Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Safer polish for bright summer toes

I have been noticing my toes a lot lately. It’s hard not to since summer is really the season of toes. Mine stand out because they aren’t painted and it seems that summer toes without nail polish are a bit like a yard without flowers. As much as I’d love to have them painted bright pink, just knowing what nail polish can do to a body has kept me polish-free for several years now.

There are a couple of reasons why I stopped using nail polish. First, I can’t stand the smell of it (inhalation is one of the ways toxins enter out bodies). Even women who won’t go a day without polish can’t deny that the stuff smells toxic. As is often the case, something that smells toxic… is toxic, which brings me to the other reason why I stopped using polish: When you paint your nails a mixture of toluene, formaldehyde and a chemical plasticizer called dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is absorbed into your tissue. These chemicals have the worst profile in the beauty industry

• Toluene can cause headaches, eye & nose irritation, nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage.
• Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.
• DBP is linked to reproductive damage. It is known to cause birth defects in animals and is banned in the European Union. Tests have found high levels of the substance in teenage girls, which researchers have attributed to nail polish.

It’s a wonder that the stuff is even legal!
While many brands are now formaldehyde and toluene-free, the chemicals used to replace these substances are hardly any better. Plus, regular polish still contains DBP.

A few years ago a friend put me onto the Canadian brand, Suncoat, www.suncoatproducts.com. They have formulated water-based polish that is free of the toxic chemicals I mentioned above and have also expanded their range of colours to now carry the shade of pink I love. So this week I had no qualms about caving into my six-year-old’s zillionth request for polish (and my own craving for pink toes).

Another problem with regular polish is that the chemicals used to remove it are as bad as the polish itself. Nail polish remover is a solvent, just like paint remover. Don’t let the packaging lull you into believing that it’s any different than the paint remover your dad stored in the basement when you were little.

Suncoat makes a natural, corn-based remover that works on its own products as well as regular nail polish. Or you can avoid remover altogether and do as Suncoat suggests (for their polish): soak your nails in hot water for a few minutes and gently scrape the polish off with your nails.

If you love to paint your nails do yourself a favour and give water-based polish a try.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is sunscreen safe?

I would guess that few of us have used much sunscreen so far this summer. All of these rainy weekends are probably good for our skin. But when I do use sunscreen I constantly wonder about how safe it is. I know that ultimately it’s better to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable slathering on creams containing known toxins that seep through my skin and into my body.

I’m feeling much better about sunscreens these days since I came across a new report that rates a lot of familiar brands. It was release in early July by Environmental Working Group (a non-profit environmental watchdog based in the US). The report identifies sunscreen brands that work the best (or at least live up to their SPF claims). But it also rates brands according to their toxicity, something that’s important to consider since we normally wear a lot of sunscreen during the summer months and put even more of it on our kids. As well the report provides some info on basic sun safety – which is always good to be reminded of.

According to Environmental Working Group 60% of brand-name sunscreens either don’t protect skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals — or both. Here are a few guidelines to help you find sunscreen that is both safe and effective.

• If you’re shopping for sunscreen or want to check what you already have, take a look at the active ingredients list on the back of the bottle. It is usually quite short so easy to read. Avoid brands with Oxybenzone or benzophenone-3. These active ingredients are known to cause allergies and hormone problems.

• Avoid spray and powder sunscreens since inhaling sunscreens can pose extra risks.
• Buy fragrance-free brands. Chemicals used in fragrances have been linked to allergies & reproductive problems.
• Avoid sunscreen with added bug repellent since you can get too much of the pesticide in your body.
• Don’t use last year’s sunscreen. The active ingredients can lose their effectiveness over time.
• Buy brands that offer both UVA and UVB protection.

I went looking for what the report called the “Best easy-to-find brands” and found that they aren’t very easy to find after all. I searched Shoppers Drug Mart, Super Store pharmacy and the natural foods section and was only able to find two of the recommended brands: Neutrogena “Pure and Free” and Neutrogena “Sensitive Skin”. But in my search I found another excellent brand that wasn’t reviewed. Heiko, SPF 40. It’s fragrance free and the only active ingredient is zinc oxide. It’s pricey but I’m learning that good sunscreen never comes cheap.

Visit www.ewg.org for more details, including a link to a database that lets you search different brands for a safety rating.