Rethinking my sunscreen, safety of personal care products – going deeper into #GreenHC

#GreenHC stands for “Green Health Care,” and it’s definitely one of those things they didn’t teach me in medical school.

Part of that is the chemicals around us and that we intentionally put on us, in personal care products, and that wasn’t really taught either. The attitude was more, “worry about smoking because that will kill you.”

This is not to say that I didn’t work with expert physicians in this area or that doctors are apathetic. I recall a few rotations where my preceptor had a great knowledge of all the potential harms of chemical exposure, and I also recalled how pleasing it was to the patient that their physician could understand their total health picture as it were.

On Wednesday of this week I got to participate in the second #GreenHealthChat on the topic of … personal care products. And here’s what I learned about sunscreen in just that short time.

And sure enough, I looked up the products I normally use in the Environmental Working Group (@ewg) [based in Washington, DC, hooray!] Guide to Sunscreens and they use oxybenzone, which, in my early sunscreen days, was actually touted as a great UVA/UVB combo blocker. I admit, I’ve actually looked for it ever since. What’s wrong with oxybenzone? Well…

Commonly used in sunscreens, the chemical oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can also trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health harms. One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.

Ouch. I am one of those “tan easily” people and I don’t think being tan is the best sign of health (it’s 2014 after all), so I live in sunscreen for 4-5 months out of the year. Time to rethink. This is just one example, for me. Imagine this:

The skin deep database has over 70,000 products in it, as well as a companion app. Time to go shopping, safely.

The happiness: Being and sharing GreenHC

“GreenHC” was not coined by me, by the way, it came from a patient, one @ePatientDave , who advised on the hashtag when I was trying to come up with something in 2012. Since then, it has become part of Kaiser Permanente’s Environmental Stewardship handle, which you should all follow: @KPGreenHC . I don’t person the handle, I am just an enthusiastic fan. Main managers are Susannah Patton (@susannahpatton) and Cat Brozena (@catbrozena), with support from our experts who are now (yes!) on Twitter: Kathy Gerwig (@KathyGerwig) and Joe Bialowitz (@JoeBialowitz).

This @KPGreenHC is happy for me because when I first started working with Kathy’s team, in my social-ness, I kept asking, “how can we tell people about this, why is it that only ‘we’ know?” The wonderful thing about the handle, you’ll notice when you follow, is that it is updated regularly, per our social media policy. What this means is that to update regularly, you have to share regularly, which means you need to work with the people doing the work to figure out what to share. Which means that information, knowledge, and awesome green building photos are now being culled and liberated for all of us to learn from. What’s not to be happy about.

This was the second #GreenHealthChat , which is also a byproduct of the #GreenHC “situation,” which in turn brought more experts to twitter for the first-ish time.

I consider this a great use of social media, to fill in the gaps of our knowledge of total health around the edges of ‘worry about smoking because that will kill you.’ We really can visualize a future environment that’s healthy, healing, and whose promotion is embraced by the health care system, because that’s what we’re here for, anyway. 🙂

The Storify is now posted if you’d like to see all the tweets: Chemicals in Personal Care Products Tweet Chat (with image, tweets) · kpnewscenter · Storify


Ted Eytan, MD