|Notice how this photo doesn't suck? It's because Ashley, my sister in law, took it.|
But in the last two years an alarming number of studies have come out saying that this is NOT the healthiest thing to do, for a variety of reasons. A number of studies, some dating back to 1998 have actually linked use of sunscreen to a HIGHER incidence of skin cancer. And even more alarming, one ingredient in particular has been shown to speed up the development of cancer cells once they appear (and it's not what you think...). Vitamin A and it's derivatives, which are added to sunscreens to counter aging and moisturize and are not vital to sun protection have been shown to speed up cancer growth. This has to do with the vitamin possibly reacting to the sun while on your skin (so don't worry, ingesting vitamin A is fine).
Also, as in the case of many diseases, skin cancer incidence has exploded only recently, while people have been exposed to the sun, oh, forever. One could argue that more incidences of skin cancer are occurring because people live longer, but as each year progresses the number of young people affected increases as well. And one could also argue that it is simply because we show more skin now, but bathing suits in the 20's and 30's were almost (I said almost) as skimpy as today's, yet skin cancer rates didn't start to rise until the late 50's and 60's.
What to do? No one actually knows for sure what causes skin cancer. The sun may play a role, but I doubt it plays the significant role that everyone assumes. Vitamin D, ironically enough, is supposed to be a preventative to skin cancer (sounds a little like God had it figured out and we messed with it...). The more research is done, the more it begins to look like skin cancer is more strongly linked to something else. But if you're like me and don't want to take a risk with your (extremely pale) children, but also believe the research that most sunscreen is far more dangerous than sun exposure, this is what you do (ie this is what I do): Avoid burning, but only rely on sunscreen as a last resort.
- Avoid going outside on hot, sunny days in the summer between 11am and 4pm.
- If you do go outside, stay in the shade.
- If you have to/choose to be in the sun wear as much protective clothing as you comfortably can.
- And then, if you still need protection, use a sunscreen that doesn't contain oxybenzone, nano particles of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (micronized is fine, nano is not) and that is recommended by the EWG.
In fact, I just had a thought- perhaps, coupled with more widespread vitamin D deficiency, the fact that we (in the US) don't take a "siesta" during the hottest part of the day is to blame. So it's not the sun that causes cancer- it's air conditioning. (the previous statement is totally something that just popped into my brain, I and no one else on the planet, that I am aware of, have any research to back it up. It just occured to me while I was typing the bit about nap time).
Anyway, if you want to read a much better and more well researched blog post about sunscreen and sun exposure, check out Kitchen Stewardship's Sun Week Series from last summer- she puts SOOOO much work into her research, it just blows me away.