When I sat down to write this article I had no idea the rabbit hole of research I would fall into. Seriously, there are just so many article and research papers about sunscreen it’s crazy. And what’s even more frustrating is that there are conflicting studies within the same organization! (EWG I’m looking at you). All that being said I’ve done my best to compile a somewhat comprehensive overview of what you want to look for in a sunscreen and what to avoid. It is by no means exhaustive so please do your own research and find what works best for you and your family but I hope that it at least wades through some of the bullshit around this controversial topic!
Before we jump right into sun protection I just want to say that the sun isn’t actually bad. As a matter of fact, you need it to survive. We’re not so different from plants after all. The sun provides us with Vitamin D, which is critical for bone health and mineral absorption and keeps depression and S.A.D. away. It also goes quite well with margaritas so there’s that too. It’s recommended that you get about 10-15 minutes of sunscreen-free sun time to absorb all of the benefits it provides.
Let’s talk about chemicals for one second too. We hate them all and they are completely terrible for you, right? Unfortunately, when dealing with chemicals there isn’t just black and white, there’s a big ol’ area of grey that we have to hang out in. If we get right into it in terms of sunscreen we have to go back to grade 10 science and look at the periodic table. You know that white stuff those skiers in the 80’s put on their noses to avoid a sunburn? That stuff in your sunscreen that protects you? That’s zinc. And since it’s on the periodic table – you guessed it, it’s a chemical. Therefore, all chemicals are not bad, we just have to educate ourselves and make sure we’re using the right ones.
I was going to come up with a Do’s & Don’ts list for sunscreen but it turns out that the only “Do” is: Use it. Yup, apply that stuff liberally and often to avoid skin damage. Now, on to the Don’ts.
Don’t use spray sunscreen: Spray sunscreen while easy to put on is not all that effective. You can’t be sure of even coverage or that you haven’t missed a spot. It’s also not great to ingest that stuff. You don’t want sunscreen floating around in your lungs causing all sorts of trouble.
Don’t make your own: This made me a little sad to read because I am a big fan of making things myself to avoid unnecessary junk in my body. I like to make my own body butters and deodorant so making my own sunscreen seemed right up my alley. That was until I really started to research the actual process of creating your own. First, making sunscreen is not a small undertaking. There is a lot of science that goes into it and with that, knowledge about what exactly you’re doing. You need to use some kind of UV blocker like zinc or titanium dioxide, which means that you’re going to need to know how to use them. That requires knowing exact measurements and combinations in order to be effective. Sadly, Bill Nye I am not.
Don’t get sucked into a sky-high SPF: It would seem like the higher the SPF the better the protection, right? Well, that’s only half true. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which protects more against the UVB rays and doesn’t do much in terms of the super damaging UVA rays. Those are the ones that can lead to skin damage and sometimes cancer. Not cool. Additionally, if you put on a sunscreen with a super high SPF you might be lulled into a false sense of security and think you’re good to go for a long period of time, forgetting to reapply. That’s not what you want either. Getting sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 but no more than 50 is the general consensus.
Don’t buy sunscreen with Oxybenzone: This chemical has been known to mess with your hormones (it’s an endocrine disruptor) and can cause allergic reactions. It’s a pretty common additive though, so I’d check the one you’re currently using to make sure it doesn’t contain it.
Brands That Make the Cut
I checked into The EWG (Environmental Workers Group) and the David Suzuki site (which ends up referencing the EWG anyway) and found that they have compiled a list of the best sunscreens for little ones.
They also provided a handy little list of the worst kids sunscreens.
Personally, I use Kiss My Face because I can get it at Loblaws and I’m all about convenience. You should be able to get any of the others online or at the very least, Whole Foods.
As with anything you’re going to be putting on or in your body, do you research and get informed. Ask questions about where your stuff comes from and make a decision that works for you and your family. Common sense goes a long way when making decisions and should definitely be used here. In addition to wearing sunscreen, make sure your kids are wearing a hat and a light long sleeved shirt if possible, reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating, stay hydrated and have a great summer!
Featured image by Tim Swallow
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