Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baby Safe Sunscreens and Summer Fun

Summer is here, finally! Whip out those beach chairs, inflatable kiddie pools, flip flops, and lots of sunscreen...right? Well, yes and no. What you don't know about sunscreen can hurt you and your kids. Many moms, including myself, are concerned about the safety of mainstream sunscreens on the market today - and we have every reason to ask questions on behalf of our little ones, that's what Mamapedia is for! Many moms on that website ask sunscreen questions, like this one "Sunscreen for a 4 month old?" I can certainly relate since my daughter is turning 4 months in just a week.

First let's make it clear that generic sunscreen is not safe not only for babies, but for adults as well. Sunscreen active ingredients such as oxybenzone, methylparaben, and homosalate are known carcinogens and/or endocrine disruptors whose chemical reactions are only intensified with heat. Common baby sunscreens such as Banana Boat, No-AD, Huggies, and Coppertone, all contain at least one of those ingredients. Even I had an unfavorable reaction to sunscreen, that is when I started researching the ingredients, long before I had my own child. When I was out in the sun without sunscreen everything was fine, with sunscreen on the other hand I had a horrible blistery rash everywhere I applied it.

Thanks to the Internet and the ongoing environmental work of EWG, we now have the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Data Base to refer to for skin care safety. Sad as it is, our government does not regulate skin care products - applied to the largest organ of the human body and instantly absorbed in thee bloodstream, that is actually worse than ingesting them! Before you buy any sunscreen check Skin Deep for its safety.

Second, let's address the link between the sun and cancer. Few health recommendations have had as damaging an effect as the advice that you should never leave your house without sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen effectively blocks your body’s production of vitamin D, which happens naturally when your skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact, sunscreens reduce vitamin D production by as much as 97.5 to 99.9 percent. Vitamin D is absolutely essential to proper functioning of the immune system, so imagine the damage.
Dr. Mercola writes:

"The widespread acceptance and adoption of this faulty doctrine has contributed to severe vitamin D deficiency on a grand scale, which in turn claims about one million lives a year from 16 different types of cancer and other common diseases such as:
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis

However, that’s not to say that sunlight can’t be harmful. Of course it can be. Anyone who has ever gotten a sunburn knows that sunlight, at a high intensity over a long enough period, most certainly can damage your skin."

So effectively, the best 'sunscreen' is not spending too much time in the sun and avoiding sunburns. For babies who are out and about try to alternate the time spent in the shade and in the sun. You can use a beach parasol for seaside or backyard babies who are not walking yet and are close to you on a blanket or in a play yard. On days that are not too hot you can also use protective clothing such as Solartex. Of course you should use common sense and wear a hat if you are outside for a while as well as stay hydrated with plenty of water. If you absolutely have to use sunscreen for more active children or a baby who is inevitably in the sun for a good part of the day, there are healthier alternatives. Find a sunscreen that has zinc oxide as the active ingredient (yep, like the one in diaper cream!). Some good ones are Soleo Organics, California Baby, Elemental Herbs, and Jason Natural Cosmetics (Earth's Best).
It is also important to note the difference between UVA and UVB ultraviolet light. UVB is the ‘good guy’ that helps your skin produce vitamin D. UVA is considered the ‘bad guy’ because it penetrates your skin more deeply and causes more free radical damage. The widespread advice about not spending time outdoors between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm is very peculiar because that is exactly the time you get more beneficial UVB rays. It is actually easier to get a sunburn when the sun is 'less hot' and more abundant in UVA during the early morning and late afternoon/evening hours.
That concludes our lesson on the 'essential for life' sun, sunscreen ingredients, and most importantly - the health of your children! Please come back for more later and consume another summer lesson byte about insect repellent in our next post. Have fun outdoors, make friends with the sun, and balance your outdoor play in the rays!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as medical advice. Seek the advice of a trusted and qualified health care professional.

Sources: CNN Health July 1, 2008
Organic Consumers Association June 29, 2008
Dr. Mercola


  1. This is a great article! Thank you for sharing. About a year ago, my husband and I started buying products that are safe for our family from on online store called Melaleuca (www.Melaleuca.com/ps). They have everything from household cleaners to bath & body items to skin care to pharmaceutical items to vitamins & dietary supplements. This company has been "green" since they opened in 1985! Their sunscreen is rated a 2 in the Skin Deep database, so that's what we have been using if we're outside for extended periods of time. We LOVE everything we've used, and I feel great about having products in my home that are safe for my family and the environment. :)

  2. How do you feel about nanoparticles? I've been using Badger, but just ordered Soleo (backordered) and tried to stock up on some European organic brands that are not being made anymore b/c of new EU reg's! I got there too late though, so I am hoping we like Soleo since it does not contain nano-particles.

  3. Your body needs 10 minutes in the sun to get all the Vit D it needs. Stop scaring people into never using sunscreen. There are plenty of good quality ones, like Neutrogena out there that are more than acceptable. Too often I have seen parents do really stupid things like not put sunscreen on their kids. What about telling people to ear a hat!!!! The link between sun exposure in childhood and skin cancers later in life are incontrovertible. Please blog about your opinions, and not pretent to be a doctor.

  4. Peta, thank you for your comment! No need to be so hostile though. I had absolutely no intention of sounding like a doctor, sorry if you thought of it that way. As for Neutrogena, you can check out the ingredients and what they do for yourself: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens2008/findyoursunscreen.php?&sunscreens=1&brand_id=434&&start=10

    I thought wearing a hat was common sense, so I didn't mention it. But now that you said it, maybe I should edit and put that in since many parents don't have common sense these days (I do not mean you of course).

  5. I am concerned that so many mothers on this site seem to think that because it is man-made or not organic, it must be safe. In reality, that is not the case. Many of the man-made compounds you desecrate on this site are virtually identical to compounds you have in your body right now. Also, there is no reg defining what organic means, therefore, many of the products you see in the store labelled as organic are usually not organic. Organic doesn't always mean safe! Many organic sunscreens do not in fact protect from UVA and UVB rays as well as other sunscreens.

  6. To Anonymous...yes organic does not always mean safe, but neither does man-made. It is a lot more likely for something man made to be unsafe, even in a small dose. At the same time a lot of organic compounds can be toxic in large doses. That is why there is Skin Deep, at least they have the skin care products covered.

  7. Meant to say...
    I am concerned that so many mothers on this site seem to think that because it is man-made or not organic, it must NOT be safe. Sorry!

  8. Hey great blog! I would like to touch base with you about your blog. Please contact me directly at chris@greenpress.com

    Look forward to hearing from you.


  9. Thanks for your post! I agree that especially for kids it's really important to use chemical-free sunscreens. There are lots of chemical-free, mineral based sunscreens out there. One of my favorites is Jason's Sunbrellas-- Green Healthy Baby has them all on sale, and I got a coupon for an extra 10% with coupon code "Mom10". www.greenhealthybaby.com


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