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Safe Sunscreens for your little Sunshine(s)

It’s getting warmer out there and if you’re in Ontario you’re getting a sneak peak of summer this week. It’s time to start thinking about sun safety for ourselves and our little ones. There has been a lot of controversy and mixed information about sunscreens in recent years. The amount of information out there can be overwhelming, but it boils down to just a few important things.

 First, the basics:

  • Try to keep your children out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.
  • Cover up – Wear long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim. Use long sleeves and long pants to protect your baby from the sun.
  • Stay in the Shade – Look for places with lots of shade, such as a park with big trees. Always take an umbrella to the beach. Always keep your baby in the shade.
  • Use Sunscreen when you are outside and the UV index is 3 or more. The bottle should read SPF 15 or higher. Put sunscreen on your skin 20 minutes before going out and reapply 20 minutes after being out in the sun to ensure even application of the product and better protection.
  • DO NOT apply sunscreen on babies less than 6 months old.

Source:  Health Canada

What you need to know:

  • Retinyl palmitate – a form of vitamin A and an ingredient in sunscreens. Some research shows this chemical may increase skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin.
  • Oxybenzone – a hormone disrupting chemical used in a lot of sunscreens on the market. It’s best not to use these on children. I was shocked to see how many sunscreen products contained oxybenzone.
  • SPF 50+ is misleading and is not any more effective than SPF 30. In order for it to be effective you have to reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours.
  • There are no products that completely “block” the sun, therefore the term “sunblock” is misleading .

What is out there?

There are “chemical” sunscreens, which gets absorbed into the skin and depending on the ingredients may disrupt the body’s hormone systems. Common ingredients are octisalate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.  Oxybenzone can trigger allergic reactions, is a potential hormone disrupter and penetrates the skin in relatively large amounts. Some experts caution that it should not be used on children. 

There are “mineral” sunscreens (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), which often contain micronized- or nanoscale particles of these minerals. These mineral ingredients may also be toxic if they penetrate the skin and reach the bloodstream but they don’t appear to with the level in sunscreens…but research continues.

Purna Joshi (MSc, Phd) is a  post-doctoral scientist researching endocrine factors and cellular precursors in breast cancer.  She is a close friend of mine and has 3 children. Purna emphasizes that it is important to choose a broad spectrum sunscreen, one that protects against both UVA, related to skin damage and aging, and UVB radiation which causes sunburns. According to Purna, “It is best to choose a sunscreen which includes mineral sunblocks (zinc or titanium) and steer clear of ingredients such as parabens, oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Parabens and oxybenzones are potential endocrine disruptors implicated in contributing to cancer risk, and retinyl palmitate could also increase skin cancer risk.”

Sunscreens with Mexoryl SX is also a good option, but it’s only available in a few products and can be expensive.  If you don’t want to use mineral products then look for products without oxybenzone and those that don’t contain vitamin A.  It is also best to use lotions and sticks rather than sprays or powders as they could pose inhalation danger.

On her own kids, Purna uses Goddess Garden and Heiko which are both natural sunscreens.

Image Source:

With all the bad rap sunglight gets these days, Purna reminded me that sunlight is also beneficial for health since it is crucial to the production of vitamin D, an important nutrient which decreases the risk of osteoporosis, depression, prostate and breast cancer.

“Sunscreens do interfere with vitamin D absorption,” she says, “but this may depend on the frequency and amount of sunscreen one wears. So, some sun exposure without sunscreen during non-peak hours few times a week may actually be beneficial for vitamin D production since it is difficult to acquire equivalent amounts from dietary sources. The darker the skin, the more exposure needed to generate vitamin D.”

Some sunscreens I have tried:

  1. Alba Botanica Organic Lavender SPF 45 – A bit thick but cheaper compared to the other safer brands I saw on the list. It does have some chemical ingredients so I only use it on myself, not my daughter.
  2. Green Beaver Kids Non-whitening Fragrance-free SPF 30 (a Canadian made organic sunscreen)- I’ve been using it on my daughter since she was 6 months old since it has no chemical sunscreen ingredients.  Although it claims to be non-whitening, it gives a silverish tint on darker skin (because of the zinc oxide) and it’s a bit greasy, but blends in well if you keep rubbing.  It has an ‘earthy’ smell which I can live with instead of the artificial chemical smells. I used to see it on the EWG list, but can’t find it anymore.
  3. La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreen with Mexoryl SPF45– this has a nice creamy consistency but goes on a bit white as well and is expensive.  I used it on my daughter for a while but couldn’t justify paying the price when comparable products were out there that cost less.

I encourage you to get familiar with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which is US-based and provides a comprehensive database and safety ratings for a lot of products on the market, including safe sunscreens.  I use EWG for my research on sunscreens and also for other products I use. EWG’s 2013 guide is not yet available, but their 2012 Sunscreen Guide has a wealth of information:

I’m planning to try the Badger Baby sunscreen this year to see if it has a better consistency.

Enjoy the warm weather and remember to stay sun-safe!



July 12, 2013 - 1:28 pm

Summer beauty basics » Mommy Culture - […] For every day use if you’re not out in the sun for hours, a moisturizer with SPF works well. If you’ll be out in the sun longer, make sure you use a good sunscreen and avoid using ones with “toxic” ingredients (see our post on safe sunscreens). […]

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