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To Sunscreen or Not to Sunscreen?

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.

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Photo: Erin Stevenson O'Connor/flickr

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3:51AM PDT on Jul 27, 2014

Thanks for sharing

7:06PM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

I work outside all day in a greenhouse. Sunscreen is a absolute MUST for me. Everyone else I work with does not wear it and I can proudly say I'm the only one who hasn't had to get skin cancer cut off of me. I try to buy the most natural ones I can find. I can not be without it as long as I work a outside job.

2:23PM PDT on Jun 15, 2014


12:40PM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

There is nothing safe or sacred at schools because of the zero tolerance. When a parent sends in a note saying something is necessary for their child, most of the time, the school ignores it. They know better.

Sunscreen isn't the end all and be all of safety. That would be complete covering up. I didn't use sunscreen when I was a child/teenager. Matter of fact, baby oil with iodine was the oil of choice. I got plenty of burns, which I now regret, and have had a number of skin cancers put down to being from the sun. What is needed is something that is no longer available COMMON SENSE!! In the water sunscreen washes off, so use a top while in the water. Re apply when you come out and for God's sake, when it feels as if you are burning, get out of the sun.

I can't prove sun causes cancer, but I listen to my dermatologist and use sunscreen at the beach.

11:04AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

If you are spending time in the sun then you need sunscreen: simple as. No diet / supplement regime is going to give you SPF50. Slip, slap, slop as the Aussies have been doing successfully for a couple of decades now has reduced skin cancers significantly.

6:35PM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

It should be up to the parents whether their child wears sunscreen, not the school. Anyway, I don't think children should be in the sun for long periods without some kind of protection.

5:20AM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

When you supplement properly (vit. C, D3,coconut oil,cod liver oil, antioxidants) and have a diet free of processed foods but high in greens, tomatoes and healthy fats, then your body creates it's own sunscreen. I do a search on EWG for safe sunscreens for my daughter too, in Canada there is one called Green Beaver with no toxins or nanoparticles.

6:21PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

Environmental Working Group has good stuff about sunscreens:

3:07PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

So agree with barbara S; we should have SAFE sunscreens here

12:31PM PDT on Jun 12, 2014

thanks. I'd vote that you should ALWAYS wear sunscreen if you're gonna be sitting or doing something in the direct sun for a long period of time. I'd much rather spend a couple extra minutes putting on some sunscreen than getting skin cancer or something else because of it.

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