To Sunscreen or Not to Sunscreen?
As a terribly pale individual, I was a little shocked to read this week that a woman in San Antonio is asking her daughter’s school district to reconsider its ban on sunscreen. My shock multiplied when I discovered that lots of schools in the U.S. have policies against sunscreen. I can’t even imagine how many shades of red I would be today had I not been allowed to use sunscreen as a child!
This is not the first time extreme sunscreen policy has made the news. About a year ago, two girls in Washington were rushed to the hospital after spending a day out in the sun at school and coming home with painful red burns. One of the girls has a form of albinism, causing her skin to be extremely sun-sensitive, but she couldn’t use sunscreen at school without a valid doctor’s note.
Sunscreen is generally banned because it contains some toxins. However, I find it a little drastic to completely ban sunscreen – can we really eliminate all toxic substances from schools? As the concerned San Antonio mom points out, “Where do you draw the line? Do we say no hand sanitizer? Do we not allow school glue?”
I grew up being told to constantly apply sunscreen, so perhaps it’s just difficult for me to let an old habit die. There are certainly many valid concerns about the ingredients in sunscreen. Some studies show that sunscreen not only won’t prevent skin cancer, but certain additives (most notably Vitamin A) can actually cause serious kinds of cancer.
Another study shows that doctors rarely mention sunscreen when visiting with patients. Dermatologists, who should be the most concerned about your skin, only mentioned sunscreen in less than two percent of patient visits. Could this indicate that doctors are not convinced of sunscreen’s protective powers?
Beyond our internal concerns, it’s important to think about how the ingredients in sunscreen affect the environment as well. Sunscreen can wash off when you swim in the ocean, which leaves nasty chemicals that can be harmful to ocean life, especially coral reefs.
Despite all this, skin cancer is a very serious problem, and when children get bad sunburns, they have a much higher risk of contracting skin cancer later in life. If kids are going to spend school time running around in the sun, they should be protected.
Perhaps there is some middle ground between drastic no tolerance sunscreen policies and the practice of using only sunscreen to protect children from the sun. The Environmental Working Group has an extensive list of safe sunscreens. There are also plenty of other ways to protect yourself against harmful rays, the most obvious being: stay out of the sun! So get yourself a giant floppy hat and have a great summer.
Photo: Erin Stevenson O'Connor/flickr