SunblockThanks to global warming, it’s already hit 80 degrees a few times here in DC.

My daughter loves being outdoors, but with skin cancer rates rising nationwide, and with her inherited bad skin-cancer luck (three of her great-grandparents and one of her grandparents have had skin cancers ranging from the benign to the quick killing sort), I’m concerned about protecting her. I’m also concerned about putting expensive, toxic gunk all over her…that might kill her more readily than the skin cancer that it’s supposed to prevent!

To put it bluntly: sunscreens suck. By the EPA’s own definition, sunscreens are chemicals that protect skin by absorbing and/or reflecting UVA and UVB rays. PABA, the most common chemical in sunscreen is a known carcinogen, as are many of the other common ingredients found in sunscreen. Sunblocks, on the other hand, are made of ingredients that themselves simply block, reflect, and scatter the sun’s rays, without any chemical reaction. But many products labeled as sunblock really aren’t—they contain PABA or other chemicals. As I noted previously, skin products aren’t monitored for safety the way food products are, even though new scientific evidence suggest that they may be absorbed even more directly into the bloodstream.

So, what’s the best strategy for protecting your kids’ skin?

Shade. Try to find a shady place for your kids to play outside. If you simply avoid direct exposure to the sun, you protect them without having to load on sunscreen. And it’s free! Hats and covering up exposed flesh are also good options.

If they are swimming or doing something else outdoors in which direct exposure is unavoidable, try a product whose main active ingredient is zinc oxide. Yep, good ‘ole fashioned zinc: that white, gooky stuff that lifeguards put on their shnozzes. It works, it’s non-toxic, and if you rub it in, it doesn’t look too weird. There are products which micronize zinc oxide to make it less gloppy, but there are some health concerns about micronized particles—they are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. So stick with the gloppy stuff. Dr. Hauscha makes a great children’s sunscreen that, while pricey, lasts a long time because you only need a little bit. It smells good, too! Blue Lizard is another one. And here’s a recipe for homemade zinc oxide sunblock!

What other tips do you have for inexpensive, chemical-free ways of keeping the sun’s harmful rays off your kids’ skin?