sorry tale of folly. My own. My fault. Mine, all mine, my precious.

Current main sunscreen:

  • Vanicream SPF 50 (coated micro ZnO + TiO2)

Recent experiments:

  • FAIL reformulated BurnOut Eco-Sensitive SPF 30 (ZnO): thick, unusable, etc. on which change for the very much worse, see earlier on this blog
  • FAIL reformulated BurnOut Ocean Tested SPF 30 (ZnO): thick, unusable, etc. on which see earlier too
  • FAIL MyChelle sun shield SPF 28 (ZnO): fragrance, sneezing, but felt nice before I had to wash it off
  • HMMM… Green Beaver SPF 30 (ZnO): nice on paper, no irritation, no zits, moisturising.
    But greasy, takes nearly an hour to sink into skin (and my skin is dry; deities help anyone else), and I worry as it smells kinda funky and seems to have no preservative (correct me if I’m wrong) despite containing water and not being sealed from air. Therefore, in this universe anyway: it is open to infestation by micro-organisms.
  • FAIL various ones that are SPF 30, ZnO, some also with TiO2, unscented, contain aloe vera and shea butter (and some other heavier oils and butters): often OK on hand and arm, but start of outbreaks on face. My face has issues with aloe vera and (sometimes) shea butter, especially in spring to summer. I’m often OK with both these ingredients at other times of year–shea butter in winter for example–but not good at this time of year. Which is unfortunate, as there are many sunscreens out there containing both that are otherwise nice-looking.
    Some tried by:
    Alba Botanica
    Aubrey Organics
    Goddess Garden
    Jason Natural
  • OK… Better luck with:
    Babo Botanicals SPF 30 (ZnO), unscented version
    Has shea butter, but no aloe vera. Testing in progress. Positive so far. This is the next one to report back on, once it’s been tested out more fully.
    Formulation, feel and finish are rather like Elemental Herbs Sport/Kids (same stuff; SPF 30 last year, now SPF 33): that was one I liked from last year’s batch of testing. Both have the neat eco-jojoba-coated microfine zinc oxide and, once applied and spread evenly, dry clear. Plus antioxidants (green tea extract, buriti fruit oil, rosehip seed oil) and decent preservatives. Elemental Herbs is more liquidy, Babo more mousse-y out the tube. Babo feels slightly more moist on me; main difference in ingredients is that Elemental Herbs also contains grapeseed juice and olive oil.

The epic disaster of this sunny season thus far, though, was tried and failed me this very morning.

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22.5% ZnO in a purely oily base (sunflower and jojoba oils, beeswax, tocopherol acetate). Beautifully simple. No water, pretty long-lasting ingredients, no need for preservative. Probably. Certainly if using this correctly, in adequate amounts, everyday. Then you should be using it up pretty fast anyway.

Skin totally cool with all the ingredients, used alone and in other finished products. Skin cool with this stuff too: no rapid-onset reactions, none by the end of the day, no zitting in thinner-skinned more sensitive areas. Totally fine. The stuff was easy to apply, and sank in and stayed on. Made me realise quite how bad the Green Beaver had been, as it out-Badgered a real live Badger.

Why did I try it? Well I like to think positive, and to hope that Badger had learned from their previous mistakes. Last year’s sunscreen fails, for example. I was apprehensive, as it’s proudly non-nano and uncoated.

Yesterday it was OK, but I wasn’t really outside very much, or in much sun.

Today, however, it is sunny.

I Badgered myself up this morning at about 7:00 a.m. I then applied clothing and left the building. Total of sun exposure: walking to bus stop with short sprint at the end (2 minutes), walking from bus stop at other end of journey to a meeting (10 minutes), all before 8:30 a.m. That was OK.

After the meeting, I was talking to people outside. This was from 11:45 a.m. Eventually we sat down on a bench in the sun. I applied sunglasses and a hat. The hat was admired (it is a highly admirable hat). My skin started to feel hot and itch. I looked at my upper chest and felt my neck. Both were bumpy, visible skin was red and hivey. This was around 12 noon.

I went inside, applied cool compress, then the trusty reliable sunscreen (Vanicream 50). Skin gradually went back down. I have some remaining redness, start of mild sunburn. But skin is now cool to the touch and calm. I have been outside again, and have had not even a whisper of a nascent hive.

I consider myself lucky. Having previously had A Thing removed, I’m high risk and must not burn. The “lucky” part is that my skin has an excellent early warning system, that photosensitivity tied to general hypersensitivity which means it send out massive neurotic pain signals way early, before significant damage has been done.

Be ye warned.

Sunscreen is not all about high percentages of actives.

Badger’s 22.5% uncoated larger-particle zinc oxide: fail.
Vanicream’s 7% (coated, smaller) Z-cote and 5% Ti-Silc: pass.

I do not give a monkey’s flying fart (with apologies for mixing my metaphors) what the EWG have to say about them. This is the reality, on the ground, at the front-line and coal-face of protecting skin from sun. Which is what sunscreens are for.

The EWG is, as ever, out of date too: Vanicream SPF 60 was replaced by the SPF 50 (inc. significant reformulation) over a year ago. Information has not been updated; indeed, that reformulation should already heave been included in the EWG 2013 report. Amongst myriad other epic failings; which make my own, and my continuing perpetration of follies, seem quite unremarkable and mundane in comparison.

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  1. Jessica

    Oh, dear. I’ve been living mostly on the fact that I haven’t finished everything from my last pre-reformulation Ocean Tested order. Especially for waterproof, which makes mineral sunscreen even trickier. My own experiments this year have been a milder-than-Shiseido Japanese zinc/octinoxate formula (apocalypse proof, as usual with the Japanese, but I have trouble trusting octinoxate not to flare my rosacea.) and with Dr. Robin’s kid’s sunscreen. The Dr. Robin’s isn’t bad, by the way, if you’re looking for another experiment–my only problem is that it dries down quickly and if you rub it in too long it rolls up. A delicate balance.
    And thank for chatting about charity a while ago–I did come back and read your response, even after you had to rescue me from Spam.

    • gingerama

      Thanks for the sunscreen tip! Also, I really like your blog. Refreshingly honest and humble, something we all need more of and I for one appreciate.

      For example, re. men’s clothes and different attitudes towards clothing: ITA, and I’ve been buying and wearing clothes as far as possible with something like that attitude since feminist revolt first struck seriously. It went in waves, really: basic black and DM boots as a teen; freeing myself of rarely-worn “proper shoes” with heels in my early 20s (an accident left me with nerve damage and a weakened ankle at 20 so I couldn’t wear them anyway; shoes went to local Oxfam second-hand clothes charity shop). I’m lucky to be in a job where I can wear sane clothes, though.

      What reinforced the manlier minimalist move in my 30s:
      1. The Sartorialist blog.
      2. William Gibson, “Pattern Recognition.”

      • Jessica

        Thanks. I mostly write there to amuse myself and to get things out of my head. Post-academia (unemployed PhD ahoy!) I find that I’m short of outlets for my over-thinking. It’s nice to hear that someone appreciates it.

        I’m still working through the clothes thing. That is, mostly living on clothes I bought several years ago, and puzzling over when/how/if to replace them. My volunteer job requires conventional professional clothes, and the best I can do is to just buy the fewest things possible and take good care of them. I find it *very* difficult to find 1) well-made 2) reasonably environmentally-sensitive clothes for women who are 3) under 45 but over 18 and 4) not tall and narrow. All four of those are bad enough on their own; in combination I mostly despair.

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