Rates of melanoma are increasing, in fact they have tripled over the past 35 years! Concern about time spent in the sun and protection is huge. Parents especially are worried about their child's exposure to the sun. What can we as parents do to protect our children?
The evidence is unclear as to whether sunscreen actually prevents most skin cancer. Some say rates of cancer are higher among those using sunscreen, others say rates are lower (Check out this article from the Environmental Working Group for further information about this topic). It can really make it difficult to make a decision that is best for your children and your family when even the research isn't clear.
No sunscreen is perfect.
Conventional sunscreens (such as Banana Boat, Coppertone, Neutrogena) have been reported to be dangerous and harmful to our bodies.
Oxybenzone, the most concerning of chemicals, has been shown to be toxic to reproductive systems and avobenzone breaks down when exposed to light and must be stabilized with other chemical filters (which are hormone disrupting).
Most sunscreen chemicals can penetrate the skin and as a result cause allergic reactions and disrupt hormones.
That being said, "natural" sunscreens also pose a minimal risk based on their ingredients as well. Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, usually with nanoparticles.
Feeling a little overwhelmed? Check out The Trouble with Sunscreen Chemicals from the EWG for a list of common ingredients included in sunscreen and their toxicity. As an example, oxybenzone, which is present in almost all conventional chemical sunscreens, rates a 8 in hazardous (0 being low toxicity and 10 being the highest). Whereas zinc oxide rates a 2.
What is a parent to do?
1) Keep your children out of the sun during peak sun hours to avoid sunburns. You don't want to avoid sun exposure altogether (research does not support this), but you also do not want you or your child to burn.
2) Use sunscreen as needed and do not use as a tool to prolong time in the sun.
3) Cover up! Use hats, clothing and eye protection to keep you and your children covered. I am constantly yelling at my kids to stay in the shade. Twinklelle Grow with Me Hats are a great wide brimmed hat that works well for keeping kids faces out of the sun. Merino wool clothing, such as those by Wee Woollies, also work wonderfully in the summer as a breathable piece of sun protection clothing!
4) Stay clear of aerosol sunscreens (they are the worst in terms of toxicity).
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