Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunscreen is bad?!?

A blog I like to read recently posted pictures that included some of her young children with what looked like a very light sunburn.

Being that it's a popular blog (www.mycharmingkids.net) with lots of commenters - this mother was informed that she needs to buy some sunscreen for her children. That opinion was seconded. And Thirded (is that a word? - probably not). Thriced?

Besides the fact that I am completely confident this mother a) knows what sunscreen is and b) is a very capable mother and c) IT'S NONE OF MY BUSINESS - I felt the need to counter their advice that she needs to go out and buy sunscreen for her children to avoid sun related cancers.

yes, I say I disagree.. sort of.

Because sunscreen isn't necessarily bad.

but I believe that using sunscreen is bad... in a way.

There are reasons that sunscreen may just be bad for us that I won't get into in depth. But there are some questionable ingredients in them that our skin absorbs. That concerns me, but it's not why I'm here.

Sunscreen is widely used - why are skin cancer rates rising so quickly?

One of the reasons - sunscreen.

Not because sunscreen necessarily causes cancer (although some may argue it does, that argument feels way out of my reach).

Because so many of us put sunscreen on our children, and then send them out in the sun.

Let me first say - the sun does some good things. Vitamin D, for example. I am positive that skin cancer prevention goes way beyond anything to do with the sun. Diet can go a long way to reducing all cancers.

And before I get into my argument ... my natural inclination towards everything related to life is the view of human behaviour. Psychology. I am not sure how much of how I look at the world is because of school, or if I am just this way in general.

Now - to illustrate my point (that sunscreen is sort of bad) let's make up a hypothetical study to illustrate my point on human behaviour and sunscreen. Making things up is generally frowned upon. But i wont' enter it in to any medical journals. It's just a "common knowledge" approach and I'm using it to help visualize my point, human behaviour testing / psychology are bound by ethics - we can't exactly try this out!

Imagine two mothers with young children - and both mothers are very similar in belief that too much sun exposure is dangerous to their children's skin and increases their potential to develop skin cancer. Both parents believe (as so many of us do) that sunscreen will prevent skin damage.

Give one mother sunscreen to use on her children to prevent sun burn.

Give another mother NO sunscreen.

Send them back home (they live in the same city and are both Stay At Home parents) - and be a fly on the wall in their lives to see what they do.

Which mother's child is going to spend more time in the sun?

My money is on the mother who has sunscreen. By a LOT.

If I don't have sunscreen for my children, am I going to let them play outside in shorts and a tshirt at noon for a couple of hours? Nope!

I respect that there are a huge variety of opinions out there about.. everything and so even if you don't believe the sun is damaging to the skin for long term, you wouldn't want that horrible blistering sunburn. So I'm pretty confident in my guess.

Without sunscreen, am I going to travel to the beach before 4pm? Nope!

If my kids want to be outside I'm going to ensure that my children are playing in the giant shady trees of our backyard and wearing hats and protective clothing. Or wearing protective swim gear and swim hats and waiting until after 4pm to hit the beach, and keeping them under giant umbrellas as much as possible until the sun is safely low in the sky.

The behaviour of the mother without any sunscreen to use would be much different than the behaviour of the mother who has sunscreen.

That's not "just me" because that would be human behaviour if sunscreen wasn't available even though science has shown us the damage the sun can do to our skin.

The way I see it, if we use sunscreen we should act as though we don't have it on. It should be the last back up.

So many of us (not all, but many!) bet our skin that sunscreen actually protects us 100% from the damage of the sun - and it doesn't! No burn does NOT mean no damage. We now KNOW that - and all sunscreens are NOT created equal, for the record.

Which brings me back to my original point and why I spoke up about sunscreen in the first place. We need to stop thinking of sunscreen as the way to protect our skin from the sun. Is it surprising that the way North America has adopted "sun safe" culture is with a product that we buy from companies that are making oogles of money?

And so - I am not saying don't use sunscreen. I'm saying - we need to stop thinking of sunscreen as the ticket to spending way more time in the sun than we should. Imagine how many hours of sun exposure we get because we have it on us or our children - hours that we would NEVER have let our kids spend in the sun because they'd be coming home blistered without sunscreen. Do you want to believe that No Burn = No Damage - or that sunscreen was developed from an educated guess made 30 years ago that we continue to believe because money making companies tell us that?


  1. Interesting... I know that I've suffered bouts of sun stroke since I had it as a teen, and no amount of sun screen has ever prevented it. So I already stay in the shade at the super sunny times, and make sure my baby wears hats in the sun and stays indoors when the sun is at it's highest and hottest.

    It's just common sense, I think! Sun hot. Burn skin. Or cook insides. Stay out of hot sun when hot sun is hottest. Do get *some* sun though, because we need sunshine (vitamin d) to live.

    Makes sense..

  2. This makes total sense. Which means it is sad that this would be surprising.

    I don't wear sunscreen. I avoid the hot summer sun like the plague on steroids.

  3. Amen Kate.

    I don't wear sunscreen, like ever. I hate it. My kids only where it if we're somewhere, like camping, and there's an activity they want to participate in at a stupid time, like noon. But mostly, they stay out of the sun between noon and 4 in the summer. Just makes sense.

  4. Very rarely do we use it. Learning about the skin and the chemical reactions and maintaining proper PH levels caused me to avoid it for the most part of my adulthood. We avoid the hottest part of the day, and wear hats too. It's funny how the masses are fooled into believing it's 100% effective. Like a shield or something. I'm worried about looking the same as a leather shoe, so that's enough motivation for me to stay out of the sun....XD