Common ingredient in sunscreen the “asbestos of the future?”

I recently read about a new Swiss study claiming that the ingredient titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles — widely used as a white pigment in sunscreen, toothpaste and cosmetics — provokes similar inflammatory effects on the lungs as asbestos. Yes, that asbestos. The stuff that can cause serious illnesses, “including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos), and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis).”

According to Jürg Tschopp, the lead researcher and professor of biochemistry at Lausanne University, “With titanium dioxide you accumulate, like asbestos, particles in the lung. You get chronic inflammation and this can last ten or 15 years and the next step is cancer.” Tschopp is concerned that nanoparticles could be the “asbestos of the future.” However, he also admitted in his findings that he would not immediately stop using sunscreen and toothpaste, but believes more caution and regulation are needed.

This begs the question: do you take the risk of avoiding sunscreen and exposing your skin to cancer-causing ultraviolet rays or do you use the sunscreen and risk the exposure to chemicals that may give you cancer anyway?

Huma Khamis of the consumer association of western Switzerland calls the sunscreen dilemma “a big problem,” but states “the immediate risks of not using cream [sunscreen] and sunbathing are greater than those of exposure to products containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles.”

Yet this isn’t the first time an ingredient in sunscreen has been called into question. I wrote about the chemical oxybenzone nearly three years ago. Oxybenzone — one of the commonly used ingredients in most sunscreens — has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. It is also a “penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”

The primary sunscreen I’ve been using on my kids for the past several years — California Baby — does not contain oxybenzone and even tested quite well on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. However when I rechecked the ingredients I noticed titanium dioxide was listed; although it did not specify whether the TiO2 was the suspect nanoparticles or not. At first I freaked out thinking I’ve been putting something potentially cancer-causing on my kids, but after asking a few Twitter friends (@YourOrganicLife and @ErinEly) their opinion, I decided to contact the company directly. I received an automated response indicating that “California Baby utilizes coated micronized titanium dioxide (TiO2 for short) as the active ingredient for our sunscreens.” I believe that means it is not nanoparticles, but I’ve asked for clarification from California Baby just to be sure (and will update here when I hear back from them).

I do my best to make informed choices regarding my kids’ health and safety. However, I’m not a chemist or a physicist and I can’t test every chemical out there. I have to rely upon others (the government?) to test for X, Y, and Z’s chemical safety, but it seems all too often that chemicals are assumed to be safe until proven otherwise. I don’t like to think of my kids (or anyone’s children for that matter) being used as guinea pigs and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that products and chemicals are tested before they are available for mass consumption. Do you?

Where does this leave me? I’ll stick to trying to limit our exposure to the sun during peak hours for starters. I already tend to do that, but this is a good reminder to continue. I may avoid sunscreen containing titanium dioxide all together and only purchase sunscreen in which zinc oxide is the active ingredient. (Badger makes a good one that I’ve used on my kids in the past.) Of course, we’ll continue to wear our hats and sunglasses — the kids’ eye doctor just reminded me about how important that is — as much as possible outdoors. Another thing I plan to do is buy some sun-protective swimwear for when summer rolls around again. The less exposed skin, the better.

Lastly, I will hope that testing will continue on the various chemicals in sunscreen, cosmetics and everything else we rely on both for ourselves and our children on a regular basis. I will sign petitions. I will blog. I will raise awareness.

Safe Sun Tips

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the greatest amount of ultraviolet light exists.
  • Wear Hats. Each inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. A hat brim of four inches or greater is recommended.
  • Wear UV-blocking clothing.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses with UV-blocking filters are very important.

Related links:

Photo credit: Flickr Noodle93

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! :) (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Lead Poisoning

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind?

Family? Friends? Christmas trees? Decorations? Presents? Candles? Food? Mistletoe?
How about lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other toxins?

In Danika Carter’s post All I want for Christmas is Lead-free Decorations, she points out that most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC (vinyl) and the many problems associated with PVC.

• It off gasses
• contains phthalates
• breaks down in heat and sun
• contains lead which becomes lead dust and spreads throughout your home
• Doesn’t biodegrade and is difficult to recycle

This is one of the reasons we are opting for a real tree this year (which we are finally going to get tomorrow – can’t wait!). :)

Danika also points out that reports have shown that “the cords on most holiday lights contain lead at higher levels that what is allowable for toys.” A Michigan-based group called The Ecology Center tested 68 light sets and found four out of five of those sets contained detectable levels of lead.

While most people don’t stick electrical cords in their mouths, they do touch them with their hands (and then touch food or their faces?) and all of the twisting and turning the cords while wrapping them around the tree or — in my house, the banister — can lead to lead dust in the air.

Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

To avoid possible lead contamination, it is advised that people either wear gloves when handling holiday lights or wash their hands afterward. I’m not sure what you can do about the possible lead dust in the air other than avoid strands of lights that contain lead in the first place. Or just don’t decorate at all. Yeah, bah humbug and all of that. :P

Actually, Alicia from The Soft Landing had some tips for safer holiday lights. “As we discussed in a recent article, locating PVC-free and lead-free light strings proved impossible, so your best bet is to focused on tracking down RoHS compliant products. We found Environmental Lights to be an invaluable source of well-researched options and SAFbaby also confirmed that Ikea offers safer light strands as well.”

Also, word to the wise… Definitely don’t let your 6-month-old sit on the floor surrounded by lights (which she grabs with her hot little hands) so you can take some cute pictures. Uh, yeah, I totally did that when Ava was a baby. Crappy parent award right here! Holla! Ugh.

There is more information available from HealthyStuff.org about the Lead and Holiday Lights studies.

Are you concerned about lead exposure from your tree and/or lights? What changes might you try to make to avoid it?

I’m rethinking my decision to wrap our banister in lights and garland this year. Sure it looks pretty, but when my kids touch it nearly every time they come down the stairs, that ain’t cool, people. That ain’t cool. Maybe I’ll have them wear gloves in the house? Or not. :P Next year I think we will only have lights on the tree in the house. Any other lighted decorations will be outside only. At least that will minimize our exposure a bit. I’m also trying to have my kids wash their hands whenever they handle any lights and cords this year (which is so much better than throwing them into a pile of lights, don’t you think?). ;) Live and learn and then learn some more.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays and learning, don’t forget that you can give your Facebook friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too! No worries about lead with One Million Acts of Green. Just good clean, green fun. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Think Before You Buy

I recently mentioned my frustration at the toy advertisements arriving in the mail just in time for the holidays. You’d think with all the buzz about living eco-friendly and green, the big toy makers might catch on and stop making single function, zero imagination toys. But no. The Target catalog is lined with page after page of toys that do just one thing, are made of plastic and generally need batteries. There’s a mysterious absence of toys that encourage creativity.


Dance Star Mickey – He walks, talks and dances (and entertains your kid for about 5 minutes before he’s tossed into a corner)

Why sell toys that kids can use for several different purposes when you can sell one that does X, one that does Y and one that does Z? The more focused the toy, the more toys they can sell and the more money they can make! Nevermind that simple toys are better for children. They can’t be mass produced and where’s the money in that? And who cares about all of the trash the toys that are played with for a week or two until they break or kids tire of them produce?!

I’m not saying “down with all plastic toys.” All I ask is before you shop for toys or presents in general this holiday season, think before you buy. That’s all. Vote with your dollars.

Another way to make a difference this holiday season is by participating in Give The Gift of Green through One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. There are several cute e-cards with various Acts of Green on them that you send to your friends on Facebook. I just sent one to Lisa from Retro Housewife Goes Green pledging to turn off my computer when I’m not using it. The card adds, “That’s only 14 minutes per day, but it’s a start.” Ain’t that the truth?! It takes just a minute and helps spread the green message. It’s fun, easy and for a good cause. :)

If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green.

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

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Americans STILL Aren’t Eating Their Veggies

Last month, The New York Times reported that despite 20 years of “public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)

These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000.

The government recommends four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (which equals nine servings) for people who eat 2,000 calories a day.

People know that vegetables are good for them and can improve health, but they are also seen as a lot of work and have a much quicker “expiration date” than processed foods. Even if you buy veggies with the best of intentions, if you don’t consume them fast enough, they are doomed to rot in your refrigerator. I think this is something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by White Wave Foods indicates that almost half of us leave our fruit in the refrigerator until it rots. I can only assume that even more vegetables suffer a similar fate.

At Mother Nature Network, Katherine Butler asks, “what is the price of not eating vegetables?”

Mostly, it means that Americans are lacking in vital nutrients. Antioxidants and fiber fill vegetables, as well as key nutrients such as potassium, beta-carotene, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Fiber can reduce cholesterol; potassium, found in foods like spinach, helps blood pressure. Vitamin C helps gums and teeth, while vitamin E fights against premature aging.

Apparently, orange veggies are something we should be focusing on too. According to The Ohio State University Extension blog:

Orange vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes contain nutrients and phytonutrients found in no other group of vegetables. That’s why experts recommend we eat at least 2 cups a week of orange vegetables. How many do you eat? If you’re not eating enough, now is the perfect time of year to start!  All types of winter squash — acorn, butternut, hubbard, etc. are in season and cheap.  Pumpkins and canned pumpkins are stocking the shelves. Carrots and sweet potatoes are found commonly throughout the year.

I’m not sure there’s a solution for getting adult Americans to consume more vegetables. They know they are healthy, but they still don’t eat them. Even with convenient options like prepackaged servings of broccoli and bagged salads available, they aren’t biting (pun intended). Until Americans make eating vegetables a priority, it’s not going to happen. After all, you can’t force feed them. Maybe we could hide vegetables in french fries? Hmm. Probably not. Although that is a technique some people use to get children to eat their veggies (remember Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious?), though not everyone agrees with it.

Organic Authority points out the important of fruits and vegetables for children. “A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers—all of which currently contribute to healthcare costs in the United States,” says William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

Lisa Johnson mentions that some high schools have added baby carrot vending machines next to the typical junk food machines and wonders if the packaging (designed to look similar to a potato chip bag) will entice kids to buy them. Lisa says, “I have to say I think it’s a good idea. It might seem a little condescending to some but we are visual creatures and we react positively to colorful items that grab our attention while glossing over the ho-hum stuff. Shouldn’t we just capitalize on human nature to achieve a greater good?”

The Huffington Post reports “The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced what it called a major new initiative, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids’ use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.” Some schools are employing psychology tricks in hopes of getting teens to make healthier lunch choices in the cafeteria. Cornell researches have dubbed these little tricks a success: “Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.”

Perhaps the veggie avoidance can be traced back to infancy. I wrote in 2007 about a study that showed breast-fed babies are more likely to like fruits and vegetables (if their mother ate them while breastfeeding) than their formula-fed counterparts.

Senior author of the study Julie A. Mennella, PhD said, “The best predictor of how much fruits and vegetables children eat is whether they like the tastes of these foods. If we can get babies to learn to like these tastes, we can get them off to an early start of healthy eating. … It’s a beautiful system. Flavors from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. So, a baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”

However, regardless of whether your baby is breast-fed or formula fed, the article points out the importance of offering your baby “plenty of opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables as s/he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods.”

What’s the answer to get Americans to eat their veggies? I vote for focusing on the children. Perhaps if Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution continues, not only will children start eating healthier, but their new habits may rub off on their parents too.

Photo via Masahiro Ihara on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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I believe the children are our future…

Whitney Houston said it best. :)
“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

I try to do what I can to set a good example for my kids — whether it means making healthy meals, picking up trash on our hikes, or taking care of my mental health. I believe that despite what they may learn from their friends or in school (although we are home schooling this year — more on that soon, I promise), my husband and I are still their primary teachers.

Although my kids are still young, I think it’s important for them to learn that we need to take care of the earth and that like anything or anyone else, the earth deserves our respect.

As I was digging deeper into the One Million Acts of Green web site the other day, I discovered they have a page dedicated to Education Resources for Teaching about Climate Change.

“When it comes to educating children about the environment, the entire world is a classroom.”

That’s a philosophy I’ve become rather fond of in regard to home schooling too, but like I said, I’ll write more about that another time soon. ;)

They go on to say: “The One Million Acts of Green Program works closely with the National Wildlife Federation, The Climate Project, and its website partner GreenNexxus to provide high-quality, age-appropriate resources for K-12, and beyond.”

There are links to all kind of resources that can be used to teach kids about the environment and climate change. While some of it may be geared moreso to a classroom setting, there’s a lot of information that could be used by parents as well.

This link to the National Wildlife Federation has a bunch of answers to kids’ questions about global warming, including a Parent’s Guide to Talking To Kids About Global Warming.

Another link is to Cool The Earth which is a program similar to One Million Acts of Green, but for kids.

Cool The Earth is a free, ready-to-run program that educates K-8 students and their families about climate change and inspires them to take simple actions to reduce their carbon emissions. The program is successful because it’s fun and empowering for the kids, and their enthusiasm is contagious!

Cool The Earth can be run at any elementary or middle school in the country. If you are interested in learning more, check out how to bring the program to your child’s school.

In addition to the education resources, there’s a lot of other good info available at One Million Acts of Green. If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green. Check out the Facebook app too!

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

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