a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

There’s so much to love about each season, but Summer ranks high on my loving it list.  I like the heat best in the early mornings and evenings, when the sun is low to protect my skin and health.

Sun – can’t live with it, can’t live without it. We need enough exposure for Vitamin D, but no so much that we put ourselves at risk for cancer or major skin damage. Most days, I do my intense outdoor time in the early morning or evening, but I’m still outside enough during other hours, so I wear sunscreen much of the time, about 6 months of the year. There’s a lot of questions about this lately. I’ve tried to keep up on the facts and theories and have come to some conclusions.

We need sun protection regularly, not just when we’re at the beach. But most sunscreens have ingredients that that pose health risks. Some ingredients act like estrogen and may disrupt normal hormone signaling in the body. Others build up as toxins in the body that can cause cancer, and some harm the environment. In fact, a recent study of 886 brands of sunscreen has shown 4 out of 5 to be unsafe and/or ineffective.

In the past few years, chemical-free sunscreens have appeared appeared with a safe and effective active ingredient: good old zinc oxide – remember the white stuff lifeguards used to proctect their noses? It works. But, yeah, it’s white. Titanium dioxide is another mineral that works safely, but also leaves a white sheen on the skin.

The market never says never, so next up: sunscreens hit the marketplace that contain these two ingredients, shrunk to nano-particles so it becomes clear. Consumers love it. But, there is a question as yet unresolved. Does a molecule act differently when altered in this way? Preliminary testing is hopeful but inconclusive.

In the meantime, I decided that I’m not giving up the outdoors, so I’m willing to be white. I like Aubrey sunscreen. It goes on really, really white, but after about 20 minutes, it’s not quite as noticeable. Don’t get me wrong, I still look like a bit like a vampiress – though I’ve come to think of it more like “milky-white” beauty. The “white” is the mineral sitting on top of your skin (instead of being absorbed), reflecting the suns rays. It’s great protection and some people even say it keeps them a bit cooler because of it reflects the heat, too.

If I’m cycling, hiking or otherwise intensely and extensively exposed to the sun, I’ll take the whiteness over vanity. If you’re in it for the enjoyment of nature and exercise, you’re gonna forget all about it in a few minutes anyway, right? I found that I do.

Here’s more info. and a best and worst list from

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