Going Fragrance-Free: Sunscreen

Though Organaholic is an organic food blog, I often like to write about topics that aren’t directly related to food, or even to organic farming.  Because organic food isn’t only about food, and it isn’t only about organic farming.  It’s about living chemical-free, treating the earth as it’s meant to be treated and keeping your body as natural and healthy as possible.

And so I’d like to launch a series of posts about a topic newly near and dear to my heart: eliminating chemical fragrances from our household products–and, as a result, from our bodies.

Blue Lizard

Going chemical-free, without sacrifice

Fragrances sure sound appealing in products ranging from shampoo to body soap to hand soap to dish soap to deodorant to detergent.  There’s nothing like lathering grapefruit-scented shampoo over your hair or raspberry-scented soaps on your body.  (I’ve done both.)  And it’s great when your wife catches you shortly after you shower and raves about how great you smell.

But fragrances are some of the nastiest chemicals we inflict on our bodies.  Google for 10 minutes and you’ll find reports of fragrances messing with our hormones, causing weight gain, accelerating puberty, altering nervous system and sexual development, along with plenty of other nasty side effects.

Particularly with thoughts of children creeping ever more convincingly into my wife’s and my minds, I’ve heard enough.  It’s time to eliminate the fragrances.

Or, at least, to try to.  And, not having a baby yet to experiment on with new, fragrance-free products, I’m starting with myself.  The first product?  Fragrance-free sunscreen.

Now, I’ve already started using four or five fragrance-free products, ranging from shampoo to bar soap to deodorant to detergent, and I plan to add several more.  And I’m delighted so far with them all.  But I think they all deserve individual mention, and the one I’m most pleasantly surprised by so far is the sunscreen.

I chose Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, in part because of price (it was the best deal I could get on Soap.com) and in part because it met all my criteria for a fragrance-free sunscreen.   (And, because the fragrance-free detergent I ordered along with my Blue Lizard exploded in shipment, Soap.com kindly sent me a new order, not only of the detergent but of the sunscreen it exploded on.  So I have a nice stock built up for plenty of sunny days.)

So, what’s so special about this sunscreen?  After all, does a sunscreen really need to have a fragrance to begin with?  Of course not.  And, though I’m starting my “fragrance free” series of posts with this sunscreen, its most important features go well beyond its lack of fragrance.

Blue Lizard addresses my three big issues with sunscreen.  First, it’s “wide-spectrum,” which means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.  Most (if not all) sunscreens block UVB rays which, in addition to increasing your risk of skin cancer, cause sunburn.  So these sunscreens do a nice job of preventing a burn.  But many sunscreens do not protect you from UVA rays.  And while UVA rays don’t typically cause sunburn, they can cause skin cancer.  With 1 in 5 Americans projected to get skin cancer at some point during their lives, this is no minor point.  Blue Lizard should help.

Second, many sunscreens have chemicals that mess with your hormones.  Called “endocrine disruptors,” these chemicals can bind to sites on your cells that normally bind to hormones, thereby interfering with your endocrine system’s normal functioning.  Though this is likely most problematic in growing children, it’s not great for adults either.  Even the thought that it could cause you to gain weight, when so many of us would rather lose it, is an incentive to avoid these chemicals.

Blue Lizard uses minerals–titanium dioxide and zinc oxide–instead of chemicals.  Not only do these minerals offer the UVA protection the chemicals don’t; they also leave your endocrine system alone.

Finally, it’s fragrance-free.  Fragrances typically are produced by using chemicals like those I just described, with all the same negative side effects.  Blue Lizard doesn’t have them.

So, what do I think, after using Blue Lizard?  Well, I can’t speak personally to any reduction in cancer risk or disruption of my endocrine system–only the minute cells in my body can confirm that.

But I can speak to the way it feels.  It’s not as greasy as other sunscreens.  It doesn’t have the same stench.  (I could walk through a crowded room and no one would know I was wearing sunscreen.)  And when I run with it on, and sweat profusely, it doesn’t get into my eyes and sting.  (It probably does get into my eyes, but I don’t feel it at all, which is a good sign.)  Overall, I feel far better, healthier and cleaner wearing this sunscreen, and it seems to wash off more nicely–no nasty post-shower residue or sticky feeling.

Is there any downside?  One concern I have is that it doesn’t claim to be water-proof or sweat-proof.  I usually use sunscreen for running, so the water-proof thing doesn’t bother me too much.  If I use it at the beach or at the pool, I can just reapply after swimming.  This is annoying, but it only happens once or twice per outing, something I can live with in exchange for all its other benefits.

But the sweat-proof thing is disconcerting.  When I run on hot, sunny days (something I do often during the summer, since I rarely run on treadmills) I can start sweating very quickly, and during marathon training I’m likely to be outdoors for an hour or two (even up to four) during a given training run.  If I sweat away my sunscreen in the first 20 minutes, I could have very long, very painful exposure to the sun.

This is something I’ll have to test.  Having taken it out on the road so far only for 6 mile runs, it’s not entirely clear to me based on changes in skin color whether it’s working the whole 6 miles or not.  If I do my 12 mile run later this week during daylight hours I’ll have a better chance to test it.  I’ll post an update as soon as I’ve given it a more comprehensive test.

In the meantime, I love it, at least for shorter or less-sweaty runs, and I hope it holds up for longer distances.  It feels great, and I love knowing my skin is safer with this new sunscreen.

More about some other great fragrance-free products shortly.

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7 Responses to Going Fragrance-Free: Sunscreen

  1. Elmer says:

    What’s your opinion regarding possible risks of titanium dioxide nanoparticles? I’ve read conflicting and inconclusive opinions, be interested in your take.

    • Doug says:

      Elmer,

      Great question. I’ve read conflicting opinions too. I chose to both use and recommend Blue Lizard largely because of the Environmental Working Group’s recommendations. They don’t seem to think nanoparticles are harmful, based on their review of scientific studies; and they seem to think that even if nanoparticles were harmful, the other alternatives available in the U.S. are even more harmful, in pretty much every way (e.g., skin damage, skin cancer, impact on our immune systems).

      http://www.ewg.org/nanotechnology-sunscreens

      That said, this hardly settles the dispute. I think the EWG is unbiased in this area, and they’ve done more research into this than I could ever do myself without turning into John Nash. So in the absence of more definitive evidence, I’m going with their recommendations for now.

      Ideally, we’d have a full, healthy ozone layer and not have to worry about wearing sunscreen. But in the meantime I guess it’s about minimizing risks, and I thought Blue Lizard looked like a good option. Would love to hear if you have a different understanding.

      Thanks for your thoughtful question.
      Doug

  2. I really love your blog. Is there anyway to get in contact with you? My email is msunderland@gm.slc.edu. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Whole Foods Fragrance-Free Shampoo | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

  4. Pingback: Fragrance-Free Deodorant: Arm & Hammer Essentials | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

  5. Pingback: Whole Foods Fragrance Free Soap | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

  6. Pingback: Fragrance-Free Detergent: All Free & Clear | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

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