Thursday, 17 June 2010

Getting Burned by Sunscreens

During our summer travels, I have come across many parents who simply cannot understand why my kids wear sunsuits rather than normal bathing suits at the beach and pool. 

"But doesn't it work just as well to slather them in cream?" they ask. 

Here are a few reasons why I avoid putting sunscreen on my kids.

- Most sunscreens protect primarily against UVB rays - the rays that cause your skin to burn.  They do not protect against UVA rays.  When you see a package that says SPF 50, they're talking about the protection against UVB rays.  The protection against UVA rays will be more like SPF 10, at best, but of course the packaging doesn't  say anything about that.   So basically, the sunscreen will protect your child against sunburn but not against melanoma cancer ten or twenty years down the road.

- Most sunscreens contain parabens and/phenoxethanol, preservatives that are believed to be carcinogenic.  Parabens is also a hormone disruptor.

- Many sunscreens contain a synthetic filter called oxybenzone.  Oxybenzone is a chemical that sinks through the epidermis to filter out the sun's rays.  Some of it ends up in your bloodstream and acts as a hormone disrupter, reducing male sperm reproduction in boys and causing early menarche in girls.  That's not something I'm keen to slather on my children. 

- You can't trust anything claimed on sunscreen packaging, so you can never be sure what to buy.  Here are some prime examples of products and players that typify what’s wrong with the sun protection business.

- I do put sunscreen on my kids' faces - the kind with no chemical filters and no parabens or phenoxethanol.  It wears off after an hour.  I can't imagine how burnt my kids would get if I put that stuff all over their bodies.

I just came across this article on sunscreens a few weeks ago.  It reiterates a few of the concerns that I have raised. 
Still not convinced that sunscreens don't do what they are supposed to do and can do more harm than good? Check out the Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide. Make sure you read about their 9 Surprising Truths. I was particular interested in what they said about European sunscreens:
Sunscreen makers and users in Europe have more options than in the United States. In Europe, sunscreen makers can select from among 27 chemicals for their formulations, compared to 17 in the U.S. Companies selling in Europe can add any of seven UVA filters to their products, but have a choice of only three when they market in the U.S. European sunscreens could earn FDA’s proposed four-star top rating for UVA protection, while the best U.S. products would earn only three stars. Sunscreen chemicals approved in Europe but not by the FDA provide up to five times more UVA protection; U.S. companies have been waiting five years for FDA approval to use the same compounds. Last but not least, Europeans will find many sunscreens with strong (mandatory) UVA protection if proposed regulations in Europe are finalized. Under FDA’s current proposal, Americans will not.

So, my kids get sunsuits as their principal sun protection.  Here is a photo of the Bambino in long-sleeved version of a sunsuit from Skin Savers.  If you order one for your toddler, make sure you get the long-sleeved kind.  You would not believe how easily their little arms burn, even with cream on them.

Here is a photo of the Bambina in her sunsuit from Konfidence swimwear.  It looks great on her and she loves the fact that she just zips it on rather than having to pull it over her head. 

The UV Hoodie made by Konfidence is a great option for when we are out on a boat and the sun's rays hit hard.  Both the Bambina and the Bambino wear one when they are not in the pool or sea and they are in direct sun.  They keep you cool and protect completely against UVA and UVB rays. All you need is sunscreen on the face.