During the unexpected heatwave we are enjoying this Summer, sales of sun cream have rocketed. We have become fearful of the sun and, being a redhead, I know from experience how painful sunburn can be. In previous years I have duly done the ‘right’ thing and liberally applied sunscreen to the children. But after reading an article in The Green Parent about the harm that can be caused by ingredients in cosmetics, shampoos, baby wipes for instance, I began being a bit more aware of what I was putting on my children’s skin. Last year I bought a ‘green’ organic sun cream, it seemed to work fine but it was prohibitively expensive; a £10 tube protected my four children for about two days. This year I have tried a different tactic and have done without sunscreen of any sort. Despite the high temperatures, so far this has worked well; we are just taking the obvious precautions-staying out of the midday sun, covering up, wearing hats. Getting them gradually exposed has worked well too; they play outside every day and I no longer worry too much as I think their skin has become accustomed to the sunshine.

Out of interest, these are the ingredients in a bottle of Ambre Solaire UV Sensitive Spray SPF 40: Aqua/Water, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Propylene Glycol, Ethylhexyl salicylate, Alcohol denat., Octocrylene, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Titanium Dioxide, Ethylhexyl triazone, Glycerin, Polyster-5, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, Drometrizole trisiloxane, Tocopherol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Triethanolamine, Polyacrylate-3, Pentasodium ethylenediamine tetramethylene phosphonate, Terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid, glycine soja/soybean oil. Does anyone without a degree in Chemistry know what this stuff is? And would you want it rubbed all over your skin, the body’s largest organ? Octocrylene and oxybenzone mimic oestrogen’s chemical make-up, and are now being found in fish and sea life. It is washed off the tanned human body, passes unchanged through sewage works and settles on the seabed, where fish eat it. The problem is, the fish are changing sex. Toxicology experts believe that oxybenzone is linked to hormone disruption and potentially to cell damage that may, ironically lead to skin cancer. Titanium Dioxide is another worry; it is a fine white powder that reflects and scatters ultraviolet light. Its full effects on human health unclear but the government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) labels the chemical “a potential occupational carcinogen.” It is also used in self-cleaning windows because it reacts with light to break down organic matter such as dirt.

Of course we all need to be aware of the importance of the prevention of skin cancers which claim 2,120 lives each year according to Cancer Research UK, with skin cancer rates rising threefold in last 20 years. Curiously, skin cancer rates and sunscreen usage have risen simultaneously. Some studies have proven that sunscreens do protect us from some types of less threatening forms of skin cancers, but others have found that sunscreens have actually contributed to the risk of some of the worst forms of skin cancers. So what do you do? Increased use of sunscreens encourages us to stay out longer in the sun because we think we are fully protected. Even with lashings of lotion, one should still avoid the midday sun, wear clothes as protection and try not to overdo the sunbathing.The other problem with sunscreen is the fact that its over use is preventing children (and adults) getting the Vitamin D they need. Using as little as 15 SPF blocks the body’s ability to convert the sun’s rays to Vitamin D by 99%. To increase chances of avoiding diseases linked to deficiencies in Vitamin D (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and depression) – we must get sunshine!