Technically, summer isn’t quite upon us but I’ve been receiving alot of emails asking about sun protection.  And considering that skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in the United States, I’m not surprised by the level of concern.  Not only are we inundated with conflicting information about the pros and cons of various types of sunscreen; now we are told that we’re not getting enough Vitamin D because we actually protect ourselves from the sun too much.  It’s seemingly a conundrum: use sunscreen to prevent cancer but fear that the sunscreen is actually giving us cancer.

Growing up, my dad was fanatical about our using sun protection (he also urged us to have a ‘light-weight jacket’ with us at all times, but that’s another story).  Not that I was without my share of sunburns and fake-baking as a teenager and young adult, but it did impress upon me a great respect for the power of the sun: power to heal and power to prematurely wrinkle!  I remember that if I had a cold, the first thing my mom did was make me go outside and sit in the sun for a bit.  But I also remember being made to wear a t-shirt over my swimsuit to avoid too much of a good thing.  Over the years, I’ve endured endless taunting about my less-than-flattering, packable Eric Javits straw hat (which I purchased about 15 years ago in a great hat shop in DC…think it was The Propper Topper?…with my friend Liz…she thought I was crazy to spend so much on a hat but it has proven itself a very worthwhile investment!). Now, as my skin and I approach 40, I’m grateful for the healthy respect my dad gave me for the sun…and for my dorky hat.

I, like you, am overwhelmed by all the conflicting data surrounding sun protection.  Moving to South Florida with a toddler 3 years ago forced me to get even more serious about the whole thing.  Fortunately, we started putting baseball hats and sunglasses on our sons at a young age, so they are now accustomed to grabbing a hat as they head out the door.  And, in large part due to sheer laziness, we also use long-sleeve sun shirts for the kids at the beach and in the pool so we don’t have to lather, re-apply, etc.  Our favorites are from a company called UVSkinz.  We’ve used them since my now 5 year-old was 6 months after seeing them at a beach kiosk while on vacation in Hawaii and we continue to pass them on as hand-me-downs to his younger brothers. They break my rule: they’re made in China; but, the President of the company and mother of 3 young sons, Rhonda Sparks, started the company after losing her 32-year old husband to skin cancer.  The company does so much to raise awareness and give back that it’s easy to support them in spite of the China thing.  Check them out when you have a chance.  They are always doing some type of awareness-raising promotion or discount and they will have your shirts to you lightning-fast!

http://www.uvskinz.com

Even with hats, sunglasses and long-sleeve shirts, chances are you will still need sunscreen.  I urge to to take a moment and visit the following links to the Environmental Working Group’s website:

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/sunscreen-and-skin-cancer/

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/does-sunscreen-damage-skin/

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/sunscreens-exposed/getting-enough-vitamin-d/

These articles will give you some great insight regarding the safety of sunscreens and the need for Vitamin D.  While you’re on their website, please check out the results of their annual analysis of common sunscreens.  You can select your brand from the pull-down menu to see what rating EWG gives it.  If you start to find this overwhelming, here are our two favorites that we have used for at least 4 or 5 years:

California Baby No Fragrance Sunblock Stick, SPF 30+

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/323402/California_Baby_No_Fragrance_Sunblock_Stick%2C_SPF_30%2B/

The EWG gives this an overall score of 1 (FYI: the lower the number, the better…higher numbers indicate questionable and/or toxic ingredients). This stick is super-easy to apply in a hurry and great for cheeks, noses, shoulders, etc.  Expensive, but worth it for the ‘no mess factor’ alone.

Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas: MINERAL Natural Sunblock, SPF 30

http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/331059/Jason_Natural_Cosmetics_Sunbrellas%3A_MINERAL_Natural_Sunblock%2C_SPF_30/

Overall score is 2.  Please note that unlike California Baby, not all JASON products receive a good score.  For the most part, California Baby’s products receive a 1 or 2 score, but many of the JASON products receive much higher numbers, so don’t mistakenly assume that safety levels are consistent across manufacturers’ product lines.

Again, I hope this doesn’t overwhelm you. Until all the data are in (which may never happen as long as the FDA is involved!), my approach is to love the sun in moderation and to avoid using sunblock, if possible, by choosing a hat, sunglasses, etc.  Choose a safer, less toxic sunscreen when you need it, but get a little sun when you can, preferably in the early morning or late afternoon.

Now, go enjoy your summer!