Before you freak out, let me just say that its kind of a lie. They do wear sunscreen but it’s rare. Growing up, I usually got at least one bad sunburn a year. When I say bad I am talking about sunburnt to the point of blisters. I don’t want that for my kids. My mom didn’t want that for my sisters and me either. It not that my mom didn’t try to protect us from getting burnt—I remember her often slathering us in SPF 45 or more. My mom was so fair she could sit in the shade on a cloudy and still get sunburnt. Growing up in the north she was always covered in SPF 50 or greater. She and my dad have now retired to Naples, Florida where she is always wearing huge brimmed hats and long sleeve shirts in a place where it’s always hot. She wears SPF 100 now; I didn’t even know they made sunscreen that high. My point is my mom did her best to protect herself.
My mom also has/had skin cancer. She has had it removed several times over the last decade or so. I know that skincare is serious and that skin cancer can be serious. I know that protecting yourself and loved ones from getting skin cancer is serious. Mom knows this and yet she still got skin cancer. Mom has always been very careful about the amount of sun she is exposed to. She did the best she could to protect my sisters and me from too much sun but somehow we usually got one bad burn a year.
I want to protect my kids from too much sun exposure because I know too much can be a bad thing. If we go out on a boat, yes they are wearing sunscreen. If we are outside in the sun all day, yes we are wearing sunscreen (probably not my husband because he doesn’t burn). I keep my baby girl in the shade and put a hat on her. However, I do want my kids to get some sun. Getting some sun slowly at first helps to build up their melanin and will naturally give them added protection from the sun. I think part of the reason why my sisters and got at least one bad sunburn a year is because we overprotect and our bodies never built up any melanin to help protect us.
Benefits of Sun Exposure
While I want my kids to be protected from too much sun exposure, I still want them to get sun exposure. Sun exposure increases serotonin and endorphins, hormones associated with a happier mood. It helps with your circadian rhythm, the stimulation of serotonin cause an effective production of melatonin, the hormone that helps sleep. It helps with blood pressure. When sunlight hits the skin nitric oxide is released into the blood vessels, a process that brings blood pressure levels down. It helps the body make Vitamin D, a vitamin that most Americans are deficient in. It may also decrease your risk of certain cancers like prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer.
Potential Risks of Sunscreen
Some sunscreen ingredients are known carcinogens and many more are lacking any safety studies. Sunscreens can be absorbed by the skin, inhaled by our lungs (when it's a spray), and ingested through our mouth (when used near our lips). Sunscreen ingredients have been found in blood samples, breast milk, and urine. Since there is evidence that sunscreen makes it into our bodies it’s very important to make sure that the ingredients are safe for our bodies. The FDA has raised concerns about the considerable skin absorption of oxybenzone, its potential to affect hormone levels, and the increased absorption susceptibility of children (FDA 2019). Some experts caution that the unintentional exposure to toxic active ingredients erodes sunscreens’ benefits (Krause 2012, Schlumpf 2010).
Safer Sunscreen Options
The FDA has only designated two active sunscreen ingredients as safe out of 16 tested: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. My family uses the Badger brand with the active ingredient zinc oxide when we use sunscreen. The EWG Guide to Sunscreens rates the hazards and efficacy of sunscreens. You can find their list of safe sunscreens here.
While too much sun exposure can be a bad thing, not enough sun exposure can be bad as well. When protecting yourself and your family from the sun make sure you use a safe sunscreen!