damned if you do, damned if you don’t: sunscreen edition

As if the 100 degree temps in the Northeast weren’t enough motivation for you to give up on summer and just keep the kids inside until school starts, there’s been a recent groundswell of information suggesting that sunscreens may be carcinogenic. Or just really bad. Or at least not totally definitely fine. Watch this clip on CNN, called “Could Sunscreen Cause Cancer?” where Dr. Sanjay Gupta successfully avoided answering the question this way:

We’re not SURE that a lot of these things are dangerous. But we’re not positive that they’re safe, either.

This all started with a study from the Environmental Working Group, who have a list of what they consider to be 39 “safe” sunscreens, and the hundreds more that, in their opinion, aren’t. 

Guess which side of the fence the half-dozen half-used sunscreens in my house fall on, as well as all of those handy roll-on face sticks? Yup. 

If you want to be paralyzed with indecision, like I am, about whether you really need to ditch all the sunscreen in your house and start over, you can look up your own sunscreens on the EWG website. 

You can also check out their nine surprising truths about sunscreen, which I would call something more like “relatively shocking.” Number One? There’s no consensus, apparently, on whether sunscreens actually prevent skin cancer after all. Number Two? Sunscreens might INCREASE the risk of skin cancers for some people. (See, I told you.)

The sunscreen industry is predictably pooh-poohing this study, saying everything in their products has been FDA-approved. Which is true. Of course, so were bisphenol A, and melamine, and all those cough syrups for infants that were pulled from shelves once it dawned on someone that they’d never actually been tested on infants. The FDA testing on the sunscreen ingredients EWG is flagging was done 30 years ago. 

Here’s the EWG is saying: Avoid sunscreens with “retinol” or “retinyl palmitate” in their list of ingredients. Oxybenzone is a “notorious endocrine disruptor.” (Notorious? to whom? since when?) Here I’ve been slathering on the oxybenzone, thinking I was a good mother.  Now, to be fair, the good Dr. Gupta says that the oxybenzone dangers have so far only been proven in mice. So there are no definite answers yet.

Great. So it’s up to me whether to be neurotic, throw out a house full of sunscreen, and spend a hundred dollars on the schmancy recommended brands– or whether to shrug, figure it’s probably fine, and keep doing what I’m doing– or to throw up my hands, give up on what is easily the most annoying ten minutes of my day (lubing up three whining children), and send ’em outside to fry. 

None of those seems right. I’m not sure what I’m doing yet, but as my eloquent sister-in-law, who first tipped me off to this whole story, put it:

I’m SO not a worrier. But this really pisses me off.