Mini Mouth is now walking (and running, and climbing), which means she's spending a significant amount of time playing outside these days. And that means I've been thinking about protection from the sun a lot recently.
Thus far I've been dressing her in long sleeves and pants, and, after waiting a little while so she gets some Vitamin D from the sun, covering her face and hands with Rite Aid's zinc oxide (paraben-free!, unlike the Walgreen's version), which I learned about last year when I was searching the EWG's Skin Deep database for safe diaper creams.
The ointment is thick and white and kind of a pain to rub in, but zinc oxide's sun-protecting characteristics are well known (it's a mineral that creates a physical barrier to UVA and UVB rays), and I'm confident that it's nontoxic to humans, unlike the ingredients in chemical-based sunscreens. Plus, at less than $3 for a 2-ounce tube, it's a quite affordable option.
But before we left town for a fun- and sun-filled Fourth of July trip, Mr. Wallet Mouth was doing some online baby-supply shopping and suggested that we take some actual sunscreen with us. So I did a quick search on EWG’s database and had him order a tube of Badger Balm’s SPF 30. It’s one of the two sunscreens in there with the best-possible rating of 0 (as in low/no hazard), and at $16 for a 2.9-ounce tube ($5.52/ounce), it beat out the other one, Soléo Organics' SPF 30+ Sunscreen, which runs $22.99 for a 2.6-ounce tube ($8.84/ounce)—yowch!
By way of comparison, you can get 16 ounces of Coppertone's 30 SPF lotions for $19 ($1.19/ounce) on Amazon. But then, of course, you’d also be getting oxybenzone along with your sunscreen. In the EWG database, all Coppertone sunscreens have ratings that are in either the “Caution” or “Avoid” categories.
On our trip, we used a combination of Badger Balm and zinc oxide (not in any scientific way—it was simply a matter of which one was close enough to grab before we had to go chase our exploration-minded toddler), and I’m pleased to say that Mini Mouth never got a sunburn.
Performance-wise, I didn’t really prefer one over the other. Badger smells nice and is thinner than the zinc (which is odorless, which I kinda like), but strangely, they both required pretty much the same amount of effort to rub in. Or maybe it’s not so strange. Reading the fine print on the labels, I learned that both products contain 20 percent zinc oxide. The difference is that Badger’s other ingredients include beeswax, cocoa butter, and various delicious-sounding oils (olive, lavender, lime… even blood orange!), while the zinc oxide ointment has three other ingredients: light mineral oil, white petrolatum, and white wax.
Petrolatum? Ick, right? And since it comes from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource, it’s probably best avoided. Not only that, but I just learned that petrolatum is banned or restricted in the EU for use in cosmetics, apparently because of contamination concerns. Which brings up the question, why does Rite Aid's zinc oxide ointment score so well on the EWG's database? And why does Vaseline's 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly, which is pure petrolatum, get a 0 (the best rating possible)? Clearly, more research is warranted.
Of course, performance and health concerns aren't the only reasons to buy a product. The manufacturer's ethics must also be considered. On that front, while I was glad to learn on Green America's Responsible Shopper that Rite Aid's founders, the Grass family, have relinquished control of the drugstore, some locations of which used to refuse women's contraception prescriptions (and beyond that, there's the accounting fraud that former CEO Martin Grass is now serving time for), Badger is burrowing a tunnel into my heart. It's a small, family-owned company that supports organic and fair-trade practices with its ingredient sourcing.
In short, Badger is the winner for now. It may cost more than the zinc, but it's quite affordable compared with its peers, and it's a company I feel good about supporting.