Best-for-you sunscreens

Many people who know me also know that I recently started writing some articles for a Chinese-English lifestyle magazine, and that I began with a couple beauty articles on sunscreens and aftersun skin care. Some of my friends have asked when the sunscreen article will be out, because they want to know what sunscreens to buy.

Let me start with a disclaimer about my forthcoming article in said magazine: It does not reflect my own opinions about what sunscreens are best; rather, it was about so-called bestselling sunscreens, only it was really about bestselling high-end sunscreens, because of the demographic of the publication’s readership (i.e., wealthy Chinese-speaking tourists in NYC who buy luxury products). That’s why I’m writing this little guide to choosing safe sunscreens here.

My contribution to pushing safer products in that article was leaving out the ones on the lower end of the price spectrum that contained the most toxic sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, as well as any with retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A), which the Environmental Working Group states increases sun sensitivity and reacts with sunlight to speed the growth of tumors and lesions (not something I would want to put on my skin specifically to protect my skin from the sun).

Those two ingredients are the main ones to avoid when choosing a sunscreen. There are also a few other considerations (and I am taking these mainly from the EWG sunscreen website, which you can browse for more information):

  • Make sure it provides broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection.
  • The best sunscreens are physical (not chemical), meaning the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
  • Apply liberally and reapply frequently.
  • Avoid fine sprays or powders that can easily be inhaled during application.
  • Stay indoors or in shade during peak hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear a hat and sun-protective clothing, duh!

SPF ratings only indicate protection against UVB rays, which are the ones that cause sunburn. Scientists have found that, while UVA rays do not cause sunburn, they can cause skin cancer, so it’s important to protect against both kinds. Surprising to me was the fact that UVA rays can penetrate normal glass windows, which means it’s probably a good idea to wear sunscreen even if you’re not out in the sun a whole lot. (That being said, I don’t often bother with sunscreen for everyday besides my foundation, because I believe in getting vitamin D, but I might change my habits.) Of course, a low SPF of 15 would be sufficient for daily use, but the longer or more intense the exposure, the higher the SPF should be.

Mineral sunscreens have improved with time, so they are not all as chalky white as you may remember from your days lifeguarding in the ’80s or something. But some chemical sunscreens are OK to use, too, like avobenzone.

The EWG sunscreen website has a list of the best products, but there are seriously a lot to sort through, which is the kind of thing I like to do, but I understand most people don’t have the time or motivation to do so. (You can also look up the sunscreens that you already have at the EWG website.) Here are my picks, meaning the ones I want to try, because I have only used one of these so far. Some of these are among the bestselling on amazon, which one can take to mean they are well-liked but could also just mean they have better marketing.

Badger products are awesome, but I’d opt for Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen ($15.99).

Kids’ sunscreens that anyone can use: BurnOut SPF 35 Kids Physical Sunscreen ($17.99), Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen ($19.95), Thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($15.99), and California Baby Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum SPF 30+ Sunscreen ($20.95).

Logically, products designed for sensitive skin often exclude known irritants (such as many fragrances), as does Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin, Unscented, SPF 30+ ($15.95).

A sports-minded sunscreen preferred by marathon runners, cyclists, etc.: Sunology Natural Sunscreen Creme for Face SPF 50 ($14.99) and Natural Sunscreen Lotion for Body SPF 50 ($14.99).

Others to try
Elemental Herbs Sport Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($15.99)
Loving Naturals Clear Body Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($21.99)
The Honest Company Sunscreen SPF 30 ($13.95)
Block Island Organics Nontoxic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40 ($32)
John Masters Organics Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 ($32)
MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme/Lotion Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50 (Creme $30/Lotion $34)

MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme

MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme

Daily facial moisturizers with SPF
DeVita Natural Skin Care Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+ ($25.95)
Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer SPF 30 ($29)

Tinted moisturizers/makeup with SPF
Physicians Formula Super BB Cream SPF 30+ ($14.95)
Eau thermale avene Tinted Compact SPF 50 ($34)
BareMinerals Original Foundation SPF 15 ($27) (What I use because it feels like nothing yet covers everything!)
MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Creme SPF 30 Broad Spectrum ($32)
Sukicolor Tinted Active Moisturizer ($50.95)

Of course there are a lot of other good products out there, and I admit to using some that do not have the EWG’s lowest toxicity scores (most listed here have scores of 1 and maybe 2), but I’d say to just stay away from the worst ingredients and you’ll at least be reducing damage from harmful chemicals in some skin products.

I hope to update this blog once I’ve tried some SPF products!



Getting back on the horse

I haven’t blogged here in ages because I was looking for a job, and as I found out previously, the hard way, it’s not a good idea to blog about trying to get a job, because even if employers don’t find the blog, the paranoia that they might find it would be nerve-wracking enough.

In the meantime, I really amped up my birding blog, and since major spring migration has finally begun in New York, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time birding and posting photos of birds.

As for jobs, I finally got some. I really wanted to freelance as a copy editor/proofreader, and then after realizing that would be pretty hard to get into without more experience and super connections, I tried to get full-time jobs in publishing houses, which, as if I didn’t learn a few years ago, is also difficult to do without the right connections. Even after I made a bunch of connections through alumni networking and the workshop internship in the fall, I still couldn’t get a job as an editorial, production, or publicity assistant.

Meanwhile, the savings dwindled and the husband got more and more nervous about finances. That led to my decision to apply for a lot of other types of jobs.

In March I started working on a freelance basis as a proofreader for a company that provides training in web development. It’s pretty sweet, since I get to learn a bit of computer stuff while testing their workbooks; so far I’ve done a few lessons in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, WordPress, HTML email, and other stuff like that. I think my understanding of coding, though extremely basic, is even improving. I’d like to learn more Photoshop and Lightroom, since I am trying to get better at digital photography, but too bad I don’t really get to tailor my work projects or get software suites for free.

That month I also started working part-time at Teachers College again, in a different program and department than before. It’s not bad, even though I have no benefits as a part-timer, because I’m good at helping faculty and students and all that. And then there’s the possibility that this could turn into something that has benefits in the future, like tuition credits, and I could do some conflict resolution or TESOL courses if I wanted, maybe even some writing workshops or journalism classes. Or ornithology….

And then there’s this writing gig I got, because I applied for a job I really had no business trying to get — so there are advantages to aiming high, you know — as bilingual editor of a Chinese-English lifestyle magazine aimed at affluent tourists from China. They liked my writing, I guess, so when they asked my cash-strapped self whether I’d want to write an article about sunscreens and translate it into Chinese, I said YES.

Since that first article, I’ve done one on aftersun skin care and another on a new Chinese restaurant in the city, with more in the works — one on a new trilingual private school and yet another skincare one. Of course, these are for the summer and fall issues, which haven’t come out yet, so I have yet to see the payment for them, but I’m sure I’ll be raking it in soon….

You may laugh and think I’ve sold out, writing about skincare and sunscreens and makeup, but the truth is that I AM interested in that kind of thing. Of course, they had me revise my original articles quite a bit, because safe products — environmentally as well as health-wise — are more my thing, and this magazine is more interested in high-end, luxury products that I cannot afford (and even if I could afford them, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to spend that much money on a single product).

So, yes, in a way, I did sell out, but I also chose to feature only those products that I thought were safer … that is, if I could find out what ingredients were in them. That’s the problem with luxury products — the more expensive they are, the less likely you are to find the ingredient lists online — proprietary formulas and all that, I suppose. But hey, if you have that much money to blow on a skincare product, I guess you’re not really going to care what’s in it, right? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but whatever — I’ll post my real article on the best(-for-you) sunscreens and aftersun products here soon.

Back to jobs: the best news is that I may start freelancing soon as a proofreader for a book publisher! A connection from the workshop came through, and I got to meet the managing editor for the publisher, who gave me the copy tests and feedback and put me on the roster!

Another fun prospect is that a friend of mine from my knitting meetup wants me to help write copy for an online yarn store/magazine that she is planning to start. Of course, I wouldn’t be making money doing that at first, but I’m happy to be doing it as a labor of love.

I actually didn’t knit at all for about three months, because in mid-January I started having pain in my right wrist. I was, after all, spending hours knitting from November and December on, sometimes for hours on end without stopping. I never did go to the doctor, because I figured I’d just be told to stop knitting for a while and wear a wrist brace, which I did do, and now it is better. What’s weird is, I think that it really feels better now that I’ve started crocheting and knitting again! I still don’t do it often or for long periods of time — maybe once a week for an hour or two — so I’ll have to keep monitoring it.

Now the challenge is how to fit MY OWN WRITING into this schedule….