Is Sunscreen Safe For My Child?
- Over 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. (GoodHousekeeping)
- According to the CDC, just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk for developing skin cancer later in life. (REI.com)
- The EPA estimates that up to 90 percent of aging-related skin changes are caused by lifetime exposure to UVA rays. (WebMD)
- Even on an overcast day, “up to 80% of the dangerous UV rays still make it through clouds.” (WebMD)
How does sunscreen work?
Sunscreens work by protecting skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays penetrate into the skin and, over time, contribute to the aging of our skin. Exposure to UVA rays increases the chances of skin cancer. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays cause sunburn and can also cause cancer. There are also UVC rays.
How much protection you get from UVB rays depends on the sun protection factor (SPF) in the sunscreen. Some sunscreen ingredients scatter the light or reflect it away from your body, and others absorb the rays before they can reach your skin. (WebMD) It is important to note that the SPF rating only refers to the product’s effectiveness at protecting you from the effects of UVB rays. Most broad-spectrum sunscreen products now contain specific ingredients that protect from UVA rays as well, but there is no rating given for effectiveness on that. (WebMD)
Generally, the higher the SPF rating, the higher the UVB protection – that is, the longer it will take to get sunburned. So, SPF 15 means it will take 15 times as long as normal to get a sunburn. “If it normally takes 10 minutes to get a sunburn, sunscreen with an SPF 15 should protect your child for 150 minutes, or 2 ½ hours …” (Fisher-Price.com)
Contrary to popular belief, SPF 30 is not twice as effective as SPF 15. “[T]he higher the SPF, the smaller the increased benefit … SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB, SPF 30 filters out 97% …” (WebMD)
Why the debate?
A couple of safety concerns have been raised in the last few years.
1) Chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone, octisalate, octinoxate, avobenzone, added vitamin A, PABA, diethanolamine, or triethanolamine which soak into the skin and absorb UV rays before they can damage the skin. These chemicals have been known to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, and some are suspected or confirmed carcinogens. Chemical sunscreens also block the body’s production of vitamin D.
2) A recent study looked at the photoreactivity of zinc oxide, which is used as a physical barrier sunscreen. This study claimed that “when exposed to sunlight, zinc oxide undergoes a chemical reaction that may release unstable molecules known as free radicals” (Badgerbalm.com). These free radical molecules are what lead to cancer.
The implication is that the zinc oxide was absorbed into the skin resulting in a link between zinc oxide sunscreens and skin cancer. However, the zinc particles used in this study were nanoparticle zinc molecules. Nanoparticles are smaller and are more reactive to sunlight. Numerous studies have shown that micronized and “non-nano” zinc oxide creams are not absorbed by the body through skin tissue.
For more on these findings, visit BadgerBalm.com who have extensively researched this issue. Regardless, “[n]o single sunscreen active ingredient has a better track record for safety” than zinc oxide. (Badgerbalm.com)
One thing is certain, however, and that is without sunscreen protection, UV rays will certainly cause free radical molecular damage.
Sun Safety Tips
Protecting yourself from the effects of overexposure to the sun requires an overall UV protection strategy. This includes using sunscreen, wearing UV-protective clothing and restricting exposure to UV radiation. (REI.com)
Many people believe that the sunscreen is the ultimate protection and the more they slather on the more they’re protected. This is not true. And, unfortunately, people end up spending too much time in the sun and increasing their chances of getting skin cancer or other sun-related skin problems. (WebMD)
Follow these sun safety tips as part of your UV protection strategy to help protect you and your children this summer:
1) Read the ingredients – Look for coated or uncoated “non-nano” zinc oxide (though uncoated is preferred; see here). Uncoated zinc oxide is used in calamine lotion and diaper rash cream. Avoid products with alcohol, perfumes and preservatives. Also look for antioxidants such as olive oil extracts, cocoa butter, Shea butter, and Vitamin E. You can read more about antioxidants and sunscreens here.
2) Kids 6 months and over need a non-nano zinc- or titanium-based sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 or higher. Children who have sensitive skin should use a sunscreen with SPF 30.
3) Wear UV-protective clothing in addition to hats when outside. “An average cotton T-shirt only has a … SPF of 4.” (WebMD) Find out more about how UV-protective clothing works here.
4) Avoid outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV rays are strongest. If you must be out, stay in the shade as much as possible.
5) Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out and reapply every 2 hours – more frequently if your child is sweating or has been swimming. Make sure to cover all exposed areas. Lips can also burn, so apply an SPF lipbalm.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
“What’s the Best Sunscreen?” Griffin, R. Morgan. WebMD. Web. May 16, 2012.
Sunburn Prevention: Are Sunscreens Safe? Sheppard, Jane. Web. May 16, 2012.
Which SPF should I use on my kids? Sokal-Gutierrez, Karen. Fisher-Price.com. Web. May 16, 2012.
Understanding Sun Protection Clothing. REI. Web. May 16, 2012.
Badger Natural Sunscreens Frequently Asked Questions. BadgerBalm.com. Web. May 16, 2012.
Zinc Oxide & Nanoparticles in Sunscreens. BadgerBalm.com. Web. May 16, 2012.
“The 21 Most Affordable Natural Sunscreens.” Shapley, Dan. GoodHousekeeping. Web. May 16, 2012.
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