Oxybenzone, zinc oxide and parabans?… What in the world is this language? It is not easy to understand how to choose the best sunscreen for your child when the majority of the ingredients are written in some sort of code. After extensive research, I have compiled as much information as I could to assist with choosing a sunscreen that works best for your family.
UVB vs UVA Sunray
Understanding UV spectrum is important in order to purchase the right sunscreen to protect against light. Ultraviolet light (UV light) is light from the sun. There are two different types of UV light. Ultraviolet A (UVA) light can penetrate the dermis and is associated with aging of the skin. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is associated with sunburn and damage to the skin. It is important to choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen to protect against both UVA and UVB light.
Choosing the Right SPF
The sun protection factor (SPF) is a number that indicates the level of protection against UVB rays. The numbering system is not user friendly.
- SPF 15- blocks 93% UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% UVB rays
Face vs Body Lotion
Not all skin is created equally. However, when it comes to younger children, using the same product is generally not harmful. But keep this in mind, the skin on a child’s face is much more sensitive than the body and some children may require two different products.
In regards to teenagers, a second product should be considered. When looking for a sunscreen for the face there are four things to look for
- Non-comedogenic formulated to not clog pores causing bacteria to build up and lead to an acne breakout.
- Oil free for those with oily skin
- Moisturizing for those with dry skin
- Fragrance free
Lotion vs Spray
Spray sunscreens are very popular because they are fast and convenient, easy to apply and help cover hard-to-reach areas. However, sprays do not provide guaranteed sun protection. In order to achieve an SPF similar to a lotion or cream, you need to spray each area for at least 6 seconds. This can increase the risk of inhaling the ingredients and possibly triggering asthma. For guaranteed sun protection, you are probably better off using a lotion or cream because you can actually measure the amount of lotion that is applied and it has less irritant.
History of Sunscreen
During this research, I stumbled upon the history of sunscreens and the FDA regulations. I found myself heading down a rabbit hole and I could literally write a paper strictly discussing this matter. To sum up a few of my findings….
Several decades ago, the FDA began requiring manufacturers to do more safety testing of their products. Sunscreens have been around since the 40’s and therefor were kinda “grandfathered in” into the FDA’s system without any real safety testing.
However, many of the active ingredients have been determined to absorb into the the body and are known hormone disruptors. Recently the FDA enacted a Sunscreen Innovation Act (SIA) to provide a better process for reviewing safety measures of sunscreen active ingredients. Despite these findings, and despite the new ACT initiative, these chemical sunscreens are still on the market. The FDA has allowed sunscreen makers to sell their products under an assumption that the active ingredients they use are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE). To date, the FDA has approved many clear chemicals known as endocrine disruptors.
All though there is evidence to prove the chemical ingredients absorb in the body, there is not enough research to prove the cause and effect it may have which is how the FDA considers these ingredients to be GRASE. Chemical sunscreens effects are subtle and take a long time to appear so that makes it difficult to study. However, because sunscreen is applied to the largest organ of the body, and is known as an hormone disruptor, it is plausible to conclude that chemicals from sunscreens increase the risk of various cancers and other endocrine disorders.
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck….
Keeping all of this information in mind, a parent then has to think well what do I do now? Does my child get skin cancer from the UV rays or the chemicals from a sunscreen. Why are these products still on the market. There are a lot of things on the market that perhaps should not be but we as parents have to better inform ourselves to make the best decision for our own children.
Sunscreen Ingredients to Consider
Sunscreen acts as a filter for UV rays. Active ingredients in sunscreen contain either mineral or a chemical UV filter. Chemical options absorb UV rays and mineral options deflect UV rays. Unfortunately, the most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. Continue to read on so we can discuss each ingredient.
Best Ingredients to Look For
The two most commonly used mineral ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are considered the safest options to date. However, some mineral sunscreens contain Nano particles, which researchers have not fully assessed the long term effects on humans and the environment so it is not completely understood what kind of impact they could have. When choosing a mineral based sunscreen, try to find a product without nanoparticles. Make sure you read your labels because a lot of “natural” or “green” products contain nanoparticles.
Did you know that there are no federal regulations defining the use of words like ‘natural’ when it pertains to sunscreens!
Ingredients to Avoid
Most of the chemical UV filtered sunscreen products in the market contain ingredients that is absorbed through the skin and has been found in human urine, breast milk, and can be measured in blood samples after one use thus suspecting systemic absorption. Which basically means these chemicals are found everywhere in the body. Data about human exposure and toxicity according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 97% of Americans have one or more of these chemicals circulating in our bodies. These chemicals can lead to:
- Skin cancer- DNA-damaging chemicals called free radicals in the skin result in an increased risk for skin cancer
- Contact Allergies- hives, swelling, redness
- Endocrine disruptors- These include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid. Can contribute to the development of breast and ovarian cancers in women, and may increase the chance of prostate cancer in men.
- Reproductive toxicity- Can interfere with normal fetal and growing child development. Can cause early puberty, premature breast development and infertility in girls; and undescended testicles, sluggish sperm, and low testosterone in males
- Ecotoxic- Is the direct cause of coral bleaching in our oceans
About 70% of sunscreens on the market are made up of chemical filtered UV ray blocker.
List of harmful Ingredients
- Oxybenzone (AKA Benzophenone-3) – Most common and most worrisome. Avobenzone often replaces this particular benzophenone.
- Octinoxate /Octyl methoxycinnamate- Is generally labeled as OMC, methoxy-cinnamate or ethylhexyl methoxy-cinnamate.
- Formaldehyde- You wont see “Formaldehyde” listed on the ingredients. You will see words such as Quaternium-15, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin and Hydroxymethylglycinate. These release formaldehyde which is a human carcinogen.
- Methylisothiazolinone- A preservative that is neurotoxic
- Parabens: propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben and butylparaben- Commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and molds in sunscreens.
- Retinyl Palmitate- Daily skin application of vitamin A creams may build up a high enough level of Vitamin A that may be toxic.
- Nano Particles
Coral Reef Safe
Some sunscreens are labeled “reef safe”. However, read your labels. Again, “reef safe” and “natural” is not FDA regulated. Most of the harmful ingredients listed above have been banned in many places to protect coral reefs. It is important to keep our oceans clean and safe because we essentially rely on the ocean to oxygenate our planet.
Other Ways to Protect Against UV Rays
- UV blocking sunglasses
- Car windows do not protect against UVA rays
- Long sleeves
- Beach umbrellas provide about 3-5 SPF value of protections against UV rays
- Lip balm with SPF
Remember not all sun exposure is bad….vitamin D!
Don’t forget that the main source of vitamin D comes from the sun. Most people are vitamin D deficient. Early morning sun is less harsh and the perfect time to get your vitamin D.
5 Best Sunscreens Our Bello family uses
The following are EWG tested and personally approved.
1) Think baby– This is one of my favorite sunscreens. It is broad spectrum coverage, a mineral based product and NON-nanoparticles so it is also ocean safe. It is pricier at $18/6oz bottle.
2) Badger baby– I love this product. It scores a one on the EWG scale. It is also a NON-nanoparticle with broad-spectrum coverage. It can be very thick so we personally use this on our children’s face. The price is about $13/2.9oz bottle. They have a lot of manufacturer certifications so over all, it is a very clean product.
3) Blue lizard– Is another broad spectrum coverage and scores a 2 on the EWG scale. Its price range is $15/5oz bottle. It is not as thick as most mineral based sunscreens. The scent is very mild. We personally use this often as well.
4) Babo– Is closely compared to Badger in my opinion. It is also non-nano and contains high UVB/UVA protection. The price point is similar at $13/3 oz bottle.
5) Babyganics– Although this one is not the cleanest sunscreen, I added it to my list because for me, it is medium range on the EWG scale, offers broad spectrum coverage and is cost friendly for those on a budget. It is about $10/bottle for 6oz. The scent is not over whelming but you can smell a bit of the other ingredients.
Sunscreens should NOT be irritating or cause skin allergies. Sunscreen products should only protect against harmful UV rays. Always remember to talk to your Pediatrician before trying anything new.
What sunscreen do you love that I can add to my list above?