Summer is here in the northern hemisphere! With the sun shining down and the urge to take off all but my bottom layers, comes the inevitable question – Should I put on sunscreen today or not?
I’ve been asked by many parents in the past “where The Green Mama stands on sunscreen.” I wish I had a quick answer, but I don’t. What we can provide is some background on the issues, as well as some encouragement to choose what is best for yourself and your family based on your skin and what we know of sun exposure.
What We Know About Summer Sun Safety & The Dangers of Sunscreen
1. There are no federal standards for sunscreens.
In the U.S. this is true for all cosmetics, even those marketed to children and in Canada it is true for anything considered to have a medical purpose including suncreen, antiperspirants, and even toothpaste. The Environmental Working Group, Environmental Defense, and the David Suzuki Foundation continue to do research and advocate on our behalf to come up with safer sunscreen standards. In the meantime, parents are left to navigate this confusing world without the help of government regulations or standards.
2. Sunscreen alone isn’t enough, indeed it may be more of a problem than a cure.
The FDA says it is “not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer,” according to a Huffington Post article. It gets worse. A 2007 meta-analysis of 17 (out of 18 known) studies on the subject concluded that: “there was no statistically significant effect of use of sunscreens on risk of melanoma.” The study further found that in latitudes greater than 40 degrees (New York and north—i.e. Vancouver and all the rest of Canada) the use of sunscreen might actually “contribute to the risk of melanoma.” (Malignant melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers accounting for about 4% of skin cancers but 75% of skin cancer related deaths.)
3. True sun protection is possible.
- Use a zinc oxide based mineral sunscreen and apply it regularly. (Remember, to avoid chemical sunscreens, sunscreens that spray and sunscreens with higher SPFs.)
- Choose a healthier sunscreen, but don’t rely on sunscreen alone. Invest in great sun hats (and wear them), and use sun protective swim wear or clothing. (Clothing can offer slight UV protection – black or dark colored cottons can be the equivalent of 10 SPF, lighter colors and whites about the equivalent of SPF 4. Read the ingredient list on any laundry detergent proclaiming to add UV protection and beware dangerous chemical additives.)
- Don’t askew sunlight altogether, however, as research suggests that people who get some sun exposure all year long do better than those who don’t. Sunlight helps our body to produce Vitamin D, needed for healthy bones, immune systems and pregnancy. Just work to avoid the big doses that lead to sunburns, which can increase a person’s chance of developing skin cancer.
- Eat foods that will provide your body natural sun protection.