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It's practically summer: Quick, grab the (safe) sunscreen

Friday, May 22, 2009

Every year about this time we get a note from our preschool asking parents to either sign off on the school's sunscreen application regimen (their brand) or to bring your own. We've always brought our own because I was not at all keen on the brand the school used.

Not sure who got the last laugh when I learned last year that my "this one's safer" brand was, ahem, loaded with oxybenzone. How did I know? EWG's Cosmetics Database, of course. And for the curious, oxybenzone is on our list of ingredients to avoid.

And what did I do? Ditched the toxic stuff immediately (not cheap), and followed the practical advice on EWG's handy 1-page guide to safe sunscreen. Leading me to a safer product and a better understanding of how the stuff actually works. Now we're neither burned nor toxic. Success! What does EWG suggest for safe summer fun?

  1. USE SUNSCREEN that's effective and safe. Start with EWG's list of "best" sunscreens. Make sure the SPF is 30 or higher. Buy new sunscreen every year and avoid powders and sprays.
  2. KEEP KIDS SAFE since they're more sensitive to sun damage. Use sunscreen, play in the shade, and keep infants out of direct sun as much as possible. Check our special sun safety tips for kids below.
  3. AVOID MIDDAY SUN WHEN INTENSITY PEAKS. Summer sun is more intense between 10 and 4, also at high altitudes and in the tropics.
  4. SEEK SHADE OR BRING YOUR OWN. Cover up with a shirt, hat, and UV-protective sunglasses. Remember that invisible rays can reflect up toward you from the ground, so you may still need sunscreen if you wear a hat.
  5. SLOP ON SUNSCREEN AND REAPPLY OFTEN. Put it on before you go out in the sun. Sunscreen washes off in water and can break down in the sun -- reapply often. Wear daily on skin not covered by clothing.
  6. AVOID PRODUCTS WITH BUG REPELLANT. You don't typically need them at the same time of day, and the mixture of ingredients leads to greater amounts of the pesticide soaking through the skin.
  7. CHECK THE UV INDEX when planning outdoor activities.
  8. SKIP SUNLAMPS and tanning beds.
  9. CHECK YOUR SKIN for spots and changes, and remember that natural tone (not just tan) is beautiful. You know your skin best, so examine it for changes, lesions, and spots regularly. Be extra careful if you have freckles, moles, take certain medications (such as some antibiotics), or have a family history of skin cancer. Early detection is best, so consult your doctor for more information.

A few tips just for kids Kids are more vulnerable to damage caused by the sun. A few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person's lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer. Keep your family safe in the sun by using a sunscreen that's effective and safe. Take these special precautions with infants and children:

Infants under 6 months should be kept out of direct sun as much as possible. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin. So when you take your infant outside, take special care:

  1. COVER UP your baby's sensitive skin with protective clothing, tightly woven but loose-fitting, and a sun hat.
  2. MAKE SHADE with your stroller's canopy or hood. If you can't find a shady spot to sit, put up an umbrella.
  3. AVOID SUN DURING MIDDAY -- take walks in the early morning or late afternoon.
  4. FOLLOW PRODUCT WARNINGS FOR SUNSCREEN ON INFANTS UNDER 6 MONTHS OLD - Most manufacturers advise to avoid use for infants or to consult a doctor before using. The American Academy of Pediatrics now says that small amounts of sunscreen can be used on infants as a last resort when shade is not available.

Sunscreen is an essential part of any day in the sun. However, young children have skin that is especially sensitive to chemical allergens, as well as the sun's UV rays. When choosing a sunscreen, keep these tips in mind:

  1. TEST THE SUNSCREEN by applying a small amount on the inside of your child's wrist the day before you plan to use it. If an irritation or rash develops at any time, try another product. Ask your child's doctor to suggest one that will not irritate.
  2. SLOP ON SUNSCREEN and reapply often, especially if your child is playing in the water or sweating a lot.

Get the guide. You can download our 2008 shopper's guide to safe sunscreens now and sign up to be notified as soon as our updated 2009 version is ready. Because who wants to be burned by the sun and contaminated by sunscreen? Not me, not this summer.

[Photo courtesy of Mirko Macari on Flickr CC]

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