I was a slave
to the sun in my teen years — hours spent laying out, pouring on the baby oil,
soaking up the rays and loving the dark tan that formed as proof of my
dedication to the outdoors.
By the time I
was 16, I had discovered tanning beds and was making daily visits after school, in addition to my weekends spent outdoors basking in the sunlight that never
seemed to go away in Arizona. From the time I was old enough to have a say, I
turned my nose up at sunscreens and instead opted for tanning lotions and oils.
Anything to further enhance my glow.
By the time I
was 25, I had my first skin cancer scare: two large areas of basal cell
carcinoma that had to be removed and left gnarly scars that I jokingly refer to as
“knife wounds” today. I am a fair-skinned girl with a family history of
melanoma. The years I spent vying for the perfect tan were, perhaps, among the
most dangerous choices of my misspent youth. At 31, I can’t go to the
dermatologist without them finding something “suspicious” to remove. And I
wait … counting on the day when one of those biopsies comes back as something
more frightening than just basal cell. It seems almost inevitable that day will
come, given my history and that of nearly every member of my father’s side of
So as a
mother, my gut instinct should be to now slather my child in the sunscreen I
never wore enough of in my own childhood, right?
Well, it turns
out — the answer’s not quite that simple.
I consider myself
a pretty crunchy mama. Or at least, I try
to be a crunchy mama. Years ago, when I first began experiencing issues with
endometriosis and the subsequent loss of my fertility, I found myself turning
more and more toward natural therapies when western medicine seemed to be
failing me. I found more relief from acupuncture and myofascial release
treatments than I ever had from the medication that had my hair falling out and
caused me to vomit nearly every day. And visits with a naturopath and nutritionist
had me revisiting my entire diet and suddenly considering all that is wrong
with the processed foods many Americans so thoughtlessly consume today.
I am by no
means perfect. I still have my weaknesses and guilty pleasures when it comes to
foods that I know are not good for me. But I try really hard to implement an
organic, whole-foods diet in our home. When it comes to feeding my daughter, I
work diligently to avoid the hormones and chemicals that plague many of our
I would say I
do a pretty good job about 80 percent of the time.
concerns don’t just stop with food. I am also forever aware of what I am
putting on her body, not just in it.
Not only because she has some seriously sensitive skin, but also because I
have done the research and know that many lotions and household products are
full of chemicals that have never been tested by the FDA in terms of
safety. And when it comes to the
products we put directly on our skin, many of those chemicals have the ability
to leach into the bloodstream.
And that's pretty terrifying when you think about it.
Like most things these days, I don’t totally know what to believe as a mom. I want to do what is best for my child, but I don’t know what that is.
reports surrounding the dangers of sunscreen have me nervous. Particularly now,
in the middle of summer, when the question of whether or not to slather my baby
up before we head outdoors is always there.
So, of course,
the more I've read, the more panicked I've become. I literally spent hours
one Saturday afternoon researching and trying to determine what would be more
dangerous to my little girl in the long run: sunscreen or sun burns.
starts to feel like there is no winning at all.
things these days, I don’t totally know what to believe as a mom. I want to do
what is best for my child, but I don’t know what that is. And when her daycare
asked me last week to bring in sunscreen for her, I honestly didn’t know how to
Do I want them slathering her up? Or would I
prefer they plop a hat on her and call it a day?
For now, I’m
trying to mitigate any risks by opting for more natural sunscreens, those that
specifically avoid the use of oxybenzone, which from what I can tell – is one of the
scarier additives used in many sunscreens. Thinkbaby has a brand I like and so does Seventh Generation; both
organic products seem to limit the use of too many chemicals.
Beyond that, I
try to remind myself that my daughter has a few things going for her that I did
not. For one, we live in Alaska now, so her sun exposure is far less than mine
was as a kid, to the point that I almost have to worry more about ensuring she
gets enough vitamin D than I do her risk of sunburns. Then there is the fact
that she is adopted, and therefore hasn’t inherited my fair skin. Her darker
native complexion protects her, which also has me feeling less nervous when we
are out in the sun's rays.
there are so many decisions we have to make where we weigh the pros and cons.
Sunscreens make me nervous, and there will certainly be days when I opt to risk
the sun exposure over slathering her up. But if we’re going to be out all day
and the sun's rays are beating down, I know I’ll want to do what I can to help
her avoid a burn.
So for me, the
sunscreen question is going to become a day-by-day analysis — one where I ask
myself, based on what we are doing and how long we plan on being outdoors,
where I feel the bigger risk resides. Is it from the sun
itself, or from the sunscreen meant to keep those rays at bay?