Use Real Sunscreen This Summer, Not Chicken Oil, Diaper Cream, or Carrots

Public Domain. Skeyndor

We love natural skincare products, but when it comes to sun safety, choose a sunscreen that's approved by the EWG.

The FDA announced last week that it is cracking down on sunscreen fraud. Numerous companies in the United States have been marketing sunscreen pills, which are dietary supplements claiming to "prevent sunburn, reduce early skin aging caused by the sun, or protect from the risks of skin cancer." Popping a sunscreen pill does sound wonderfully convenient, but the FDA insists it doesn't work like that in real life: "There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen."

The announcement goes on to acknowledge new health concerns. It says that times have changed and many people now use sunscreen on a daily basis:

"When sunscreens first came on the market, they were used only occasionally at the beach. Now, people are encouraged to use them liberally whenever they are out in the sun. So our exposure to sunscreens has greatly increased. At the same time, there’s also growing interest in how the active ingredients in sunscreens may be absorbed through the skin. When sunscreens first came on the U.S. market, sunscreen active ingredients were not thought to penetrate the skin. We now have evidence that it’s possible for some sunscreen active ingredients to be absorbed through the skin."

In light of this, the FDA says it is working with the sunscreen industry to conduct more in-depth research into chemical safety. (Unfortunately there was no mention of the environmental impact of sunscreen ingredients, but that's something you can read about here.)

If you're a committed TreeHugger, then there's a chance you already have a healthy skepticism for much of what the FDA says, considering its notorious lack of regulation of cosmetic and skincare ingredients. I certainly take their recommendations with a grain of salt, preferring to read ingredient lists carefully and do my own research. Still, it's good to know that the organization is listening to shoppers' concerns and responding to them -- how effectively, we have yet to see.

As a pale-skinned redhead living in a beach town with pale-skinned redheaded children, I do have to take sunscreen seriously. It doesn't take much to convince me that relying on coconut or sesame oils, chicken oil, carrot slushies, and diaper cream seems like a profoundly bad idea for staving off a sunburn. (See LifeHacker for a list of curious sunscreen substitutes.) I prefer to rely on non-homemade concoctions that have been tested by the EWG, published annually in its safe sunscreen guide.

The EWG's top picks for kids' sunscreens can be viewed here, and there is an additional list of 216 Beach & Sport sunscreens that meet its safety criteria. One interesting detail:

"Parents should know that the FDA does not set any criteria or additional requirements for sunscreen and body care products marketed to children. EWG has not identified any systematic differences between the types of products marketed to children and the general population."

In other words, don't pay through the nose for a product simply labeled 'kid-friendly' when a regular one will do! And remember, sunscreen should always be a last resort for sun protection. Regardless of how clean and green a product is, or whether it's laden with FDA-approved chemicals (for now!), your safest bet is to cover up, stay in the shade, and time your beach visits not to coincide with the peak of day.