Sunscreens, Recalls and Sunshine
As a young mum, I was called a child abuser because I refused to put sunscreen on my children. One mum could not believe I was endangering my children’s health in such a manner. It was not worth telling her why I didn’t, because she refused to listen.
Now 30 years later with science and the recalling of sunscreens, it may give these mothers a look into my own concerns.
My children are now in their 30s, they live the principles of healthy eating and healthy sunshine with activity, and they are passing this on to their children.
Let me explain my position 30 years ago.
Due to my studies in anthropology and my science degree, I knew the importance of sunshine, not only for circadian rhythms for sleep and digestion but for the manufacturing of vitamin D from cholesterol because of the sun on the skin. This in turn improves immunity, skin health, bone density and strength as well as brain function and cognition. Sunshine on the skin also increases nitric oxide which in turn lowers blood pressure and gives a feeling of overall wellbeing. Sunshine helps with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to increase neurotransmitters for mental health. It’s a known cure for jaundice in babies and boosts the growth of children. In other words, sunshine is a healthy ingredient to put into your tool kit.
I also threw in some common sense.
I’m an ingredient reader not only for food but anything that comes into my house, anything that goes on the skin of my children or myself.
So, when sunscreens were recommended in the slip slop slap campaign, I wanted to know the ingredients. I was pedantic with the food my family ate so I was going to be just as pedantic about everything else. I wanted healthy children, I wanted the best for my children, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t following the crowd that was misinformed, I was inquisitive and wanted to know why and what.
I read the ingredients of what was recommended by the Cancer Council. It looked like a bunch of chemicals, and I wasn’t putting chemicals on my young babies and children’s skin.
Now in May of 2022 there are recalls of sunscreens due to benzene (cancer forming) chemical. It is said that the benzene is in there by mistake and the recall was for the past two years of manufacturing.
What is Benzene?
With the widespread use of benzene in the 1900s, it was apparent that it had some serious toxicity issues. The use of benzene declined where it is now used as a chemical building block in organic synthesis.
Benzene is used to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, nylon, synthetic fibres, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, fragrances, detergents, drugs, preservatives and pesticides to name a few.
Benzene became the primary carcinogen responsible for large increases in leukemia diagnosis in exposed workers. Like any toxic substance, its dose and frequency that determines the risk profile. Although this compound is regulated like many other chemicals, I’m always dubious about how they are regulated. Too many times chemicals have been sanctioned by governing bodies to be found to cause birth defects, cancer, autoimmune disease, destruction of the microbiome and so much more. I’m a nature girl and as much as possible avoid chemicals where I can.
If the dose and frequency are the risk profile, I would say that sunscreens are lathered on children nearly every day and sometimes more than once a day. Schools, playgroups, kindergartens and sports teams all recommend and put sunscreen on the children. I had strict instructions for teachers and carers never to put sunscreen on my children.
How does Benzene get into the Sunscreen?
Sadly, there are many avenues where benzene can enter skin care or sunscreen products. It may be a contaminant in one or more ingredients, like fragrances or preservatives. It may be a chemical reaction between the chemicals in the product. It may be in the product due to leaching from the plastic packaging the sunscreen its contained in. Benzene may also be within the product due to operational exposure from cleaning of production equipment with solvents containing benzene
Many chemicals are single tested for toxicity and then a manufacturer may add 10 safe chemicals together which may result in another chemical being formed that may have carcinogenic properties. Just because it’s on the shelf of a pharmacy does not mean it has been thoroughly tested for long-term use.
Although this has only come to our attention and benzene is the chemical of concern, who knows how many more chemicals have accidentally been produced, leached, or contaminated within the sunscreens and skin care products over the past 40 years.
There are many chemicals in sunscreens, some are there to protect against UV light that is deemed to be harmful by science but that can be debated. They can use, chemical and or physical barriers. Preservatives will also be used as will fragrances and other filler ingredients.
How did I protect my children?
Protection included sun exposure and food. Firstly, exposure to the sun and a tan were important during the summer months. We lived on the Sunshine Coast and we lived at the beach. My husband and I would get to the beach before 8.00 am in the morning during the summer months and we were gone just before 10.00 am. We would then come back after 3.00 pm and get a dose of beautiful sunshine.
If for some reason, we were in the sun longer my children wore hats and protective clothing. But with their tan, they were able to sustain a healthy dose of sunshine.
Food was also an important factor in the health of their skin and to protect them from melanomas. We did not eat anything that had vegetable oil in it, we ate no margarine, and everything was made from scratch in my kitchen from whole foods.
The fat under the skin is important for protection against the sun. Feed the body vegetable oils and margarine and you feed the body fat that is non-protective. Feed the body wholesome nature-based fats and the body has its natural protection. Anthropologically we lived outside, and we did not eat vegetable oil but rather animal fats and nature-based plant fats, like seeds and nuts.
Ultimately, it’s up to you what you do. I’m just giving you the information so that you can become more informed. I write about this subject in my book Lab To Table (available for purchase via my website – Changing Habits) which was published before the sunscreen recall. I lean on the side of caution with most things, I don’t dive into the latest and greatest trends but depend on good common sense, anthropological principles and the philosophy of vitalism. This is how I’ve kept my family safe and healthy.
To learn more about the fundamentals of health and nutrition in what often feels like a confusing and contradictory world, try The Nutrition Academy’s Introduction to Nutrition course. It is a great course for mums who want to educate themselves about what they are putting in their children’s bodies. Time seems to be on my side. Because the principles as to how I make decisions always seem to work when everyone else thinks you are the crazy one.