Toxins in Backcountry Sunscreen & Soap That are Bad for Wildlife & Plants
Text by Lizzy Scully, Photos by Steve Fassbinder
In this two-part series, we’ll examine why putting chemical-ridden soaps and sunscreens on your skin or into the ground is a bad idea. In this first part I focus on soaps and sunscreens and why they are bad for flora and fauna.
Did you know your body actually acquires nutrients through the largest organ in your body—the skin? Right. That’s why when I put sunscreen on my face or a cheap lip balm on my lips, I can taste the chemicals in my mouth moments later.
But these chemicals don’t just taste bad. Of the 13,000 chemicals used in cosmetics and body care products, the European Union bans 1300. Why? Because studies have shown that they can cause allergies and cancer, or are “endocrine disruptors,” which means they interfere with development and reproduction. There’s also evidence that they can cause neurological and immune system effects. The U.S. bans fewer than a dozen of these chemicals.
Since our government isn’t protecting us, what can we do? Be informed. Read labels, and stay away from certain products when you're heading into the mountains, deserts or woods.
When choosing sunscreen for your outdoor adventure, consider avoiding these toxins.
- Stay away from Oxybenzone, which absorbs ultraviolent light, but acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals, causes high rates of skin allergies and is associated with endometriosis in women.
- Also avoid Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate), which can cause skin allergies and adversely affect reproductive systems and cause thyroid and behavior “alterations.”
- Controversy surrounds the substance Retinyl Palmitate, with the National Toxicology Program concluding, “diisopropyl adipate increased incidence of skin tumors in mice, and the addition of either retinoid acid or retinyl palmitate both exacerbated the rate and frequency of tumors” (Learn more--open in Firefox browser).
Much better options are mineral sunscreens, such as Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Avobenzone and Mexoryl SX. Check out Green Goo’s line of clean sunblock, Solar Goo. I use it daily. Because it doesn't last as long as the sunscreens with more chemicals, I reapply it frequently. However, I don't mind since it's just like putting a healthy lotion on my skin.
When choosing soaps to use to clean up while in the backcountry, avoid the following:
- Found in both soaps and sunscreens, “fragrances” often contain phthalates (carcinogenic), parabens (mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen; are present in breast tumors) synthetic musks (hormone disruption) or any number of other nasty chemicals the FDA doesn’t require companies to disclose and that may negatively impact the central nervous system or trigger migraines, asthma or other allergies.
- Triclosan, an antibacterial agent, is an endocrine disruptor that can cause your hormones to fluctuate dangerously and can increase the likelihood that you will develop breast cancer. This stuff can also be found in toothpaste, detergents and toys. According to Wikipedia, “Because of potential health concerns spanning from antimicrobial resistance to endocrine disruption, triclosan has been designated as a contaminant of emerging concern (CEC), meaning it is under investigation for public health risk.” (New Your Times).
- Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, produce those beloved bubbles that emulsify greasy substances. However, they can also irritate people with sensitive skin or eczema.
I was super excited when Green Goo came out with its line of 13 soaps, and now have the full assortment of shampoo and body soaps. Check out their Natural Soap line. My favorites are the Aloe & Calendula Baby Bar and the Honey & Oatmeal Soothing Bar.
On a final note, whether or not you're glamping with your baby yet, in my research, I found so much info on the gnarly chemicals in baby products that I had to mention it. I may even do an entire post on this in the future, as it's pretty scary stuff. Baby shampoos often contain a chemical called 1,4-dioxane. This is a nasty substance. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, exposure to this toxin may cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys! Yow. However, you won’t necessarily know it’s even in the baby products you’re using because, according to the SafeCosmetics.org, the FDA does not require 1,4-dioxane to be listed as an ingredient on the labels of products. Seriously? But, rest assured, steer clear of these ingredients, and you and your baby will have a better chance of having lower levels of toxins in your bodies:
- Sodium laureth sulfate (1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of SLES)
- PEG compounds (aka polyethylene glycols—used as a thickener, solvent, softener, moisture carrier, AND as a laxative).
- Chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth
You can also easily avoid these nasties by going with brands that utilize organic and/or all-natural ingredients. Check out Green Goo's Mama & Baby Line.
Click here to learn about additional toxins to avoid in an in-depth study done by the Environmental Working Group