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Is your sunscreen increasing your child’s skin cancer chance? If it’s from these big box retailers, the answer is probably yes.

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

  1. 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.)
  2. Invest in a sun hat, consider sun protective bathing suits, and try out protective clothing.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Read more about the science of sunlight and sunscreen on The Green Mama.
  8. Avoid these sunscreen ingredients:

Listen to The Green Mama discuss sunscreen on That Cancer Show. Read more about sunscreen on The Green Mama.

By Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. Please sign-up to get the newest and greatest help delivered directly to your inbox “door.”

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