With the summer season fast approaching and parents wondering if they need sunscreen for their babies and children, we’ve put together a simple sun care guide. You’ll find answers to the top questions parents are asking and our recommendations for how to stay safe in the sun after kids have benefited from sensible sun exposure.
Strike a Balance: Sunbathe for Vitamin D but Prioritize Avoiding Sunburn
We are all aware that too much sun exposure, leading to repeated sunburns, can be harmful and may increase the risk of skin cancer in some people. However we also have to keep in mind the importance of sunshine: sunshine is life giving, stimulates all sorts of metabolic processes within the human body, including the all important synthesis of Vitamin D3 which is only possible via regular and sensible sun exposure. Unfortunately, millions of U.S. children are low in Vitamin D.
Consider building up your child’s tolerance to the sun to avoid sunburn. Start with sensible sun exposure in the Spring or if it’s already Summer, start with short exposures and slowly increase the time they spend in the sun. If you don’t have a chance to slowly build up their tolerance before a full beach or pool day is upon you, you can always let them play in the sun for 15-20 minutes and then have them cover up or apply sunblock. Of course, specific recommendations for how long or how often depend on many factors one of which is a child’s skin color and characteristics. Are they fair-skinned and tend to burn? Or brunette and rarely burn? The Vitamin D society is a great resource for more information on this topic.
Just like most aspects of life, balance is the key word with sunshine – the right amount to receive all the life giving benefits without overdoing it and risking sunburn.
If you are concerned that your child isn’t getting enough Vitamin D, as it is not easily found in food, a wise choice would be to supplement. You can read more about why it’s so critical for children in Safe Baby Healthy Child Expert Dr. Murray Clarke’s article “Vitamin D: Essential To A Child’s Health.” The Safe Baby Healthy Child Shop carries Dr. Clarke’s award-winning line of children’s supplements, ChildLife Essentials which includes a liquid Vitamin D3 supplement for children ages 1-12 and an organic liquid Vitamin D3 from birth to age 12.
Avoiding Sunburn: Think Coverage Before Sunscreen
Does sunscreen alone provide enough protection from UV rays? No. In fact, sunscreens are shown to only be able to provide partial protection. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “limiting sun exposure and wearing protective clothing are more important.”
The Safe Baby Healthy Child Shop carries a GOTS-certified, organic cotton wide-brimmed sun hat shown here that is perfect for the sun (ages newborn to 24 months).
Opt For Sun Protection Swimwear
One of the best ways to provide coverage at the beach or pool is with sun protection swimwear. Sun protection swimwear with UVA and UVB coverage is available, but many companies add chemicals to the clothing. The EWG recommends rash guards (sun protection shirts) because of research findings that a water resistant sunscreen will not provide enough coverage.
Snapper Rock makes fun sun protection swimwear for babies, toddlers, children and adults. They advertise that “all Snapper Rock swimwear has a UPF rating of 50+, blocking 98% of all harmful rays. No chemicals or treatments are added to the fabric to provide the rating.” Lightweight and breathable, Snapper Rock makes a variety of swim suits and sun protection wear in colorful and fun styles. Check out their hats for even better coverage.
Ecostinger makes sun protection swimwear for toddlers, children and adults. According to their site, they do not apply chemicals to the fabric to block the sun. Instead it is the quality of the polyester/PBT fabric and the way it is produced and knitted that blocks >97.5% of the sun UVA and UVB radiation. Lightweight, breathable, chlorine resistant and made in Italy, sizes start at Size 2.
What is the safest and most effective sunscreen?
In February 2019, the FDA proposed a rule to update regulatory requirements to bring most sunscreen products in the US up to date with the latest scientific standards. Instead of conducting their own studies, the FDA will look to industry and other interested parties to provide safety data on 12 active sunscreen ingredients.
In the meanwhile, we recommend only using a “physical” block sunscreen – one that doesn’t allow UV rays to penetrate the skin. In this category, the choice is between zinc oxide and titanium oxide. However, the safest and most effective physical block sunscreen is zinc oxide because it provides better UVA protection than titanium oxide.
If you choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide, you are on the way to avoiding all the other chemicals and ingredients that can cause harm rather than protect. This includes chemical sunscreens using oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and all spray sunscreens. See 6 Reasons Why You Should Never Use Spray Sunscreen.
Never use spray sunscreens even if they have zinc oxide. There are inhalation risks, concerns about their coverage and the FDA has yet to make a determination about their safety.
Safe Baby Healthy Child’s Recommended Sunscreen
Keys Solar Rx – This sunscreen has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports and offers broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection with 20.5% uncoated zinc oxide as its active ingredient. It is processed in a special way to create a transparent look rather than the bluish tint you may have seen with zinc oxide sunscreens. Any sunscreen that is transparent will have nanoparticles in it. (See information on nanoparticles below). It is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free chemical-free, not tested on animals, no preservatives and made in the USA. This is not a product for extreme hot weather, sports or swimming but daily use.
Inactive Ingredients: Purified water, shea butter, avocado fruit oil, black seed oil, carrot seed oil, vegetable glycerin USP, red palm oil (sustainable), aloe vera, blood orange essential oil, clary sage essential oil, rosemary essential oil.
The EWG rates products from 1 to 10 with 1 being the best score and 10 the worst. Keys Solar Rx has a 1 rating.
Recommended by Mary Cordaro, Safe Baby Healthy Child’s Healthy Building, Indoor Environmental and Product Expert and Certified Baubiologist.
I’ve read that Nanoparticles are not safe. Is that true?
There is a lot of misinformation about nanoparticles. First, it is important to understand that all nanoparticles are not alike. For example, nano zinc oxide is a very different material than nano silica. We’re limiting the research referenced here to nano zinc oxide and nano titanium oxide.
In 2012, Europe’s SCCS (European Committee on Consumer Safety) approved the use of nano zinc in European suncreens. Note that they do not allow its use in sprays or powders. The Australian Government Department of Health also approved its use. (TGA 2013).
After reviewing all of the research, the EWG states that “at present, all available evidence suggests that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be safely used in sunscreen lotions applied to healthy skin. Unlike other consumer products with nanomaterials, sunscreens play an important role in cancer prevention.”
What about high SPF’s? Don’t sunscreens with the highest SPF provide the best and longest protection?
This is the most misunderstood issue about sunscreens. Unfortunately, it leads people to believe that they are protected. In fact, it led the FDA to create new regulations for sunscreens and they are considering ending the marketing claims of SPF’s above 50+.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and only relates to UVB radiation which causes the top layers of the skin to get burned. Of greater concern are UVA rays which penetrate much deeper, are known to compromise the immune system and linked to serious skin cancers.
Choose a sunscreen with broad spectrum coverage that will protects against both UVA and UVB. Those with SPF factors above 50 are not recommended.
See For Yourself
Watch this surprising video as an ultraviolet camera reveals sun-damaged skin and how sunscreens create a barrier to the sun.