Sunscreen, Nano-particles and Other Nasties

Two children on a beach, Is your sunscreen doing you more harm than good?

(Originally published September 19, 2013. Last updated April 2019)

As the Australian summer comes creeping slowly towards us, the children have been told they need broad brimmed sun hats at school again.

For the coldest winter months the Cancer Council now gives the message that a little vitamin D might be a good thing, and the children take off their hats to play. Well, in theory anyway. In reality in Canberra, my kids wear beanies outside for most of the winter! But they still get a little sun. Which is good, because a Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to some more deadly cancers than skin cancers.

But once it get’s really warm, the Slip, Slop, Slap message will come back in force (for those readers a little younger than me that phrase is from the 80’s sun safety message “Slip on a shirt, Slop on sun screen and Slap on a hat”). But how safe is the sunscreen we are using really?

Between the potential for nano-particles, the nasty chemicals, and the lack of Vitamin D, you might be forgiven for wondering, are there safer options?

Well, I don’t have all the answers for you, but luckily, some other people do. So this is just a quick “link love” post, to give you some other excellent resources on the vexed question of sun safety:

  • Dr Sarah Lanzt, author of Chemical Free Kids, published this article last summer, in which she not only gives the controversial instruction “don’t wear sunscreen,” but she explains how to choose a safer sunscreen, and how to get enough vitamin D (she recommends some brands as well).
  • The Huffington Post had an article a couple of years back on a study that found many commercial sunscreens were actually accelerating the growth of skin cancers, because of the Vitamin A used.
  • This article on Kidspot from Kate Hennessy also looks at sunscreen and nano-particles, and points out that many of those that don’t contain nanos, do contain endocrine disrupting chemicals. Yummy. (This article has been reproduced, with permission, in my book, Less Toxic Living)
  • Speaking of yummy, Katie at Wellness Mama published this article last summer suggesting your eat your sunscreen – only, not literally! But apparently, what you eat does effect how sensitive you are to the sun.
  • Finally, Sarah Wilson published an article last year on how to choose a toxin free sunscreen, which also includes a list of ingredients, whether they work chemically or physically, and how much protection they actually offer. Note though, that her list of nano-free sunscreens is out of date – there was a big controversy last summer when a number of Australian sunscreens thought to be nano-free were shown not to be, because of an ingredient they all used which claimed to be no-nanos, but wasn’t (Sarah has made a note of this in the article).

Now, if you want to make your own sunscreen, to be sure you know exactly what’s in it (or just to save some dollars!), you could try one of these recipes:

So, as summer comes around (or gradually departs, if you are reader from the Northern Hemisphere), be sun safe, but do try to do it without increasing your toxic load too much, if at all.

Over to y’all: What’s your best tip for surviving the summer sun?