Monday, June 30, 2014

10 Tips for Sunscreen Safety

By Elisa Sparkman, Education and Outreach Specialist

Sunscreen is a must-have item for many of us. In my work, I teach kids and adults about chemical ingredients in personal care products (shampoo, lotion, soap, cosmetics, etc) and I often get asked about sunscreen. What kinds of chemicals are in sunscreen? How do I know if a sunscreen is safe or effective? What is SPF?  In response, here are some tips for sunscreen safety.

1) Read the ingredients. Look for the active ingredients: zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens do not penetrate the skin as easily as others and they offer stable and lasting UV protection.

The active ingredient to avoid is a chemical called, oxybenzone. This chemical can trigger allergic reactions on sensitive skin. It soaks through the skin and can reach the bloodstream. The chemical has been linked to disruption of the body’s hormone system and is found in samples of urine and breast milk.

2) Avoid spray sunscreens. They may be easier to apply on little wiggle worms, but spray sunscreens do not provide adequate protection from the sun. Not only do they make it easier to miss spots, but the sprayed mist is easily inhaled by everyone around. Aerosol sprays are harmful to the lungs, especially to those with asthma and other lung diseases, small children, and the elderly. When applying spray sunscreens outside, much of the light spray gets blown in the wind and misses the skin. Lotion sunscreens offer much better protection.

3) Understand SPFs. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. Unfortunately, the name is misleading. SPF measures how well the sunscreen blocks UVB rays – the kind of sun ray that causes burns. It does not measure UVA rays, which can cause skin damage and are linked to other health conditions. Look for a product with SPF between 20 and 45 and reapply often.

4) Re-apply often. Sunscreen wears off throughout the day and washes off with sweat and water. For these reasons, moisturizers with SPF are not recommended in place of sunscreen. Moisturizers are intended to be used once a day – sunscreen must be re-applied every two hours or so while in the sun and after swimming or heavy sweating.

5) Don’t forget your scalp. Use a cotton swab to apply sunscreen on the scalp that shows where hair is parted. Dab along the part with the cotton swab and then rub it in with your finger.

6) Wear a hat. Growing up, my mom always tried to get me to wear hats in the sun. I should've listened! I always try to wear one now, especially when I am gardening. Hats add protection to the scalp, ears, face, and sometimes the neck. If you have thinning hair or bald spots, a hat is your best friend on a sunny day.

7) Choose the shade. A great way to limit sun exposure is to settle down in the shade. For example, when picnicking, set up your spot in the shade. Then your group can go back and forth between sun and shade.

8) Skip sunscreens combined with bug repellent. Bug repellents are not usually needed as often, at the same time or in the same places as sunscreen. Most bug repellents should not be applied to the face – but sunscreen should. Bug repellent is usually needed most at dusk.

9) Tanning oils are not sunscreen. If they have sunscreen ingredients, it is not enough to offer adequate protection.

10) Check out the 2014 Guide to Sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group at You can also search sunscreens on the website using their “Find your sunscreen” database search.

 Remember, skin damage can occur even if there is no evidence of sun burn. Choose your sunscreen wisely, stay out of the direct sun when possible, drink enough water, and most of all - have fun this summer!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Common Sense Gardening: 4 Tips to Outsmart Weeds!

By Jane Mountjoy-Venning, Education & Outreach Specialist

We spend a lot of time and energy making our yards and gardens beautiful and then it happens – weeds grow. It’s so frustrating! Luckily, I have a lot of practice handling weeds and can share with you four tips to outsmart pesky weeds without putting your family, pets, wildlife, and water at risk.

1) In shrub beds and around trees put down mulch such as wood chips, sawdust, shredded bark, or shredded yard prunings. Take care to keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunks.  Mulch about two inches deep around rhododendrons, azaleas, blueberries, and other shallow-rooted shrubs.  For other shrubs, lay it on thick – around four to five inches deep.  

2) In the garden crowd out weeds by planting the flowers or veggies closely. This leaves less room for weeds to grow.  Use cover crops or quick growing annual flowers to fill in gaps and cover bare ground.  Make weeding a priority or at least cut back any weed before it sets seed.  A mulch of shredded leaves or compost works well in the garden.

3) In the lawn, “mulch mow” about 2 inches high for most lawns. This means to leave the grass clippings on top of the 2 inches of grass. This helps shade the soil so new weeds have trouble sprouting and feeds the grass every time you mow so it thrives.  Pull dandelions with a long-handled weed puller, or better yet, convince your kids that those yellow flowers are your favorites and encourage them to make you a bouquet every day.  Overseed your lawn every fall with a northwest blend of grass seed to help crowd out potential weeds.

4) In paths, driveways, or patios use heat to kill unwanted plants.  Pour boiling water from a teakettle on weeds or invest in a propane torch flame weeder, affectionately called a flame-thrower at our house.  The kids were disappointed that it did not really throw flames!  The goal is to heat the plants until their cells burst, not burn them up.  Of course, be careful – this technique is great during the wet parts of the year, but is not appropriate in dry summer weather.  Always keep a hose or bucket of water handy just in case.

If you are looking for more tips, or low-hazard products check out

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

P.S. I Love You – FREE Puget Sound Festival & Sea Cinema, June 14

Celebrate Puget Sound this Saturday at the new Puget Sound festival called, P.S. I Love You!

This event is coordinated by a group of Environmental Educators in Thurston County with support of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Puget Sound Starts Here. Thurston County’s Environmental Health, Solid Waste, and Water Resources Programs are active members of this group.

What:    P.S. I Love You - Puget Sound Festival & Sea Cinema  
When:   Saturday June 14, 2014 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sea Cinema 5:30-10 p.m
Where:  Festival is at Percival Landing Park, 405 Columbia St. NW Olympia, WA
               Sea Cinema is at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW Olympia, WA 
Why:     To celebrate Puget Sound through music, film, food, and fun! 
Who:     All ages!
Cost:     No cost to attend! Food will be for sale.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Festival includes: 

  • Free Kayak Instruction.
  • Local Education Booths with hands-on activities for all ages.
  • Outdoor games.

Sea Cinema includes:

  • Family fun & Cartoons.

  • Local short films.

Thank you to the City of Olympia for allowing use of the heart graphic designed by  local artist, Nikki McClure.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New, free Grow Smart, Grow Safe® app!

Now there is an easy way for consumers throughout the Pacific Northwest to choose lawn and garden products that are safer for people, pets and the environment: The Grow Smart, Grow Safe® app.

More than 1000 yard and garden products are rated low, medium or high hazard to help shoppers make smart choices. Take this tool to the store or out to the garage to find out how your favorite lawn and garden products rate. The app also offers tips on gardening without weed and bug killers. Download the app for free at the iTunes App Store.

King County Local Hazardous Waste Management Program, Portland Metro and Thurston County Public Health and Social Services partnered to develop the app to provide reliable, science-based information to Northwest gardeners. The information is also available at

Products listed in Grow Smart, Grow Safe® are commonly available at retail outlets, and are registered for home use by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. It’s also been approved for use by Washington and Oregon Master Gardeners.

The science behind the app was developed by Thurston County and is used in our county’s pest control prescriptions (fact sheets). Prescriptions are available for controlling common garden pests like slugs, Himalayan blackberry, and Scotch broom, as well as for all County listed noxious weeds. Each prescription provides non-chemical control strategies; chemical solutions are provided as a last resort. Prescriptions and detailed ratings of all chemicals presented in the Grow Smart, Grow Safe® app are available our Integrated Pest Management web pages. 
For more information call 360-867-2586.