Sun Safety Redux

NOTE: This post originally appeared on July 19, 2011. As we enter the summer season, I think it's important to share it again. I've made minor changes to reflect the date.

I am not a medical person. Please consult your doctor for specific advice. My knowledge comes from my experiences and research, plus conversations with my child's pediatrician.

Experts recommend a good sunscreen when out in the sun. The problem is, not all sunscreens (also called sunblock) are the same. Some don't offer the protection their labels say they do while others are actually unsafe. To learn more, listen to last year's podcast "Sunscreen Takes Some Heat" from On Point with Tom Ashbrook. (It's about 45 minutes long, so you may want to download the podcast and listen in your car). Among other things, it describes the changes in sunscreen labeling scheduled to occur this summer (2012).

I also recommend using the Environmental Working Group (EWG) "Skin Deep Cosmetics Database" to learn more about what goes into our cosmetics and which health and beauty items are safe. Just because a product says "All Natural" or "Organic" doesn't mean it's good. Sometimes one particular product in an entire line is recommended by EWG while other products by the same company are listed as not safe or ineffective. And fancy name brands don't guarantee safety or effectiveness, either.  One of last year's top sunscreen picks was a Walgreens' brand sunblock.

 A warning: You can drive yourself crazy checking all of the products you currently use and get overwhelmed by information.

Here's my advice: Start by searching the list of recommended sunscreens. Your skin is your largest organ and you cover it with sunscreen all summer long. Choose a sunscreen that is safe and effective for you and your children. Then, at some future point, maybe you'll research safer shampoo or facial cleanser or eyeshadow. Choose one new item at a time. That's what I did.

When I first visited the Skin Deep website about 5 years ago, I was overwhelmed. I thought I needed to change all of my products right away. I was practically paralyzed by the information until I just started with one item- sunscreen. I figured it was the product we used in volume so I might was well start there. Maybe six months later, I chose a safer shampoo for myself, then a while later a new product for my kids, and so on. Gradually, I replaced any unsafe products as I learned more. I'm still learning.

In fact, listening to the On Point podcast alerted me to another sunscreen database at Good Guide. I took a quick look at it but had to stop because I was feeling overwhelmed. So, for now, I'm sticking with the sunscreens I chose based on Skin Deep. When I have time, I'll take a closer look at the Good Guide.  (One interesting point- the Good Guide rates products three ways- for health, environment, and society).

ADDED 6/8/12: Good Guide is clear and easy to use. I'd suggest you take a quick peak at both resources and choose the one that addresses your biggest concerns or is the the most user friendly to you.

So take baby steps. Learn what you have time to learn and make more informed decisions about the products you use. Even one change, like sunscreen, can make a big difference.

Two final points:
  1. It's better NOT to choose a sunscreen/insect repellent combination. Why? because you generally do not reapply insect repellent whereas you need to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, regardless of sweating or swimming.
  2. To properly cover an adult body (in a bathing suit) with sunscreen, you need to use one ounce of sunscreen. That's about the size of a golf ball or shot glass.  Experts say most people don't use enough.

Have you used the EWG database? Good Guide? Which do you prefer? Do you know of other resources that might be useful to Polliwog readers?

Related posts:
Mystery Rash (Poison Ivy)
Insect Safety
Dear Sixteen Year Old Me- excellent (5 minute) PSA about sun safety