07 June 2010

Sunscreen and Skin Cancer?

By Guest Writer: Lorraine LoBianco
Think slathering on a little sunscreen keeps you safe from skin cancer?  Think again!  Recently, the Environmental Working Group, self-described as “a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment,” released its 4th annual report on sunscreen safety.  Of the 500 products tested by the EWG, only 39 – a mere 8 percent – were deemed safe enough to be recommended.
According to the EWG, certain ingredients in sunscreens are actually hazardous and could increase the chance of skin cancer.  Retinyl palmitate – a form of vitamin A - is found in 41 percent of sunscreens. Currently, it is being investigated by the FDA, whose data suggests that it is photocarcinogenic. When exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, “the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer.  The evidence against vitamin A is not conclusive, but as long as it is suspect, EWG recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.”  Oxybenzone is also found in both sunscreens and lip balms.  It is “a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Biomonitoring surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected oxybenzone in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested.” 
Just as dangerous are inflated claims of SPF ratings, which “sell a false sense of security because most people using them stay out in the sun longer, still get burned (which increases risk of skin cancer) and subject their skin to large amounts of UVA radiation, the type of sunlight that does not burn but is believed responsible for considerable skin damage and cancer. High SPF products, which protect against sunburn, often provide very little protection against UVA radiation. Also, most people don't get the high SPF they pay for: people apply about a quarter of the recommended amount. In everyday practice, a product labeled SPF 100 really performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and an SPF 15 translates to 2.

"Many sunscreens available in the U.S. may be the equivalent of modern-day snake oil, plying customers with claims of broad-spectrum protection but not providing it, while exposing people to potentially hazardous chemicals that can penetrate the skin into the body," said Jane Houlihan, EWG Senior Vice President for Research. "When only 8 percent of sunscreens rate high for safety and efficacy, it's clear that consumers concerned about protecting themselves and their families are left with few good options."

The FDA promised final regulation on sunscreens back in 1978, but has yet to implement. October 2010 is the proposed date, but manufacturers will have at least a year or more to comply with new rules, so safer sunscreens will not be available in the United States until 2012.  As Houlihan states, "Both world wars, the creation of Medicare and the planning and execution of the moon landing combined took less time to achieve than FDA's promised sunscreen regulations," said Houlihan. "Meanwhile, more than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. This could be the poster child for government inaction."

So, what can you do to protect yourself against sun exposure until then?  Hats, clothing and shade are still your best options, but not always practical.  Gratitude Gourmet took a look at the list of products recommended by the EWG and found one company in particular, the W.S. Badger Company, who not only scored in the top 10 but who are also eco-friendly, organic, and do not test on animals.

A “family run, family friendly business located on the banks of the Ashuelot River in rural Gilsum, New Hampshire, USA,” Badger was founded by the Whyte family: Bill, Katie and daughters Mia, Emily and Rebecca, in their kitchen in 1995 when Bill, a carpenter and herbalist “could never find a product to heal his rough, dry, cracked hands—the result of daily hard work in the tough New Hampshire winters. Bill whipped up a batch of the original Healing Balm in his kitchen using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Beeswax, Castor Oil, Aloe Vera and Essential Oil of Sweet Birch—a traditional New England herbal remedy. The result was astounding: a simple, all-natural, soothing and healing balm that really worked! And a company was born. A team of about 40 friendly badgers formulates, manufactures, and ships almost all of the products from our facility, known as The Badger Mines. Badger works hard to create a healthy business with ethical and charitable principles. Call and ask any employee. You’ll hear about our free organic lunches, green initiatives in every department and our charitable giving practices—not to mention our lunchtime full-contact badminton games!”
Their mission is “to create fabulously pure and effective products of the highest natural quality, based on simplicity and thoughtful preparation, with the intention to soothe and heal.
To run a business that is fun, fair and profitable; where money is fuel, not a goal; and where our vision for a healthier world finds expression through the way we work and through the way we treat each other and the people we serve.”
Badger products are “super-safe, super-comforting blends of fresh, whole, organic, extra-virgin oils, waxes, exotic butters, herbal extracts & pure essential oils. And nothing else! No chemicals, synthetics, parabens, GMOs or any of the other dubious stuff you’ve read so much about. Just good, wholesome, blends of concentrated goodness. We have also gone Certified Organic!”
The company’s principles are likewise impressive: “individual responsibility in a team concept, supporting organic, sustainable agriculture through our purchasing practices, a business environment that is respectful and supportive of all employees, and of the people we serve, personal and social healing through our charitable giving,  environmental responsibility, honesty and integrity in our business practices, and fun is good.”
Badger is obviously a company that takes its environmental efforts seriously.  An entire page, entitled “How Green is Badger” is devoted to their business practices, including recycling, composting, organic buying, no animal testing, regular review of each of their supplier’s practices with regard to sustainability, hiring local artists and businesses, seeking to use only ethically sourced ingredients, the use of compact fluorescent CF light bulbs, reducing paper in the offices, using 100% recycled paper that is Forest Stewardship Council certified, encouraging electronic faxing to computers, and the use of only biodegradable cleaning supplies and post consumer waste paper products. All employees use non-disposable utensils, glasses and plates, all materials that cannot be reused are recycled.  Their product tins are from 89% post consumer recycled “tin plated steel,” which are 100% recyclable (but customers are encouraged to reuse them).  Store display boxes are made from 100% recyclable newspaper and are clay coated, products are shipped in previously-used boxes when possible, and are packed in recyclable and biodegradable material.

Looking ahead, Badger is planning their new facility to include generating some of their own electricity, purchasing remaining electricity from renewable sources and “super insulating and building sensibly” to eliminate the need for climate control.

Badger employees are given a chef-cooked, 100% organic free lunch each day, using local produce through their share with an organic certified Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, and  are paid to volunteer with community and environmental projects. 10% of Badger’s before tax profits or $10,000 (whichever is greater) is donated to non-profit organizations supporting children, education, their local community and peace. 
“The W.S. Badger Co. takes our role in climate change very seriously. We recognize that as an industry leader we are responsible for taking action and setting a positive example for others. We are currently working towards drafting a comprehensive position and plan of action to address this issue.”

The Badger products singled out by the EWG as recommended are: Sunscreen for Face and Body, Unscented, SPF 30Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 30 Lightly Scented, and Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 15 Lightly Scented.  Other products available from Badger include aromatherapy, body butter, soaps, lip balm, and baby and kids’ products.  All of these can be purchased either at Badger’s website (in the USA only) or at the following retailers:

Cracker Barrel
H-E-B Stores
New Season’s Market
Sunflower Markets
Vitamin Cottage
Whole Foods

Want to read the EWG report for yourself? http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/
For more information or to purchase Badger products http://www.badgerbalm.com/