Product Review – Vivesana Solar to Polar Sunscreen

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Use sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB rays. Photo: © Lucky Dragon –

The most important function of a sunscreen is, of course, to protect your skin against UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. But that’s not the only element to consider when choosing what to slather on your skin this summer. Most sunscreens are made with synthetic substances, as well as water and alcohol. But wouldn’t you rather use a sunscreen made with natural and organic ingredients?

Recently, I received two sample tubes of Vivesana Solar to Polar sunscreen to review. The packaging looked interesting, promising “70% Organic, 100% Natural” ingredients with a high SPF of 40 on the Ultra formula and 42 on the Baby product. But I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I pretty much forgot about it for several days. The sunscreen tubes sat on my desk until this past weekend, when Joe and I were invited for a boat ride with friends.

Putting It to the Test

Vivesana Solar to Polar Baby and Ultra Sunscreen formulas. Photo Courtesy: Vivesana

Saturday bright and sunny, with a temperature of about 80 F. As we set out from the dock, I used the cap to puncture the seal on the metal tube (Note: Metal, not plastic — there are no BHAs in this container), which was sealed as tightly as a tube of medicine. When I started to squeeze, I was disappointed when it appeared, at first glance, to be much like pure zinc oxide. I’m not a fan of a thick layer of white goop on my nose or other body parts, though I understand that some people feel they need that much protection from the sun. I squeezed it onto my palm and started to liberally slather Solar to Polar Ultra on my bare skin. I was surprised when the Vivesana sunscreen did not stick in a goopy blob; it blended into my skin rather quickly, and didn’t leave much of a white coating. Don’t get me wrong; it didn’t slide with the ease of Coppertone or one of the other thin liquid sunscreens. Vivesana is a thick cream, and though I didn’t go into the water that day, I am confident it won’t wash away like a thin liquid will. And that’s good news.

Our friend Rob slathered the Vivesana generously on his ears and nose, and didn’t rub it all the way in. For an hour or so, he had white streaks showing exactly where he had used the cream. If he’d had a mirror available, he might have chosen to rub it in all the way. But it didn’t matter. By the time we got to our lunch spot across the lake, there were no traces of the sunscreen left. It had soaked in nicely.

Did it protect us? Yes. Ordinarily, I’d have had sunburn on my nose and shoulders, but that day, I had no sunburn at all. Despite not wearing a hat, Joe had no redness on the top of his shaved head — an area that is usually highly susceptible to sunburn. Rob, too, reported himself sunburn free. Mark, our host, already has a deep tan, so he used a sunscreen that didn’t have as high an SPF, with no ill effects. So, Polar to Solar was a success for us, as far as protection.

But Rob wasn’t crazy about the feel of the Ultra cream on his skin. He reported that it felt “sticky.” Joe said, “It was kind of thick. But since it was my first time out in the sun, I wanted that extra protection. I liked that it didn’t have much of a scent. And it turned invisible and dried right away.” As for me, I had doubts at first. I don’t really care for thick topical ointments like zinc oxide, but Vivesana won me over.

Value Added

I found another benefit last night, while working on this article. I rubbed some Ultra on one of my heels, which tend to be rough and cracked all summer. This morning, when I woke up, my Vivesana-coated heel was significantly softer than the one that hadn’t been coated. This isn’t the main selling point for the product, of course, but it is a wonderful added value. I also liberally rubbed the Ultra cream on my left arm last night, checking the way it felt, how long I thought it remained slightly sticky, and so on. This morning, even after showering, I was very surprised to note that my Vivesana-coated arm was soft and supple, compared to my un-coated arm. That was a very nice surprise.

Another friend, Shanti, who has lovely, dark, soft skin, tried both products on different hands. After a few minutes, I asked her what she thought. She pointed out that the Solar to Polar Baby sunscreen left her skin feeling even softer. The Solar to Polar Ultra was soft, too, but didn’t seem to have soaked in quite as much as the Baby formula. Once she pointed that out, I realized that I could also perceive a difference between the two.


Both the Vivesana Solar to Polar Ultra and Baby formulas have gentle scents, with the Baby sunscreen being the lighter of the two. As a person whose asthma is triggered by certain fragrances, I was grateful that these two caused no reaction. However, I definitely prefer unscented products, as do many people I know. This afternoon, Blue Planet Green Living’s new university intern, Megan, applied the Ultra to her arm and echoed my wish that the product be unscented. You may feel differently, of course — after all, there’s a thriving perfume industry, so my preference for no scent can’t be universal.

What’s Inside?

So, we know Solar to Polar works as a sunscreen, and that it even has side benefits in making skin softer. But what about the ingredients? Since the packaging says “70% Organic, 100% Natural,” I’d expect to see real plants listed, not a bunch of chemicals that I can hardly pronounce, let alone understand. And that’s exactly what shows up on the label.

The tube lists an impressive array of inactive natural ingredients that look like part of a recipe for something you might want to snack on (once you get past the Latin names):

* Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil
* Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Oil
* Cera Alba (Beeswax)
* Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil
* Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil
* Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil
* Alumina (Natural Mineral)
* Stearic Acid (Natural Fatty Acid)
* Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil
* Glycerin
* Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E)
* Helianthus Anuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
* Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract
* Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract
* Camelia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract
* Matricaria Recutita (Chamomile)
* Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil
* Green Tea Fragrance (Natural)

The Active Ingredients can hardly be called appetizing:

* Titanium Dioxide — 8.5%
* Zinc Oxide — 3.5%

Checking the Database

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about using the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to check out ingredients in sunscreen. I couldn’t find Vivesana Solar to Polar in the EWG database, so I looked up the active ingredients, which I already knew EWG had rated as effective.

Here’s what the database’s has to say about zinc oxide and titanium dioxide:

Zinc has a long history of use in sunscreen and other skin care products; little absorption and no adverse health effects are reported. Some sunscreens with zinc contain nanoparticles which do not penetrate skin but may pose toxicity concerns if inhaled or in the environment….

Titanium dioxide has a long history of use in sunscreen and other products. It appears safe for use on skin, due to low penetration but inhalation is a concern. Some titanium sunscreens containing nano-size particles may have greater toxicity to body tissues and environment.

The last sentence concerned me a bit, until I did some more research on the EWG site. As it happens, nanoparticles haven’t been shown to penetrate healthy skin. Still, I don’t like the idea of nanoparticles in cosmetics, as it’s a bit early in the game to know their long-term results.

But it’s a moot point, according to the package the Vivesana sunscreen arrived in. The box label reads, “No Parabens. No Phthalates. No BPA. No Nanotechnology.” The website confirms all this, though I have to admit it’s a little disconcerting that I can’t find the same assurance on the tube itself. “No Nanotechnology” is conspicuously absent, though “No Parabens. No Phthalates. No BPA.” are all clearly marked.

According to the EWG, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide run another risk, one that I hadn’t even considered: “Persistent and/or bioaccumulative, resisting normal chemical breakdown in the environment; building up in wildlife, the food chain, and in people; and lingering in body tissues for years, or even decades, after exposure.” Now that’s a scary warning. On the flip side, if these two chemicals are the best we have available, and they prevent skin cancer, it’s a trade-off we may have little choice but to make.

A Company with Soul

Business is business, and we all need to earn a living. But some companies come across in their advertising and their websites as being about much more than just making a buck. This is especially true, Joe and I find, with the ecopreneurs that we meet. By and large, they are as passionate about the planet and its inhabitants as they are about their own well-being. Vivesana seems to be no exception. Although we haven’t yet met the owner, Dan Signorelli, we are very impressed by his philosophy and his business. We’ll be chatting with Dan in the near future, and will share with you what we learn about his company, but I want to give you a taste of what you can find on the Vivesana website:

“Vivesana means “live healthy”. We began with doctors, teachers, artists, farmers, chefs, athletes, lawyers, moms, dads and little kids who take that motto to heart. We wanted safe, natural and effective products. We wanted labels we could trust. We wanted companies to have broader goals than the bottom line. [Read More]

Chemistry Without Chemicals

Starting from scratch is liberating. It’s where innovation is born.
We use photo-protective organic botanicals to triple the SPF provided by our natural minerals while providing deep moisturization. We use potent antioxidants to aid skin before, during and after sun exposure. We removed water, fillers and all synthetics. We were left with the first 70% organic high performance and baby sunscreen on the market, which also happen to be…

  • Stronger, with higher SPFs – by far – than all other all-natural sunscreens.
  • Greener, being the first high performance and baby sunscreen with over 70% organic, sustainably-farmed ingredients, and using domestic, BPA-free packaging
  • Clearer, due to relatively low mineral content and a high level of photo-protective organic botanicals
  • Safer, without synthetics, phthalates, parabens, nanotechnology, plastic tubes, or anything at all from China

A Discount for Blue Planet Green Living Readers

Vivesana is actively promoting their sunscreens among readers of certain eco-friendly blogs. They picked Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) to be one of the first sites to review their products. Even better, they’re offering a 25% discount for BPGL readers through June 30, 2009. Go to to learn more about their sunscreen products. Select the items you want, then at checkout, enter PROMO CODE: BPGL&vive25 to get your discount. Now, go enjoy the summer sun!

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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There’s No Such Thing as a “Healthy Tan”

There’s No Such Thing As a “Healthy Tan”

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Cancer, Family, Front Page, Health, Sunscreen

Sunbathing without adequate sunscreen invites premature aging and possibly even cancer. © Mikhail Tolstoy -

Think skin cancer couldn’t happen to you? Think again.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that more than a million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone. Unless you want to be among that number, protecting your skin with sunscreen is more than just a good idea. It’s a necessity.

As a person who tans easily, I didn’t think I was likely to get skin cancer. I spent much of my youth basking in the sun. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, we didn’t worry about such things. But times have changed, and there’s danger outdoors.

I’m now in my 50s, and I’m paying for my sun-worshiping behavior. I have a small scar on my nose, where a dermatologist scraped off a layer of cancerous tissue. I was lucky. My skin cancer turned out to be a slow-growing, basal cell carcinoma, not melanoma — which could have killed me.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about you — and the people you love. Skin cancer can strike anyone — even teenagers — and it’s a lot safer to prevent it than to try to cure it. So, do yourself and your loved ones a favor: Limit your exposure to the sun, and find a safe and effective sunscreen you can rely on to protect you against harmful rays.

Two Kinds of Rays

There are two types of ultraviolet rays that do us harm. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays reach deep into the layers of the skin. These rays suppress the immune system, so that your body can’t fight against skin cancer. They also are responsible for much of the aging effect that you see in people who have long-term exposure to the sun. And they can even penetrate glass, so being inside isn’t necessarily going to protect you from the sun’s aging effects.

Too much sun can cause serious skin damage. © Marilyn Barbone-

Ever wondered why you don’t get sunburned through a car or house window even in direct, bright sunlight? The rays responsible for burning, Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, don’t penetrate glass. It’s the UVB rays that give you a sunburn after a day at the pool or beach (or too much time on a tanning bed).

Both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) are potentially harmful. Here’s a sobering thought from the AAD: “The United States Department of Health & Human Services has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps [emphasis added], as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).” It may look pleasing to have a tan, but is it worth the risk? The small divot in my nose has convinced me otherwise.

Tanning may look good from a purely cosmetic vantage point, but it’s hardly good for us. “There is no safe way to tan,” says the AAD:

A tan is the skin’s response to injury caused by UV exposure. Tanning occurs when ultraviolet rays penetrate the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer, causing the production of melanin as a response to the injury. Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light, both natural and artificial, results in a change in the skin’s texture, causing wrinkling and age spots. Thus, tanning to improve appearance is ultimately self-defeating.

Every time you tan, you damage your skin and this damage accumulates over time. This accumulated damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process, also increases your risk for all types of skin cancer.

That has an ominous ring in a culture that celebrates a tanned skin.

Forgo the Fake Bake

It’s more clear all the time that baking in the sun is bad for us. And the “fake bake” of tanning salons is no better, despite their popularity. According to the AAD, “Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Also excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma.” That’s a lot of scary stuff to be wary of.


You may be surprised to learn that the AAD recommends sunscreen even when you are going to be inside the house. (Remember that UVA can penetrate window glass.) It’s not necessary to put sunscreen under clothing — just on exposed areas of skin. And when you’re outside, don’t think it’s safe to skip sunscreen on a cloudy day. Up to about 80% of those UV rays can still get through the haze. Even winter days aren’t safe; as skiers are well aware, sunlight reflecting off snow can cause a sunburn. And sand on the beach reflects a quarter of the sun’s rays.

AAD recommends that you apply sunscreen up to half an hour before going outside. Make sure you apply it liberally to all exposed areas, especially your face, ears, hands, and arms. Having had plenty of sunburns in the part of my hair, I’d recommend that spot for your consideration, as well. And if you’re bald or balding, you’ll need to be extra careful to cover your pate. In fact, think about the parts of your body that tend to burn, then cover them well with sunscreen — and plenty of it. Most of us just don’t use enough in the first place, and don’t reapply frequently enough to maintain good coverage.

The Right Amount of Protection

What SPF should you use? It helps to understand what the term SPF means. An SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, rating tells how a sunscreen protects you against UVB (burning) rays. Imagine that John Smith’s unprotected skin burns in 5 minutes on a bright, sunny day. So, if he wears SPF 10 sunscreen under the same conditions, he should be able to stay in the sun 10 times longer, or 50 minutes. If he covers the same skin with SPF 20 under the same conditions, he shouldn’t burn for 100 minutes. The SPF you use will depend on your skin type and how easily you burn. If you’re a fair redhead, you’ll want higher protection. If you’re dark skinned and tolerate the sun well, you don’t need as much.

But don’t think that an SPF of 30 is twice as strong as an SPF of 15, according to the AAD:

UVB protection does not actually increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. For example, an SPF of 30 screens 97 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF of 15 screens 93 percent of UVB rays and an SPF of 2 screens 50 percent of UVB rays. However, inadequate application of sunscreen may result in a lower SPF than the product contains.

Slather with Care

Too much sun hurts for a while — and damages forever. Photo: © Stacy Barnett -

You probably have your favorite sunscreen that you’ve grown accustomed to over the years. But many old favorites are not actually healthy  choices. A 2008 report says, “In a new investigation of 946 name-brand sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 4 out of 5 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. Leading brands were the worst offenders…”

One way to know whether a particular sunscreen is safe and effective is to check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. Type in the name of your sunscreen, and you’ll find out how it ranks in overall hazards, what the ingredients are, and how they might be harmful to you.

If you don’t find a review for a particular product, don’t jump to conclusions one way or the other. It probably just hasn’t been evaluated by the EWG team yet. What you can do is to look up the active ingredients in the Skin Deep database and find out what EWG has to say about their safety and effectiveness.

The Best Active Ingredients

According to the EWG, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are considered to be the most effective of the active ingredients commonly used in sunscreens — and they’re the safest. EWG says this of the chemicals in sunscreens:

The UV-protective properties of sunscreens are determined by their active ingredients. Only 17 chemicals have been approved by FDA as active ingredients in sunscreen. The efficacy of any sunscreen depends on the amount of each active ingredient, and the stability of the chemical mixture on its own and under UV radiation. In addition, some sunscreen makers skirt the rules by including chemicals approved in other countries but not in the U.S., and not labeling them “active ingredients.”

We reviewed the scientific literature and government assessments for common sunscreen chemicals’ efficacy and toxicity. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are known as “mineral sunscreens” or “physical blockers” since they reflect and scatter UV rays. The other actives are called “chemical blockers” because they absorb and disperse UV rays.

Studies show that unlike other common sunscreen chemicals, little to no zinc and titanium absorb through the skin, and they provide stable UVA protection relative to the other ingredients. For these reasons many zinc and titanium-based sunscreens appear at the top of our recommended product lists….

Sunshine: Handle with Care

There’s a lot more to know about the sun’s effects on your body, and it makes important reading. As the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) points out, exposure to the sun is “the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.” So, if you can prevent a disfiguring — and potentially deadly — disease, doesn’t it just make sense to do it?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)