This blog is intended to provide a discussion forum on topics surrounding pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding and family health. The purpose is to review research studies, articles and highlight the buzz in health news. But please remember, I am not your health care provider and do not intend to give medical advice.:)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Policy on Sunscreen...and Other Random Thoughts

I've had many comments made to me about just about every type of thing I do in public regarding parenting (a separate posting for such stories is in order).  Or perhaps I just think people are thinking these things, when in reality they could not even be thinking about me at all, which is equally distressing if you are a narcissist. In addition, I way over-analyze and rehash what was said, the way it was said, the messages between the lines, how I should have said things, what I forgot to mention or qualify, etc etc. It is exhausting, which is actually why I blog so infrequently). 

One concern I've had laid on me (or again, perhaps I have only perceived this) was whether or not it was prudent to use sunscreen on my children. As much as I'd like to pretend I don't care what others think or that I am okay with them making narrow-minded conclusions about me, I really, actually, in all reality do care. I don't like that I do, but I do. It's not so much that I care about one person coming to a ill-informed conclusion about me (often anyone who does so doesn't care to understand or dig deeper anyway. Take for example a common tendency of making a negative conclusion about a mom who is giving her infant a bottle in at the next booth over and how she might often be written off into all sorts of ungracious and dogmatically-built boxes.). I grow concerned that this 'gathering of information' in a rolodex can be used to spread to others, "well, this is what Deb does/thinks/recommends, and isn't that just ridiculous that she would even do so? She obviously doesn’t know anything about the subject". Again, this is my over-analyzing happening here.

And here's a separate problem, people have opposite opinions on every subject and depending on what source one uses as a reference, you could "back up" claims by cherry picking the information to support your side, all the while ignoring the other information. Ah me, so yes, the problem is that if you do use sunscreen, you ‘get it’ from those who would warn you that the ingredients in sunscreen are harmful and that they also block UV rays, which in turn inhibit the body's ability to synthesize vitamin D. Okay. So then you don't use sunscreen and others point out to you that letting your sweet fair cherub burn is not good mothering, because it increases his risk for skin cancer (not to mention freckles, leathery skin and prematurely looking ancient. Italics are of course mine.) What to do, what to do? You might say, "who cares? Tell them to mind their own business" and on the one hand I would love to do so. But my ego just doesn't give me that freedom. 

I won't get into all the theories for and against sunscreen use, as there are too many to bother with, and many are simply based on an obscure, overly simplified idea, rather than a logical argument for or against. 

One might think that because my children and I are fair, I keep them locked up in the house all day and at the first sign of sun rays, slap Banana Boat on their little faces. No. Actually, I used to be quite tan as a child (you may verify with my family). But I spent everyday in a swimsuit in the sun in summertime at our neighborhood pool, so I rarely burned. (And tanning without burning doesn't mean you are not still increasing your risk of skin cancer...just as a BTW). 

Please know, this is not a recommendation, but rather just a personal policy based mostly on common sense. So my personal policy is that if we are headed out to spend the day in the sun (i.e. the park, the zoo, farmer's market, etc), I do put sunscreen on myself and my toddlers (and I keep my babies in the shade most of the time).  I also have them wear hats on such occasions, because poor little ones, the sun is so bright on little eyes. I have them drink fluids often and come into the shade for breaks during the summer outings. If we are stopping by the park for an hour (especially in the morning or evening), we don't usually wear sunscreen. If we are playing the yard, again we don't doff it. 

So you can say all you want about the pros and cons of any surrounding theory, each argument may bring one benefit only to sacrifice another for a risk (and that is another separate posting I will have to do). Not using sunscreen and spending large amounts of time in the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer (and don't tell me, "no worries, skin cancer is treatable...") and also the other unpleasant side effects if one were to get burned. On the other hand using sunscreen excessively may affect your ability to synthesize vitamin D,  putting you at risk for vitamin D deficiency and all that can follow. (Again, may is the operative word here, the jury's still out on whether sunscreen completely blocks UV rays and thus completely blocks vitamin D synthesis.)

However, I feel rather comfortable with the balance I believe I've struck. I do not fear the sun (as many people have suggested those who use sunscreen are 'fearful' of the sun. "Yikes, get in the house! get in the house! Its coming!!"), nor do I think sunscreen is necessary for all times, all seasons (“all right now children, we’re going out to load in the car to go to Nana’s house, and it is very sunny outside, so I’m gonna put sunscreen on you so you don’t get burned on the walk out to the driveway. No, stop, don’t take off your hat! Are you crazy? The sun is out!”). And I have yet to see solid information concerning the immediate danger of sunscreen ingredients, but I am all ears. My family and I do get sun exposure several times a week for brief periods (Harvard Health recommends 10-15 min sun exposure a few times per week (1), WHO recommends 5-15 min, 2-3 times per week (2). And longer days in the sun mean sunscreen for us. 

Regardless of what you choose for yourself or your family, it is a good idea to take breaks from the sun, hydrate regularly, take time to cool down often, especially for children, pregnant/nursing women and if you are physically exerting yourself.

The only thing I will without hesitation recommend is do, DO find yourself a nice little spot in the shade where you can look down your nose at everyone and formulate your opinions based on the snippets of information you gather. 

(1) Harvard Health Publications "Time for More Vitamin D"

(2) WHO "The known health effects of UV"


  1. Interesting. Hey, just right before I read this article I can across someone who is in the middle of doing reviews for natural sunscreens. Have you looked much into these (should an objection to sunblock be harmful ingredients)? I can give you or send you the link if you want.

  2. Was it the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that was conducting the review?

    The two main ingredients critics object to in sunscreens are retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone, which are found in some sunscreen products and not others. This article is a good evaluation and clarification on these reviews and the ingredients themselves: Happy reading:)

    "The Great Sunscreen Cover Up" by Scott Guvara