Happy Summer!

An article in The Atlantic made an interesting metaphor yesterday comparing not having a college degree to not wearing sunscreen.

College in today’s economy is like sunscreen on a scorchingly hot afternoon: You have to see the people who didn’t apply it to fully appreciate how important it is. The same way a blistering sun both makes sunscreen feel ineffective and makes it more crucial than ever, recessions can both make a college degree seem ineffective and make it more important than ever.
– Derek Thompson

The article goes on to compare different sunscreens for their efficacy in context with their chemical context. Just kidding. It really goes on to say that college is necessary, and that there are plenty of really sunny days and you need sunscreen, and compares this to college. We all know sometimes the need for sunscreen (or a college degree) can be out shadowed. But there will always be those really hot sunny days when sunscreen is completely necessary. This is apparently similar to the need for a college degree. I’m here to talk to you about those hot sunny days, not about college educations.

If you want to check the database of Environmental Working Group for all their recommended sunscreens – – — they have an amazing comprehensive guide.

Also yesterday, one of my favorite blogs posted on Facebook asking fans what they use and explaining what is used by themselves — 100 Days of Real Food – Sunscreen. All signs point toward a review. They even have a teen sunscreen guide for those who are “too cool” for sunscreen. I mean, I’m 23 and sometimes feel too cool… I get it.

To be honest I thought I was doing a good job with sunscreen. I had stayed away from the cheap stuff – the stuff that clearly was riddled with chemicals. I’m going to assume that most people understand the importance of sunscreen as a protectant for your skin. As much as we all want to be sun-kissed and glowing, the sun is really dangerous to our skin. It actually has the power to alter our DNA, cause different base pairs to merge together into an irreversible bind and cause many problems in our skin — most commonly, skin cancer.

What to avoid: We want to avoid chemicals that are really dangerous for your body. It is sunscreen and therefore you’re adding a protective layer to your body to ward off the dangers of the sun. There are two ways to do this: using minerals or using chemicals. Either way you want to make sure you’re avoiding anything lower than SPF 15. There will be no benefits to a sunscreen that is lower than SPF 15 and in that case you’re putting chemicals on/in  your body for no reason (yes I’m saying avoid tanning oils!!). You also want to avoid any type of continuous spray sunscreen. I know, they’re super convenient and this took me a while to transition from. Once you realize how bad they are for the environment and they are somewhat more inefficient when it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun, they’re easy to let go of. There is one specific chemical we want to avoid — oxybenzone. This is a chemical that is good at absorbing UV rays but at a cost. That cost is it that the chemical is easily absorbed into your skin and can reach your blood stream. The threat of oxybenzone is similar to that of BPA you might have heard of in water bottles (and other plastics). The chemical is able to mimic the hormone estrogen and interact with our lymphatic system, potentially throwing off our normal hormonal responses. It can be really tricky and cause lots of problems, especially with repeated exposure, when chemicals start mimicking hormones. The point is, you don’t need to use sunblocks with oxybenzone to protect your skin from the sun.

Environmental Working Group rates each chemical in sunscreen and then gives each sunscreen an overall rating (it does this for most household and cosmetic products – check out the post about them here: Cosmetic Chemical Database). An example of a sunscreen to avoid is Coppertone continuous spray bottles – or anything similar you might find in the drugstore aisle.

What I use now: 
The sunscreen I’ve been using for the past year once I became more aware of the chemicals in my daily life was: CeraVe – it is a mineral based sunscreen – meaning it protects with actual minerals blocking the sun’s rays instead of chemicals absorbing the UV rays. The bottle looks pretty environmentally friendly with “developed by dermatologists” labled on the front. The problem that EWG has with the product is that it contains retinyl palmitate – aka vitamin A. Vitamin A can be really good when you use it at night to prevent wrinkles but apparently when your skin is exposed to sunlight it should not also be covered in vitamin A. Sometimes, it seems like you can’t win. This product is rated 4/10 which isn’t bad. To be honest, I’ll probably finish this bottle and then move on to a lower rated sunscreen next.

What to move onto:
When looking into new products there were two good resources for sunscreen. One of my favorite blogs, 100 Days of Real Food, posted on Facebook about the sunscreen they were using on vacation. The family was using Goddess Garden Sunny Face Natural Sunscreen – a mineral based sunscreen that actually blended in nicely (there is a big problem avoiding white faces because of sunscreens that don’t rub in fully with mineral based sunscreens). I have yet to try it but it seems to be working for them so I can recommend it here.

Another big winner was Kiss My Face Sunscreen – another mineral based sunscreen, inexpensive, available at Whole Foods. They both have an EWG rating of 1, meaning that they’re virtually nontoxic.

One last one that many people were discussing on 100 Days of Real Food and on the EWG website was Badger, which I have used as a lip balm and loved but have never experienced as a sunscreen. I would, however, easily recommend based on all the reviews.

Even two years ago CNN was trying to warn the American public of the dangers of sunscreen chemical exposure:

In the spirit of summer time here’s a head start and some options for avoiding gross chemicals in your sun protection routine. What do you use? Have you had trouble with any of these?


“To insure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.”
– William Londen

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent is easily overlooked in our every day lives. It is, however, something we should stop and think about for a minute. An easy switch to make it trade your Tide detergent for one with fewer chemicals. This is better for your health and better for the environment, because again all the chemicals in the detergent will end up in our waterways. There are plenty of synthetic fragrances that are unnecessary and classified as irritants in Tide (including Tide Free) and other name brands such as Gentle. Along with these chemicals, there is one in particular that acts as a stabilizer in some detergents that we should really be looking out for. It helps to hold the detergent together and it’s called 1,4 dioxane. It is rare in nature but common in some household products. We want to be avoiding it because it is a carcinogen, irritant, and has contaminated some of our waterways and some groundwater.



I specifically recommend you do not use Mrs. Meyers and Green Works brands.  There are many environmental concerns with these detergents even though they are both marketed as environmentally friendly. Environmental Working Group gives both Mrs. Meyers and Green Works an F in terms of health/safety. This is the same rating as Tide.



What products are recommended instead? 

1. Seventh Generation – Natural Powder Detergent: I suggest the powder version because even though there is very little or no 1,4 dioxane in most of the natural products, using powder eliminates the risk because you only need the stabilizer in liquids.

2. Planet: Very natural – it will make you feel good when you use it, and it’s not too expensive.

3. Method: Method isn’t your best option as there is still some environmental concern with their fragrances. It still is much, much better than most detergents.

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Body Wash

When we use things like soaps it’s always important to remember that not only are there chemicals in it that are harmful to your body but also to the environment. Whatever you use goes right down the drain into our waterways.

For some reason I think Neutrogena does a good job of marketing itself as a brand that people would assume to be free of excess chemicals. This is where I get frustrated because they are certainly not. There are chemical fragrances and colorings in their products that have been linked to organ system toxicity, unnecessary irritation, cancer and more. My advise is to avoid Neutrogena.

Parabens are a chemical inside some body washes that really should be avoided as well synthetic colorings and fragrances. Parabens are small molecules that can mimic estrogen and other hormones. In doing this they can confuse your body and cause inflammatory reactions as well as build up in your tissue and potentially cause problems. I can’t say definitively because the research is limited but their safety has been severely questioned and it is a good thing to avoid. Also, not just for our bodies but also the animals in the waterways where these chemicals eventually end up – estrogen like molecules have been found to confuse fish and cause fertility problems. Totally avoidable I’d say…

One other thing before I get to some of the products is that we really should avoid unnatural scrubs with microbeads. If you’re buying a scrub that has those small plastic beads you should probably start to think twice. These microbeads have become a really big environmental challenge. They don’t break down and can stay in the waterways and contaminate wildlife. This in turn will go through the food chain. There are lots of good alternatives if you’re looking to exfoliate – look into oatmeal scrubs, salt scrubs, sugar scrubs, or use a scrubbing brush or sea foam.

Dove is an example of a store brand that does an okay job. There are fewer dangerous chemicals in Dove but it still has unnecessary fragrances and some colorings. If you can’t find anything else this might be your best bet.

Another good brand that I use is Ology – it is the Walgreens store brand and so it’s less expensive than most products. In full disclosure I’ve never used their body wash but like a lot of their other products from shampoo to paper towels so I feel confident in recommending them as a good alternative body wash.

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My number one recommendation for body wash is Dr. Bronners. Not only is it really wonderful and chemical free but as a company, it has great values and is fair trade, organic, natural, all of the above! I buy it at Whole Foods. You can order it online as well. A good place if you want to make a big order of a lot of natural products is I use the lavender Dr. Bronners and love the smell and the feel. I have heard mixed things about some of the other fragrances – peppermint is great but watch out it can sting!

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Happy washing!

Processed vs. Real Food

This past year, I worked in an inner city school in Washington, DC. People often asked me, if you could change one thing to make an impact what would it be? My time at the school lead me to quickly realize that food has a lot of power. What I saw students eating outside of school lunches was pretty disheartening. The school is surrounded by fast food. Nothing could excite one of my fourth graders more than the prospect of having McDonalds for dinner. I believe that exposure to new and unprocessed foods was one of my greatest triumphs this year at my school. The thing is that it wasn’t that the students only wanted Honey Buns and Cheetos, they just didn’t know anything different. Processed food was so part of the fabric of their community, many had never tried anything different. I made it my goal to expose my students to new and unusual foods and to get them thinking about food as much as I could.

Putting all of the preservatives and chemicals into our bodies just seems unnecessary. In order to better nourish ourselves, we can avoid processed foods with chemicals, flavors, preservatives, and colors that are unnatural and dangerous. One thing you can really do for yourself is to read the ingredients. See what is in your food and make an informed decision.

Here’s a really wonderful video that describes what happens in our bodies when we eat Ramen Noodles as compared to “real food”


Michael Pollan fights the real food fight – here are his rules for eating “Real Food”

  1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says.
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4.  Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says.
  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.'”
  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. “Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?” Pollan asks.
  7. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

I Hate Styrofoam

If it were up to me – a styrofoam cup would cost $50. When you consider the environmental impact of a styrofoam cup, it’s clear that the government should tax it like crazy because once a styrofoam cup is made, it never leaves this earth. 

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There are people who use styrofoam cups as every day drinking cups. I think we can do better. I think if there is one product that you can make a stand, vote with your dollar, and make every effort to boycott  – it’s styrofoam. Do yourself and the earth a favor and don’t buy that styrofoam cooler just because it costs $3 and the reusable plastic one is $10. That cooler will be used once, it will crack in half and then disintegrate into small pieces of styrofoam in a landfill but NEVER decompose. That stresses me out! Okay so if you do the simple thing, you boycott styrofoam. If this makes you as angry as it makes me, spread the word. People know it’s bad, but it’s cheap and here is the capitalism factor again. Tell that take out place you wish they’d switch their styrofoam, tell your friend that they should at the very least switch to those red solo cups that are recyclable (I’m not really an advocate of that… but at least it’s a baby step).

Let’s boycott styrofoam, recycle all of our plastics (and avoid unnecessary plastics), and reuse all of our glass containers. It’s all possible! Reduce, reuse, recycle in action.  


Vote With Your Dollar

Really! Do it!

I’ve always been interested in voting with the dollar. The way the political system is now, we have to look to our capitalistic powers in the society we live in to make change. Change can, has, and does happen this way. Consumers wanted milk without antibiotics so Walmart had to provide that, and the entire cow/milking industry had to take a look at its practices and make changes.

Here’s a powerful visual that shows how much American consumers are spending and what they’re spending it on: If you take a look, take time to think about a paradigm shift that is possible if this money was spent elsewhere – at farmers markets, on natural products, on gardening, at the local coffee shop that has fair trade, organic coffee instead of at Starbucks.

There’s a interesting quote from a book I’m reading that talks about capitalism and how the capitalistic system is probably not going to phase out but will have to face a change because the way we are currently living is not sustainable – monetarily or for the planet.

“Capitalism […] introduced linearity into the economy, with the idea of cumulative growth, and an economy based around things that are simply used and then disposed, generalizing what was always true of parts of the luxury economy. I suggest that this may turn out to be an aberration in the long view, and that more of our economy will again become circular, concerned with maintenance and sustaining, albeit greatly enriched by knowledge and information. The household will again become an important site of production as well as consumption.”

Geoff Mulgan – The Locust and the Bee, Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future

Okay so let’s make this happen. Let’s be the future – let’s shop consignment, let’s make our food at home and grow our own herbs on our window sill and buy our eggs from pastured hens at the farmers market. We can do it!