Even wearing sunscreen isn’t as simple as it seems

It’s high school graduation season and that means radio stations everywhere are overplaying Baz Luhrmann’s 1997 song, “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen).”

The catchy song lyrics are thanks to Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, whose 1997 newspaper column went viral before “going viral” was even a thing: first making Internet fame when someone put it on the web and labeled it as a commencement speech delivered by Kurt Vonnegut to Massachusetts Institute of Technology grads, and then getting incorporated into Luhrmann’s spoken-word song.

Schmich spoke to this editor’s college class at the University of Oregon in 1997 and talked about sitting on a bench one sunny day, trying to imagine what she would tell high school grads if she ever had the chance to deliver a commencement speech.

Her column was filled with advice gems like: “Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts; don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours; floss; and don’t waste your time on jealousy.”

But it was Schmich’s opening statement that gave Luhrmann his song title: “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.”

In Washington and Oregon, this advice is critically important. Our corner of the Pacific Northwest has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country, with roughly 200 Washingtonians dying from melanoma each year. What’s more, a Environmental Protection Agency study found that 44 percent of Washington residents reported that they’d had a sunburn — a major risk factor for developing skin cancer — within five years.

So Schmich was correct: If there’s one blanket piece of advice for Washington graduates, it really is to “wear sunscreen.”

But, of course, nothing in life can be that simple, right? In fact, if you’re a slightly paranoid parent like, well, like me, you may have noticed that some sunscreens are thought to … cause cancer.

Yes, we know. It’s lunacy. But don’t panic, because the folks at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group have done an exhaustive amount of research on thousands of sunscreens.

Every year for the past 11 years, the EWG has compiled a list of the best and worst sunscreens. The group even lists the healthiest sunscreens for children and for “beach and sport” activities.

The entire list is available on EWG’s website at www.ewg.org, but a trip to Blossom Natural Health in Camas (one of the businesses featured in our Healthy Living supplement inside this issue of The Post-Record) will give you a nice selection of sunscreens that earned EWG’s highest ratings in 2017.

So, yes, to graduates (and everyone else who doesn’t want to get skin cancer): Wear sunscreen. Just make sure it’s the “good” kind of sunscreen.