Why Your Kids Don’t Need Sunscreen


Manchester, Northern England, June 2012: the sun is out, temperature has almost hit 30°C (over 80°F for those beyond the pond), people spend as much time outside as physically possible and schools panic when parents don’t apply about 100 layers of nuclear-grade sunscreen to their children before school. Summer in England.
I’m not lying about the sunscreen! Not that I think a sunburn is a good thing, but the general anxiousness about even hints of sun here is unhealthy in my opinion. I know people who apply sunscreen every time their children go outside, sunny or not. The same people worry about vitamin D deficiency and give them supplements, which in my mind is just plain crazy.
It feels particularly foolish compared with how people in the South of France deal with the sun. This is a region where the sun is out pretty much every day, and it’s higher up—meaning it is a lot more intense. Parents on the Côte d’Azur would not usually apply any sunscreen even though their kids spend a vast amount of time outside in what would be considered blazing heat in the U.K. So how come they are not totally burnt?
The simple truth is that people in hot, sunny places know how to live with the sun. For all those who usually live in cloudy or rainy places, here’s what you do when it’s hot and sunny:
Rule 1 – Do not go outside between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Rule 2 – Do not expose yourself more than necessary (aka no sunbathing)
Rule 3 – Wear long-sleeved t-shirts if you have to go out mid-day
Rule 4 – Wear a hat
Rule 5 – Trust your senses. If it feels hot, it is hot. That’s your body telling you to find shade.
Rule 6 – Expose gradually, in small doses
I lived on the Côte d’Azur for six years. I don’t think I used sunscreen on more than a couple of occasions, usually when someone made me go to the beach. I did have a couple of sunburns, but not more than I had in Germany when I grew up. From my point of view, people and particularly parents in the U.K. are clearly overdoing it with the sunscreen.
We get so little sun that we should cherish every second of it. That doesn’t mean exposing ourselves relentlessly, but it absolutely means we shouldn’t be afraid and block it out!
I’m an unflappable optimist. I like to think that having only a few really beautiful days here means that I cherish them properly. Right now I’m sitting on a train to London, marveling at the countryside, the bright yellow of the
rapeseed fields, the fresh green of pastures, shrubs and trees and the faint blue sky above it all. Just beautiful.


  1. What a horribly irresponsible, misinformed, and naive little article. Talk to me again after you drop your 4 month old baby off with a nanny so you can have your melanoma removed. The research on skin cancer is now pointing to sunburns before the age of 12 as most harmful and decisive in developing skin cancer later on. Kids need sunscreen, and you need to avoid writing about something you clearly know very little about.

  2. I agree with Ziggyzabel. I understand that you feel that many parents worry too much about something seemingly trivial, but it’s really not; getting sunburned just a few times in your life can significantly increase your risk of getting skin cancer. Just because the people in Cote d’Azur don’t apply sunscreen on their kids doesn’t mean the rest of us should follow their example; rather, it’s they who should be learning from those who DO make their kids wear sunscreen. All those tips about when to stay out of the sun and how to cover up exist for a reason!

  3. Ziggyzabel, you may think the author naive, or even stupid. This is fine. However, there is is no need for you to wish a tumour on him. Remember, he is a real person with a family.
    He is talking about the excessive use of sunscreen in The north of England. Sunny days in these parts of the world are far and few in between. There has been an increasing number of cases of rickets in children and teenagers in the UK. Also, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to various conditions,; skin cancer is one of them (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21371954).
    This post has clearly angered you. I hope you can find why it has elicited such strong feelings, without the need to almost wish a serious ailment to a father of young children.

  4. Sunscreen is full of toxic chemicals, there are even studies suggesting that some ingredients in sunscreen greatly increase one’s risk of suncancer. Cancer is a serious concern and it should not be taken lightly. But sunscreen is not the answer, and can give a false sense of protection–covering up with hats and appropriate clothing combined with simply staying in the shade is sound advice.

  5. @Sue – I was referring to my own skin cancer, as should have been obvious from the specifics I gave. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, especially considering the havoc melanoma has unleashed on my own young family, a by-product of a childhood of lax sun protection. This post angers me because it is irresponsible and incredibly naive for a man with no experience with the consequences to disparage those who properly protect their children.
    Also, half the milk and bread available in the market these days is fortified with vitamin D, there’s no reason to choose between skin cancer and rickets.

    @Melissa, dubious studies “suggesting” a link between chemicals in sunscreen and cancer don’t compare to the much greater and well-known risk sun burns in childhood poses. Covering up with hats and seeking shade is a good idea, but unless you wear a burka all summer you should also be wearing sunscreen. Seek out the most expensive sunblocks with the fewest ingredients to minimize chemical exposure, they work better as sunblock anyway.

  6. The negative commenters seem to ignore the 6 rules that are spelled out. I am very protective of my skin and my children’s skin and I think you are right on target with taking precaution to avoid high sun exposure but not to freak out about a little bit here and there. My children and I wear good hats when we are out in the sun and we try to stay inside or in the shade from 11-4pm. And we live in the middle of the U.S. where it is sunny and over 95′ F for weeks on end.

  7. Ziggyzabel, I am sorry for what you have gone through, it must have been awful…
    I wish you and your family good health.

  8. My children almost 8, have lived their entire lives in Mexico and have never had a sunburn. Covering up and staying out of the sun works just as well, if not better than, using sunscreen. I ablsolutely do not want them to live through cancer–that is why I don’t let them get burned, that is also why we use nothing but pure coconut oil on our skin with the exceptions of the occasional all day outing to the pool/lake/beach.

  9. Thank God! Someone with a little bit of common sense about the sun. Sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer, sun EXPOSURE is not a bad thing. I’m so glad that someone is willing to say something about this! There is an increase in rickets in children who are exclusively breastfed and not exposed to the sun. You could give your child vitamin D supplements (suspiciously made by the same people who make baby formula) OR you could expose your child to the sun for 15 minutes PER WEEK. The sun is not killing us, guys. Just use your head! Sheesh.

  10. I always appreciate articles that dare to speak common sense despite what ‘research shows’. In my practice in Kenya I find that I actually see more people with a Vitamin D deficiency than those who have suffered skin cancers. (There are many Kenyans of European extraction so I am not just talking about Kenyan Africans) The skin absorbs between 60 – 80% of what is put on it and there are many sunscreens with concerning ingredients. Common sense sun exposure makes a lot more sense – we have to live with the sun and benefit from it – how sad to be terrified of our natural elements.

  11. There is a reason why the inhabitants of African countries do not need to worry quite so much about applying sun protection and that is because the ozone layer over these countries has been far less affected by greenhouse gases affording these peoples far greater natural protection from the sun’s rays. This is in contrast to the areas at the other extremes of the hemispheres. The ozone holes are no longer confined to just above the polar regions, the depleted areas have grown steadily and now stretch down over northern Europe. This means the UK people! The cellular damage caused by the sun rays can not be judged simply by how hot it is! This is not a subject for nostalgia or emotion, these are scientific facts and should be taken on board! Enjoy the British sun sensibly, avoid being out in the middle of the day when the sun rays are more direct and stronger, cover up with hats and light loose clothing and, in the words of Baz Luhrman, wear sunscreen!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here