July 23 2014

The Danger of Alarmism About Sunscreen

Julie Gunlock

Anti-chemical environmental groups as well as several reckless and utterly foolish bloggers like The Food Babe have been stoking fears about sunscreen.  The claims vary but generally suggest that the chemicals used in sunscreens can be toxic.

The solution they propose? Don’t use sunscreen, only use the extremely expensive sunscreens that send boxes of samples to these mommy bloggers, or if you’re the crafty type, make your own sunscreen.

Uh huh.

According to one dangerous mommy blogger, you can make your own sunscreen using a few of these super “natural” ingredients: Almond oil, coconut oil, zinc oxide and shea butter.  Of course, these ingredients only really have an SPF of around 6 (that’s right SIX!) so you might need to supplement your sun protection with:

  • a long sleeved shirt
  • full length pants
  • a wide brimmed hat
  • socks
  • gloves
  • a large umbrella
  • and a small fan and very, very long extension cord that can reach from the house/car to your spot at the beach so that you don’t die from heat stroke from all those layers of clothing.

But, hey, you can still have fun at the beach dressed for cold weather, right?

Thankfully, the Clueless Wellness Mama also offers these tips for creating SPF 25 sunblock by using two totally easy-to-find ingredients: red raspberry oil and carrot oil. I mean, what mother (while already packing for the beach) doesn’t have the extra time to run around town looking for these odd oils that only provide a small amount of protection.

Think I’m being too harsh?

Let’s consider what’s really harsh—letting your kid suffer with sunburn because you’re too scientifically illiterate to recognize these anti-sunscreen mommy bloggers as the snake oil salesman they really are.

The Daily Mail reports that dermatologists are actually issuing warnings against this trend of making your own sunscreen:

Dermatologists are issuing harsh warnings against making your own sunblock, as hundreds of DIY formulas make their way around the internet.

Many bloggers who post the recipes claim that store-bought sunscreens contain harsh chemicals that could be as bad - if not worse - for you than the sun.

But doctors say there's no way to guarantee homemade concoctions offer broadband protection (that is, shield against wrinkle-inducing UVA rays as well as cancer-causing UVB-rays), or ensure that the SPF is high enough.

If you do go the natural route, keep in mind that the SPF is usually lower - so you will need to apply more often, as well as every time you get wet.

Alright-y, let’s just consider that last line: I’m a mom and I can tell you, applying sunblock is no picnic. It’s like bathing a cat. I have to endure near non-stop complaints (wails and shrieks is more like it) from my three children and if I dare use the non-spray, thick cream-based sunblock, the complaints turn to screams, as my children cannot stand the greasy, wet feeling on their bodies.

Using waterproof spray-on sunblock has been wonderful. I apply it (to minor complaints and annoying and untrue claims that I’ve sprayed it directly into their eyeballs) at the beginning of the beach stay and maybe once more depending on how long we stay at the beach and how much they swim (my kids are small so they don’t don a lot of ocean swimming yet).

But according to these bloggers and environmental groups, I should only use extremely expensive, non-spray, non-waterproof versions of sunblock because these entities LOVE TO MAKE LIFE MORE DIFFICULT FOR MOMS!

Here’s my advice to moms who just want to go to the beach and not worry about their kids spontaneous combusting: Ignore these idiotic mommy bloggers and agenda-driven environmental groups who tell you to put your kids in danger. Just go to Target or Wal-Mart or Walgreens or CVS or whatever store is closest to your house and buy the sunscreen that’s on sale and has enough SPF.

But the most important advice I can give is to NEVER rely on chem-phobes to guide important choices like how to protect your kids against real dangers--like scorching sunburn. Instead, rely on the actual evidence about sunscreen and sun blocks.

And about that little thing called evidence, allow me to offer you a little.

According to a statement by the American Academy of Dermatologists (I know, I know, it's not a mommy blogger, just a group of doctors who know a thing about skin cancer, but bear with me here), sunscreen is safe to use. The statement goes on to say:

No published studies show that sunscreen is toxic to humans or hazardous to human health. Scientific studies actually support using sunscreen. 

Research shows that wearing sunscreen can: 

Prevent sunburn.

Reduce your risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

What about the reported health risks associated with some ingredients found in sunscreens?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates sunscreens. Before an ingredient can be used in sunscreen, the ingredient must be approved by the FDA for this use. 

And according to researchers at RMIT University in sun-loving Australia (which incidentally has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world), human skin can tolerate the tiny metal oxide nanoparticles found in conventional chemical sunscreens. RMIT University toxicologist and Associate Professor Paul Wright said that there is negligible penetration of these nanoparticles through human skin and that sunscreen is still important to reduce skin cancer incidence.

But this “sunscreen is dangerous” narrative is becoming a real problem now, leading many people to forgo sunscreen all together.

Truth be told, I don’t actually care if you want to leave yourself vulnerable to the sun. I don’t care if you choose to believe the unscientific gobbledygook splattered all over the Internet by nutty bloggers and these irresponsible environmental groups. It’s your life, your faster-aging skin, and your risk to take. God bless.

But I do worry about how moms will react to this nonsense. I worry that many moms are deciding to forgo sunscreen altogether for their kids or are using home-made versions that don’t protect enough.

And I’m also worried that moms with scarce resources are feeling the pressure to purchase some of the really expensive sun protection products out there—like the products pushed by Hollywood heavyweight/scientific lightweight Jessica Alba, who cares less about a mother’s ability to protect her child from sunburn than lining her own pockets with her overpriced, trendy products.

No thanks. I’ll save my money and stick to proven sun protection for my children. 

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