In a word: we don’t. We actually like the sun and don’t view it as an enemy, but a friend. But too much of a good thing is still too much, so we expose ourselves to it in appropriate amounts.
Now for the long answer.
We get questions like this all the time—especially now that we have a small human with soft and delicate skin. People ask: Do we slather her several times a day? What about at the pool or the beach? Do the other kids burn easily? The answer to all three of those questions is no. We are fortunate in that our genetic recipe for children includes “lovely golden complexion.” Even the child with the fairest hair and eyes turns a beautiful golden brown in the sun. The children have never burned in their lives aside from the occasional pink nose when someone forgot to wear his or her hat. Even Rachel, with her pearly pink baby skin is getting a little baby tan.
Cancer is no joking matter—but we have come to the conclusion that safe sun exposure does not cause skin cancer any more than healthy food causes allergies. I’m sure I’m opening a can of worms here, but we do not believe in slathering our kids with the chemicals in sunscreen any more than we would feed them something we can’t pronounce. The two topics are inextricably linked in my mind: we try not to put anything un-natural or over-processed on or in our bodies.
The skin is the body’s largest organ. It is the first line of defense against all sorts of toxins and micro-organisms. We avoid anti-bacterial soaps and don’t scrub the kids down very often intentionally: they need good critters on their skin to fight malicious microbes. The skin is also the body’s main mechanism for collecting light, which it somehow miraculously turns into Vitamin D, which is integral to staying healthy. That means safe sun exposure every day, not sun avoidance. And, of course, skin is permeable—which means if you can’t ingest it, don’t put it on your skin!
We believe we were put on planet Earth (or evolved here, if that’s your style) under the rays of the sun, and that we actually need its light and heat to thrive. Of course, depending on your ancestry and where you now live, you may be more or less susceptible to getting too much sun. This is easily combatted by getting a tan very slowly, so you can prevent skin-damaging burns, and by wearing hats and clothes. It’s a sensible approach, and unless we’re going to be out all day where there is no shade, we don’t use sunscreens at all. When we do, we use all-natural products like Burt’s Bees.
The problem with sunscreens is chiefly that the cosmetics industry is self-policing and is not tightly regulated by the FDA (and even if it were, I’d be wary). That’s like the fox guarding the henhouse. If you start researching some of the ingredients in your sunscreen (yes, even the kind for babies), you will find all sorts of frightening facts that will probably turn you into a health-nut like me. Next thing you know, your kids will be wearing SPF clothing and eating home-made bread. Come to think of it, that’s actually not such a bad thing.
Note: Great information on the importance of vitamin D and safe sun exposure as well as cancer prevention can be found at www.Mercola.com and you can check the toxicity of your favorite sunscreens at the Environmental Working Group’s site: www.ewg.org/skindeep/