Is your child’s sunscreen actually increasing her risk of cancer?
Listen to The Green Mama discuss sunscreen on That Cancer Show.
Something is better than nothing when it comes to sunscreen, right? Not true according to current research. In fact, in latitudes north of New York City, that includes Chicago and all of Canada, using sunscreen may actually increase your chances of getting the most deadly of skin cancers: melanoma. Research now suggests that many of the most popular sunscreen brands might actually contribute to chances of getting the deadliest of skin cancers: melanoma.
Is your sunscreen one of the bad ones? Yes! (Or, probably, I can’t tell from here.) Judging by what I see everyday on the playground and the pool, advertising has trumped science again. According to research, the vast majority of us parents are still using the worst sunscreens. If you are shopping at big box retailers, such as Walmart or Costco, you can pretty much be guaranteed your sunscreen is toxic sludge. By toxic sludge I mean that leading independent researchers suggest this sunscreen may increase your chances of cancer rather than diminish it. In a recent wander through both Walmart and Costco’s websites I didn’t find a single sunscreen that was recommended as safe and effective by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). As for other popular big box retailers, I found that most of Walgreen’s leading sellers are also ineffective or toxic, but they do sell a couple sunscreens safe for children, e.g.: BabyGanics and Blue Lizard. Similarly, the vast majority of sunscreens available at Target were also full of muck, however they did carry at least two safer brands, e.g.: Seventh Generation and California Baby. London Drugs also mostly had the chemically-laden brands, but they also carry Badger which is one of my favourite brands. For other safe brands visit EWG’s website.
The Green Mama’s advice on protecting your child from the sun
- Look up your sunscreen on the EWG’s cosmetic database. If it isn’t safe, chuck it. Choose a better sunscreen that protects against UVA rays and doesn’t contain any of the above ingredients (and isn’t a spray). In general, mineral sunscreens that rely on titanium dioxide are the safest available in North America, but Europe may have better sunscreens available.)
- Invest in a sun hat, consider sun protective bathing suits, and try out protective clothing.
- Eat your sunscreen. Foods high in carotenoids provide natural sun protection. These include many fruits and vegetables, especially leafy dark greens and those that are yellow-orange like apricots, carrots, and yams. Other good sources include eggs, spirulina, and algae. The red pigment found in salmon, trout, and shrimp is another potent carotenoid.
- Get your Vitamin D. Vitamin D generated by sunlight may help protect the skin from cellular damage, including damage caused by sunlight itself. You would have to spend about 15 minutes between the hours of 10 and 2, with 85% of your body exposed, for optimal Vitamin D absorption (for a fair skinned person, much more for a dark skinned person). Foods high in Vitamin D include “intestines, organ meats, skin and fat from certain land animals, as well as shellfish, oily fish and insects.” To get Vitamin D from the animal they must have be exposed to sunlight or in the case of fish have been fed on phytoplankton. Most modern diets don’t include a lot of intentional insect eating (fortunately) or a lot of animal flesh actually exposed to sunlight (unfortunately). Most people will not get enough Vitamin D from sun or diet. (You can ask your doctor to test your Vitamin D levels.) A good cod liver oil is one of the most absorbable forms of Vitamin D supplementation.
- Beware of sunscreens labeled over 50 SPF. As the FDA will tell you, most of these are disingenuous at best and are possibly loaded with more of the most hazardous ingredients. It’s better to use an SPF between 15 and 50 and reapply frequently and generously.
- Do not apply sunscreen to infants under 6 months of age. The skin of babies is super absorbent and even subtle exposures to their developing organs can have lasting effects AND fair-skinned babies do not have melanin proteins for sun protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you avoid using sunscreen on children younger than 6 months.
- Read more about the science of sunlight and sunscreen on The Green Mama.
- Avoid these sunscreen ingredients:
- Fragrance or Parfums are considered trade secrets in both the U.S. and Canada, so dozens of chemicals—including suspected neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors—can be hidden behind these seemingly innocuous terms.
- High SPF factors. High SPF ratings were found by the FDA to be “inherently misleading.” These high-SPF products often contain more of the above offending ingredients and can encourage people to stay in the sun longer without providing any additional protection.
- Nanoparticles. Micronized or nanoscale particles of minerals are often found in titanium or zinc based sunscreens. These tiny particles have not fully been studies and there are no regulations governing their use or labelling in the U.S.
- Oxybenzone. Found in almost all chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone is an allergen, potential endocrine disruptor. It is easily absorbed through the skin, particularly in children, and can interphere with hormone development.
/a>. Parabens, such as methyl paraben and butyl paraben, are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen and are linked with reproductive disorders in boys and possibly cancers in women.
- Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) has mostly been phased-out of sunscreens because of high incidence of allergic reactions in response to its use.
- Retinol or retinyl palmitate. Found in many name-brand sunscreens, this type of Vitamin A is photocarcinogenic and might actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions.
- All spray sunscreens. When sunscreen is sprayed, it can be inhaled, where it can do damage to the lungs. Even mineral sunscreens aren’t safe in spray form as titanium dioxide becomes a “possible carcinogen” when inhaled in high doses (IARC 2006).
By Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. Please sign-up to get the newest and greatest help delivered directly to your inbox “door.”