Pick your sunscreen…

Yes, that’s right, just having a freaky read of the Environmental Working Group’s annual sunscreen report. That one sentence basically distills my concerns about sunscreen into one neat statement. This is essentially the choice we all have when deciding what to slather on our little ones this summer to keep them “safe” from the sun.

Just about all of today’s commercial sunscreens seem to contain Oxybenzone, a harmful, penetrating chemical and possible hormone disruptor. Even the “safer” “natural” sunscreens contain Titanium Dioxide, which is still a carcinogen if inhaled, and can penetrate the bloodstream, crossing the placenta in expectant mothers. Overall, I look for ones that are ideally Canadian-made such as NewCo or Heiko, which also only use Zinc Oxide as its active ingredient. Other good brands are Badger or Thinkbaby (if you can find it!).

Now, personally, I have purchased sunscreen for my son. I use it when we will be exposed for a long time in bright open sun (a day at the beach, summer street festivals, etc.) But generally, I think the Zinc ones feel kind of gooey and slimy to the touch, and leave a whitish film all over (yes, including the car seats on a sweaty hot day!) Basically, I don’t use it unless absolutely necessary. It’s amazing how many parents just automatically cover their kids in sunscreen the second they’re going to go outside. Sunscreens actually inhibit Vitamin D production in the body, and essential function for health, bone development and growth – especially in growing kids!

Other great ways to protect your kids from excess sun exposure include wearing very light but long-sleeved t-shirts, sun hats, and other protective apparel. Keep trips to the park for later in the day when the sun isn’t as hot, and try to find a shady park such as Dufferin Grove or parts of High Park. (West-end Toronto parents who have been to the playground at Trinity Bellwoods at high noon probably know what I mean when I say it’s like being an ant under a magnifying glass!) Shade your strollers, shade your wagons – there are great options that come equipped with them already!

Finally, a lot of parents, when shopping at my store, express their concerns to me that the cost of the healthier zinc sunscreens cost a fortune ($20.00 is the lowest retail-priced one we carry at Sunshine). It’s true; the least-chemically harmful ones do cost a lot of money. But when the cheap Coppertones, Ombrelles and Hawaiian Tropics could contribute to ill health in our children, isn’t it worth the extra money to get the better stuff? Again, the best way to look at it is to just not use it as frequently. Take other steps like protective clothing and gear and use it only when it’s truly blazing hot and there is no shade for hours. Doing this will ensure that that one tube of the good stuff gets you through the entire summer, and possibly hold up for your Winter Escape vacation in Cuba months later.

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