For the last 30 years, the messaging has been clear: Slather your body with sunscreen if you so much as even think about going outside in the sun. Cloudy and rainy? Doesn’t matter. Wear the sunscreen. Want to build up a base tan? You’re killing yourself. Wear the sunscreen. It’s only ten minutes? That ten minutes of sunscreen-less sun exposure will shave a year off your life. Wear the sunscreen.
In more recent years, the tide has shifted. Research has come out showing that most commercial sunscreen contains chemical compounds that act as carcinogens when absorbed, at least in animal models. Maybe we don’t even want to block the sun at all. Or maybe we do, but there’s a better way to do it than using chemical filters that absorb into our skin. At any rate, I figured with summer rolling around that it was time to revisit the topic of sunscreen. So let’s do that, shall we?
The ancients prayed to it. Farmers relied on it. The seasons depend on the earth’s tilt toward it. The sun is always up there, shining down, filling the world with light and heat, sending down powerful rays of energy that scatter across the surface, sneak through windows, penetrate otherwise dark caves. You can’t avoid it, unless you shut yourself inside, draw the blinds, and close your eyes.
That’s what we’re supposed to do: avoid it. “Any amount of sun exposure is unsafe,” according to the experts, and will give us skin cancer. They tell us it’s a toxin. If we have to be outside, we’d better slather on the sunscreen, wear a hat that shields our entire body, and avoid the harsh midday sun at all costs.