21 Jul Zinc-based Sunscreen
Zinc-based Sunscreen Best Environmental Choice
I spend a large part of my day preaching the message of moderating your exposure to the sun. The subject of sunscreen factors heavily into that message.
I am not a sun worshipper, nor am I a vampire. It seems the official stance of my profession is to have humans dwell among the shadows in an effort to prevent skin cancer. Still, life has to be lived. I take my family to the beaches of Whiskeytown Lake and out into our North State alpine wilderness. We wear our sunscreen and hats and leave the rest up to fate.
Recently, though, I experienced something that caused me to rethink my outlook. There is an otherworldly swimming hole in Crystal Creek immediately north of the town of French Gulch. A year-round waterfall plunges into clear water that is deep enough to leap into from the bare cliffs. As my daughter says, “It looks like something out of a movie.”
After surfacing from one of my cannonballs, I noticed a growing iridescent film around me on the water’s surface. It was my sunscreen. Within an hour, the sunscreen of about a dozen frolicking people spawned a continuous sheet of chemicals that stretched downstream quite a distance.
Environmental Impact Of Sunscreens
I have comprehensively evaluated the pros and cons of sunscreens for human use as a professional dermatologist for over a decade. I, and my fellow dermatologists, can drone on and on about the subject. However when it comes to the environmental impact of what I have been recommending, I realized how little I knew.
Dogmatic environmental websites cite studies claiming sunscreen ingredients cause everything from breast cancer to male feminization in fish. I reviewed the few studies I was able to procure free online and came away with mixed feelings. Many of the studies were quick to vilify sunscreens in my opinion. And many were extrapolation of data that would not occur in natural conditions. But there were a few studies that caused me to question my personal and professional practices.
So what sunscreen should you wear if you want to be environmentally aware? I am now recommending simple zinc in lieu of the fancy, tongue-twisting named ingredients. Inexpensive zinc-based sunscreens are readily available and appear to be not only the most effective, but environmentally safest, sunscreens available. Zinc has come a long way since your neighborhood lifeguard painted his nose white with it. Zinc now comes in various forms and concentrations for a more acceptable look. There is even so-called “clear zinc” now.
The Environmental Working Group maintains an extensive list of biodegradable sunscreens that many stores in our area already carry. I personally like the Badger and Honest branded products, but they are not superior to anything else on the list.
The decision to use nanoparticle zinc verses regular zinc is less clear. After reviewing the research, I will use whatever is least expensive until compelling evidence emerges to change.
On a comical note, I would like to offer my apologies to the community of French Gulch for alerting the world to their secret grotto. Maybe now would be a good time to set up a zinc-based sunscreen booth there.