When a friend casually mentioned the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen report to me in passing, I should have nodded, smiled, and moved on. Instead, I asked her to share it with me.
Like any curious parent, upon clicking open the report, I did not read the methodology, I ignored the small print, and I went straight for the explanation of my own tried and true brand, Neutrogena. EWG tested for the accuracy of the UVA/UVB spectrum and for the presence of several potentially toxic chemicals, and Neutrogena gets low marks on both. I was deflated.
Sunscreen is one of my few parenting neuroses. As a fair-skinned mother of two fair-skinned littles, sunscreen is all I have to protect my skin and their skin from the punishment of a toxic sunburn. I am aggressively concerned about protecting their skin. When my oldest could barely talk, I drilled into her head that we need sunscreen “to protect our skin” and while she loathed the lotioning up, in five years, she has never had sunburned skin. Thank. Goodness.
To think my only line of defense had toxic chemicals in it? That sent me over the edge. I did the only thing a reasonable person would do. I hauled ass to Whole Foods and picked up some Badger suncreen stat. Totally pathetic.
I have become my own worst parenting nightmare.
If you always bought organic sunscreen, I am sorry if I ever judged you.
Buying organic has never been a priority for me. Many consumers believe that an organic label signals something, but I am not sure it signals anything besides a false sense of security. Organic labeling and production are more complex that most consumers know. While I care about the purity of my beauty products and my food, I care more about other qualities like: how far did this product travel, how are the elements of this product sourced, how were the folks who make this product treated in the process? I care about where our food comes from and when it comes to products like sunscreen or lotion, I never gave them much thought.
The adoption of organic sunscreen is an move unprecedented in my household. I am not the parent who reads something incendiary and runs out to the first natural grocery store to buy my way out of a child-rearing panic. My husband is slightly agog with my hysteria. To be fair, my husband has never endured a painful, blistering sunburn and cannot fully understand how unbearable it would be to see our littles look like lobsters.
Worse, yet, I cannot seem to calm my brain down. Every day I visit the pool or the park and I see a friend (or a perfect stranger) lotioning up their child, I inquire about their chosen brand. And since summer is full of sunny days, I have many chances every day to make myself crazy. Even as I wrote this essay, I kept surprising myself at the level of worry I harbored over this incidental detail of my day.
This is not the kind of parent I want to be. I am the calm one, the unruffled, unrattled one. I keep trying to remind myself that we never cared about this kind of thing in the first place, that we will be fine with whatever sunscreen we choose.
It’s not about the sunscreen, really.
Parenting has this way of feeling like smooth sailing and impending hurricane at the very same time. And every parent has their own struggles–their children’s allergies, major or minor health conditions, behavioral problems–and their own hangups. But, no one is really watching or judging how you manage those hangups (big and small) except you.
Which means no one is going to let you off the hook except you.
So as our sunscreen supply dwindles, I’ll have to relax and perhaps revert to our conventional, if toxic, standby brand. And I won’t judge me if you won’t.
To suggest that your husband “cannot fully understand how unbearable it would be to see our littles look like lobsters” strikes me as terribly unfair. Is it not possible that having never experienced a sunburn, his idea of a sunburn’s effect could be even worse than reality? That his lack of experience might lead to an exaggerated understanding? This kind of thing happens all the time.
It’s convenient to discount a person’s opinion when you have more experience than him or her, but as human beings, we are gifted with imagination, logical, reason, and the ability to project ourselves into situations that we have never experienced. Many times, these projections are quite accurate. And these people lacking the experience oftentimes also lack the emotional attachment to the situation (having never experienced it themselves). As a result, they can often be more logical and rationale than people with the experience.
I avoided reading this report and it still haunts me. So funny how, like you said, everyone has their thing. Your last paragraph reminded me of a tweet from Nein Quarterly that tickled me at the time and has really stuck: “hate yourself like no one is watching, they aren’t” I certainly won’t judge, but you go right ahead if that’s your thing. I’ll be busy judging myself about the full sodium BPA beans that I let my daughter eat straight from the can.
Having a mole just a year ago completely excised because of it’s similarity to melanoma, this topic is something that eats at me every single day. It’s so true that parenting has a feeling of smooth sailing and a hurricane impending at the same time. This post hits so close to home, as I have felt these same emotions, both about sunscreen and organic products. Thanks for your insight.