I give up. When I was a kid, the healthiest thing I could do was a spend a day in the sunshine. I’d be sacked out waching cartoons on a Saturday morning, or playing paper dolls some afternoon with a friend, and all of a sudden my mom would burst in, and deliver the edict: “Go outside.” Then, somewhere along the line, sunshine became an axis of evil and Mom starting packing gallons of SPF 60 sunscreen into my trunk every summer when I went to camp. More recently, the harmful effects of sunlight have been deemed so nasty, doctors and SPF retailers warn us that it’s not enough to bathe in sunscreen before a day at the beach – we’d better work sun guard into our everyday routine. The daily walk from my apartment to the subway station three blocks away, under cloudy skies, apparently cumulates frightening ultra-violet damage. I was a lifeguard. In Florida. I’m totally screwed.
Last summer, I finally lost patience with the sunscreen-industrial complex. It turns out that the vast majority of sunscreens are formulated with parabens, and parabens are the new cancer bogeyman. I don’t understand exactly what parabens do, or why they show up not only in sunscreen, but in virtually all deodorants, skincare essentials, lipsticks and foundations. I’m pretty sure parabens are associated with preservatives, and thus I’ve started to think of parabens as a little bit like corn syrup, an artifact of our processed, industrialized, formulated and additivized times, one that lurks, unbidden and unsuspected, in every seemingly innocuous product beckoning to us from store shelves and counters. There are other analogues, too – the chemicals in cleaning products, the isotopes that cook off the Teflon on non-stick pans. We are living in the age “When Technology Attacks!”
There seems to me to be two ways to approach life in this era. One is to go live in a bubble somewhere, like the Julianne Moore character in the movie Safe. If you’ve ever seen that movie – and if not, you should – you know that the bubble option isn’t a good one. Option two is to throw caution to the wind and assume we’re living the end times anyway, so why not go out in a blaze of glory? Eat trans fats. Get a sunburn. Stop recycling and start smoking. Why the hell not?
Or there’s this really boring third option, which is to chart a path through the middle, and keep on doing what we’ve been doing all along: Adapt to the new science, weigh the risks and benefits, try to be an intelligent consumer. A number of skincare companies are working to meet the demand for paraben-free products, from prestige skincare brands such as skyn ICELAND, which is entirely free of parabens, to drugstore lines like Cetaphil, which has introduced a few products sans parabens. Juice Beauty isn’t quite as organic and all-natural a line as the marketing wants you to believe, but it’s pretty good, and its SPF 30 light moisturizer is the highest-rated SPF I’ve found that’s free of parabens and does convincing double-duty as a humectant for the skin. Until the next round of science comes along to tell me why I’m wrong, I think Juice’s SPF is just the thing for a cloudy day and a walk to the train.