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    With Memorial Day weekend approaching, families across Louisville are making plans for outdoor picnics, barbecues and other fun in the sun activities. But before you slather sunscreen on your kids, take heed: a recent study has shown that nearly half of all sunscreens on the market accelerate the speed at which skin cancer develops. 


    Perhaps the biggest carcinogenic culprit in sunscreen has been found to be Vitamin A. While it sounds innocuous, Vitamin A, and its retinol derivatives have been found to significantly speed up cancer cell growth in lab animals. 


    In fact, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), "lab animals exposed to the same amounts of Vitamin A and retinyls in many sunscreens developed tumors and cancerous lesions up to 21% faster than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream."   


    Researchers at the EWG have tested and analyzed over 1,400 sunscreens. The products were ranked and compiled into the 2010 EWG Sunscreen Guide. With a score system of 1-6 with 1 being the highest rating and 6 being the worst, EWG considers anything 1-3 safe for the public to use.   


    I looked around town for where to buy products that were on the "safe list." Many of the stores here in Louisville carry the same products, so you can shop around and price compare.


    Jason's Organic Sunbrellas SPF 36 Family Sunblock

    EWG ranking: 2

    Where to buy it: Mama's Hip, Amazing Green Planet, Rainbow Blossom, Amazing Grace Whole Foods 


    Aubrey's Natural Sun SPF 25 

    EWG ranking: 3

    Where to buy it: Amazing Grace Whole Foods


    Kiss My Face (assorted lines and SPFs)

    EWG ranking: 3

    Where to buy it: Amazing Green Planet, Rainbow Blossom


    Nature's Gate (assorted line)

    EWG ranking: 3

    Where to buy it: Mama's Hip/ Amazing Green Planet


    Alba Botanica

    EWG ranking: 3

    Where to buy it: Amazing Green Planet, Mama's Hip, Amazing Grace Whole Foods


    Most organic store owners who I contacted about this piece were unsettled about the recent study but not surprised. They have been extolling the virtues of chemical-free living long before the fashionable days of Whole Foods.  "This is no surprise to us," said one store worker. "Of course putting chemicals on your kids will cause bad things to happen."


    Glenn Koenig of Amazing Grace Whole Food has been advocating for natural sunscreens for years. "It's atrocious that the majority of sunscreens cause cancer long before the sun will." When I asked him if the EWG Sunscreen Guide would change the way Amazing Grace ordered their products in the future he claimed it "absolutely could." Perhaps this study has pushed to put even better quality sunscreens on our shelves.  


    So what should you look for when you buy sunscreen for your family? For starters, take a look at the EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide and scan the list for the sunscreens that scored a 3 or better. Also, try to keep these important factors in mind:

    • Stay away from anything containing Vitamin A, Retinol, Retinyl, Retinyl Palmitate or Oxybenzone in their ingrendients. Those are the bad cancer-causing stuff.
    • It's worth mentioning that good old fashioned Coppertone Waterbabies (you know the one with the girl's butt hanging out) scored a respectable 3 on EWG's scale.  You can find this at any local drugstore in a pinch.
    • Ignore the numbers. Studies have consistently shown that higher SPFs don't necessarily protect any better against the sun. Additionally, higher SPFs may have an adverse reaction of giving people a false sense of security. Hence, they apply less sunscreen, or don't reapply it. 

    And finally, do you want to know what they best sunscreen out there is? No sun at all. Staying out of the sun or staying covered is really the only absolute way to avoid toxins. I'm a redhead, so my parents used to park my freckled behind under an umbrella on the beach from 11-1 every day on vacation.


    Of course summer fetes sometimes require outdoor frivolity and fun. But be safe, do your homework and be an educated consumer.   


    Photo courtesy of Jack on the beach using safe sunscreen from Mama's Hip.  

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