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3 Sunscreen Safety Tips You Probably Don’t Know, But Definitely Should

by Janelle Sorensen, Healthy Child Advisory Board Member

The dog days of summer have arrived early at Chez Sorensen and my girls are practically living in the pool.  I love that they’re spending oodles of time outdoors, but we’re going through copious amounts of sunscreen and my kids aren’t exactly fond of the laborious effort it takes to slather their bodies repeatedly throughout the day.

Being 9 and 12 (almost), there’s a lot of surface area to cover and during that time they have ample opinions about how the process could be improved. Their questions this year actually prompted some interesting conversation about sunscreen safety and issues that most people probably don’t know, but definitely should.

1. Slathering is safer than spraying.

Of course my daughters would far prefer a quick spray down instead of the lengthy manhandling process I put them through. And, frankly, I would too! But, spraying means breaking down the product into tiny particles, and tiny particles mean easy inhalation, and inhalation can lead to lung damage. Not to mention the fact that sprays are flammable and if you’re near a grill or open flame, you can start yourself on fire. (Seriously, this just happened to a guy a few weeks ago. He sprayed on sunscreen, walked over to his grill, and phoom! – caught fire and nearly died.)

2. Higher SPF does not mean better protection.

We were at the store and I was taking far too long reading labels and my daughter says, “why don’t we get the one with the highest SPF? Isn’t higher better?” That seems like common sense, right? Not entirely. Increases in SPF only improve protection slightly (e.g. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98%). After 50 there’s no real advantage at all and the FDA is considering barring manufacturers from using anything higher since it confuses and misleads consumers. What’s more, SPF only measures one kind of harmful ultraviolet ray; all sunscreens need to be reapplied frequently.

3. A white-ish hue is good for you.

My daughters cringe a little when they see their ghostly reflections in the mirror after applying sunscreen (they’re at that age). And, given the option in other people’s homes, they grab brands they assume won’t leave them with this embarrassing hue. But, the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that cause this coloration are far safer than the potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, used in almost all non-mineral sunscreens. And, if it’s a mineral sunscreen and it’s not leaving a white-ish haze, it’s likely because the minerals have been nano-sized (shrunk down teeny-tiny) and we don’t really know if those itsy-bitsy particles permeating our skin and winding up in our blood streams are safe or not (preliminary studies aren’t very comforting).

So, which sunscreens are safe AND actually work? Check out the Environmental Working Group’s handy-dandy guide for recommendations and general sun safety tips.

And, let me know what you think! What’s surprised you about sunscreen? What’s it like at your house? Any tips or tricks for getting your little ones safely slathered?

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