Beaches, pools, hikes, and excursions…summer is filled with many opportunities for fun family adventure.
What can we do as parents to make this summer safe as well as exciting for our children? That is a question that parents in my practice frequently ask.
Let’s take a look at some important facts about sunscreen safety…
Chemical vs. mineral sunscreens
The most common ingredients in chemical sunscreens are…
- oxybenzone (NOT recommended),
- octisalate (NOT recommended),
- octinoxate (NOT recommended),
The most popular ingredient, oxybenzone, has several potential risks associated with its use. First of all, oxybenzone can trigger allergic reactions.
More worrisome, these chemicals are absorbed through the skin in relatively large amounts and are potential hormone disruptor by acting as an estrogen in the body. That means that they interfere with the regulation of the reproductive, nervous, thyroid and immune systems, particularly if exposures occur during pregnancy or childhood.
Some experts caution that children should not use these products, yet they are some of the most common ingredients in sunscreens geared towards children and babies.
Another surprising ingredient to avoid in sunscreen is Vitamin A listed as “retinyl palmitate” on the label. Although Vitamin A is an important fat-soluble vitamin to include in your diet, new research shows that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams containing vitamin A. It is found as an ingredient in 33 percent of sunscreens, so read labels carefully!
Zinc and/or Titanium:
Products with zinc and/or titanium as the main ingredients are called mineral sunscreens. These safe alternatives to chemical sunscreens block harmful UV rays and reflect the rays away from the skin.
Unlike oxybenzone and other chemical sunscreens, zinc and titanium are not allergenic, are not absorbed through the skin, do not break down in sunlight, and most importantly, do not disrupt the body’s natural hormones.
Just be sure that your zinc or titanium product is not nano-nized. This may sounds like something from Star Trek, but this new technique that avoids the white look associated with mineral sunscreens may pose significant health risks. Nanonizing particles makes them absorbable through the skin, and make them inhalable, especially when they are used in a spray product.
The safest bet is to use non-nano forms of zinc and/or titanium as the main sunscreen ingredients, and apply in a non-spray cream or lotion base.
The protection of wearing hats and shirts should not be underestimated. One study found that melanoma risk was cut by 52 percent for parts of the body usually covered by clothing during summer outdoor work. Grab a cute hat and slide on a water t shirt for extra protection, especially for babies under 6 months.
As a mom of three wily kids, I know it is much easier to spritz a chemical sunscreen on your kids as they wiggle away. I stop and think about how much surface area, and how often I would be applying potentially harmful chemicals onto my children and it gives me the strength and patience to have them hold still for a minute or two to apply a safer product that I feel good about.
Environmental working group has an excellent free database which rates sunscreen safety and lists the safest options. Before buying a brand check their site and see how it’s rated.
The bottom line on sunscreen safety
- A mineral based non-nano sunscreen that contains zinc and/or titanium.
- Creams or lotions are safer than sprays that may be inhaled.
- Hats and shirts for added protection, seek shade especially during the peak hours of 12-2 pm.
Remember to reapply is your child is sweating or swimming.
- Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate ),
- nano particles,
- spray applicators.
Have a safe and fun summer!
Dr. Amanda M. Levitt is a mother of three and a naturopathic physician with a specialty in natural family medicine. She treats her patients with a unique integrative approach, emphasizing education as well as natural therapies including diet, herbal medicine, nutritional supplementation, counseling, stress reduction, and lifestyle modifications.
Dr. Levitt is a Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate from the University of Arizona, and earned her doctorate in naturopathic medicine with honors from Bastyr University. She has been practicing as a board certified naturopathic physician for nearly 15 years. Dr. Levitt is an owner and practicing physician at Whole Health in Hamden, CT which has been voted the best natural health facility year after year in the greater New Haven area.
In addition to her thriving private practice, Dr. Levitt consults for Middlesex Hospital’s Integrative Medicine Residency program, helping to train medical doctors in the science and art of natural medicine.
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