Monthly Archives: June 2011

What Should You Know About the FDA’s New Sunscreen Rules?

The FDA recently announced some new rules about how sunscreen can be marketed. While it’s important to make sure you’re using a safe sunscreen, I like seeing that the FDA is taking steps to handle the many excessive claims made by marketers about sunscreen. These changes will officially go into effect the summer of 2012, but companies can change over sooner.

The FDA says that one of the big reasons they’re making changes is because the old rules only covered UVB protection, but modern testing can also determine how much protection the sunscreen provides against UVA.

Sunscreens must be tested in order to make a broad spectrum protection claim, which would mean that they have UVA and UVB protection. Sunscreens without that label will protect against sunburn only.

Sunscreens may not be labeled waterproof or sweatproof, only water resistant. This is because such claims make the sunscreens sound as though they protect better than they do. The claims must indicate whether the sunscreen is water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes, so it’s clearer when it must be reapplied for protection.

One more rule to limit the claimed SPF to a maximum of 50+ is under consideration. This is because it is not clear that any sunscreen products provide protection better that the protection provided by 50 SPF sunscreens.

Of course, new rules or old, you’re best off making sure that you buy a safe sunscreen. It’s better to be comfortable with the things you’re putting on your skin, even when you’re trying to protect it from other kinds of damage.

9 Eco Friendly Activities to Keep Your Kids Busy This Summer

My son is out of school for the year, and soon my oldest daughter will be too. It’s time to start thinking about how I’m going to keep them busy, ideally without spending a lot of money or wasting a lot of resources. Here are some of the ideas I’ve come up with.

1. Grow a garden.

This is already started, of course. We have more tomatoes than I think we’ll manage to eat, but my husband always wants to grow a big variety of tomatoes. If they go well, I’ll either have to figure out how to preserve them or start giving the excess away to family, friends and neighbors. Not a bad deal.

We also have zucchini, basil, pumpkins growing from the seeds of last year’s Halloween pumpkin, strawberries and beans. Not a big garden, but we’re pretty limited in this house we’re renting to what we can do to the yard. We also have a few flowers planted just for attracting bees and for pretty. My favorite so far are the native larkspur that grew on their own.

The kids are learning to weed and are responsible to help keep the garden watered. They love knowing that they can snack freely on what grows and is edible.

2. Stargazing

Kids love looking at the stars, and my son picked a small telescope out for his birthday earlier this year. Stargazing is a great way to make those summer nights special for your family.

3. Camping

Take a little time and go camping with your family. Most areas have decent local campgrounds, or you could camp in your own backyard. Older children may even enjoy camping out in the backyard on their own. This was a favorite when I was growing up.

4. Playing with friends.

Don’t get so into doing activities with your kids that they don’t get a ton of time to just play with friends, whether it’s at your house, the friend’s house or on their own at the park once they’re old enough and responsible enough. Let them have fun doing their own things.

5. Visit the library.

Our library has a summer reading program that allows kids in grades 1-5 to earn prizes for the number of pages they read. Prizes shouldn’t be needed to get kids reading if you’ve encouraged it all along, but make sure they keep the habit of reading books that interest them all summer long. The library is a great resource that will allow them to read more books than you could probably afford to buy.

Don’t forget to check out any special activities your local library may have over the summer. Many have activities for all age ranges, which is great when your kids have a range of interests and abilities.

6. Do recycled crafts.

I covered a few good books to help you get ideas for recycled crafts just the other day. Summer is a great time for trying some of these ideas out.

7. Visit museums.

While museums bring a picture of boredom to some minds, they don’t have to. Most kids love a good, hands-on science museum, and many other museums have come to recognize that having a hands-on component makes it more interesting for children.

Check with your local museums to see if they have any free or reduced price days to keep the expense down. These days are usually more crowded, but may put this activity into a more budget friendly category.

8. Go to the zoo.

Most children love the zoo. Annual passes may be quite affordable, or you can suggest that family give passes as a gift. Children will be impressed by the range of animals, and it’s a great opportunity to discuss why we need to protect the habitat of various animals.

9. Go hiking.

Yet another thing you can do fairly locally in most places. Find out where the hiking trails are in your area and you have a great family activity that will help to keep you fit while seeing nature in action.

Are Dryer Sheets Harmful to Your Family? What Alternatives Do You Have?

I know a lot of people who just can’t do laundry without throwing in a dryer sheet. I’ve never had that habit, and when I tried the ones we were given back when we were first married, really couldn’t see what the benefit was. But a lot of people do love them, and use them without considering the potential harm the simple dryer sheet may do to their family.

A big part of this is air quality issues. There’s an article on the National Institutes of Health website that gets into the risks of using scented products indoors, and dryer sheets are one of the topics covered. They give off a variety of VOCs, and there have been cases of children having a seizure after being exposed to dryer sheets. It’s not going to happen to every child, of course, but that’s still pretty serious.

Simply put, there are better ways to help your laundry smell fresh, ways that don’t involve the waste and harsh chemicals of dryer sheets, even the unscented ones.

Line Dry Your Laundry

Hanging your laundry out to dry is one of the best ways to handle the issue. You get that fresh air scent naturally, rather than the imitation some dryer sheets try to give. Not only does line drying mean you don’t need dryer sheets, it saves all the energy using your dryer would have taken.

You can still take down slightly damp laundry and give a few minutes in the dryer for those things that tend to come out crunchy when line dried, such as towels and jeans. The crunchiness may not last long once you start using them, so you may choose to skip even that much use of the dryer if you can stand it initially.

Vinegar in the Wash

You can add a half cup of white vinegar to your wash during the last rinse cycle as a natural softener. This can even help your laundry come out softer when you line dry it. Vinegar in the last rinse cycle helps to remove the last of the detergent from your laundry.

Essential Oils

If you truly love the scent given to your laundry by dryer sheets, why not make your own? Pick a favorite essential oil, place a couple drops of it onto a damp washcloth and include in the dryer with the rest of the load. It will scent your laundry nicely.

Aluminum Foil Ball

Another tip for those who use their dryer for their laundry is to add in a ball of aluminum foil. Roll some into a tight, 2-3 inch diameter ball and throw it in the dryer with every load. It will take care of any problems you have with static in your laundry, and should last a long time. A tennis ball may help as well, but they may contain toxic chemicals.

If you prefer the dryer balls you’ve seen advertised elsewhere, go for ones that are PVC free and aren’t packaged in a bunch of plastic. Just be aware that some people feel that some types create holes in their clothes over time.

Eco Friendly Dryer Sheets

If you just can’t give up the dryer sheet habit, at least go for some of the more environmentally friendly options. Mrs. Meyers is a good choice, but Method may be easier to find locally.

You can also buy reusable dryer sheets such as Static Eliminator. They should be good for hundreds of uses, which beats buying boxes of dryer sheets. On the other hand, I don’t know that they’re any better than any of the solutions you can do right at home.

As you can see, there are plenty of simple ways to quit using dryer sheets without having to deal with static cling or laundry that doesn’t smell right to you. Make this simple change and you’ve cut one source of VOCs from your home.

How Do You Keep Reusable Items From Cluttering Your Home?

The environmental mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a great one for cutting down on the waste you create in your life, but it can have its downside if you aren’t careful. You can hit the reuse part of the rule too hard, and have more of a mess in your home than you can deal with. You have to make sure that the things you’re saving for reuse really will be reused. Otherwise it makes more sense to just get rid of them.

This can be difficult. If you’re really going to reuse something, I’m not a fan of getting rid of it just because you can get a new one later. That’s the kind of waste you’re trying to avoid. However, if a new one will naturally come into your life later, such as with jars and other food containers you may enjoy reusing, you should limit how many you save to the quantity you’re likely to need soon.

If it’s something you aren’t likely to need for a long time, make sure you’re storing it well. Clothes that don’t fit should first be looked at in terms of whether or not they’ll still be in style when they do fit again. If they’re a clothing basic, don’t keep them with your other clothes – find a better place to store them where they aren’t taking up space you need right now. Just be realistic about whether or not you’re going to wear them again.

You can always send old clothes to the thrift store so that someone else will get to reuse them if you can’t do so yourself. No one ever said you have to be the one reusing. Just make it possible for someone else to reuse your old things rather than throwing them into the trash.

If your kids are like mine and love using found items for crafts, keep appropriate limits on what they can keep. Don’t let them keep every piece of junk mail, every bit of interesting plastic, every leaf, and so forth. Allow them to keep enough to encourage their creativity, but not so much that the mess challenges your sanity. A good storage container for holding their craft supplies can help you to give them a natural limit. When the container is full, they can’t have more craft supplies until they make room for them.

Keep in mind that you aren’t helping the environment by holding onto things that should be passed on to others who really will reuse them. If you aren’t reusing recyclable products, that’s more new materials that may be used to make products that might have come from the recyclables cluttering your home. Keep that balance, hold onto the things that you really will reuse, and allow the rest to continue in the cycle in the most environmentally friendly way you can.