Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sunscreen: A Different Perspective

As things are heating up outside, parents want to know- What should we do about the sun?

The mainstream practice is to keep babies 6 months and younger out of the sun and to slather on a strong SPF sunscreen for babies 6 months and up, reapplying after getting wet and every hour. Sun exposure is deemed risky and parents are warned to protect their infants and children from it at all costs.

What about a different perspective? Is the sun really dangerous? Are sunscreens really protective…and are they safe? Is sunscreen the only option for sun protection?

In actuality, sun exposure is a necessary factor for the health of humans. It is the primary source of natural Vitamin D, which is responsible for a host of supportive immune and biological processes. Vitamin D can also be obtained through wholesome diets (and we’re not talking about the synthetic supplementation of pastuerized dairy). If you’re interested in a great breakdown of Vitamin D, it’s role in supporting health and non-supplemental dietary sources, check out this site:


A recent study, the first study to be a clinical trial with a control group, studied pregnant women who took vitamin D and those who did not. The findings were substantial and should make all of us reconsider the importance of sunlight and healthy food in our lives.


A study found that sunscreen ingredients are present in the majority of human milk samples http://www.naturalnews.com/030725_sunscreen_chemicals.html

Okay, so sun exposure is important for Vitamin D levels. Does that make sun exposure safe? No, not really. Especially for younger children and those with fairer skin. So what can be done to safely reduce exposure without turning to sunscreen?

~Wear sun-protective clothing. Simpler and more convenient than wearing sunscreen, this type of clothing is becoming very popular and can be found almost anywhere. Make your money count by looking for swimsuit-material clothing that covers the chest, shoulders and trunk. (A bikini is not going to do much). Add a wide brimmed hat with neck coverage and swim shoes to top off the protective outfit. Here are some examples of good coverage and cute clothing:



~Enhance your diet. Scientists are learning that certain foods provide sun-protective benefits. Consuming coconut products, orange peels and watermelon can all have this effect!


~Plan your outing. If you want the best sun exposure for Vitamin D, plan a short outing when the sun is strongest. It’s estimated that in strong sun with a basic tshirt and shorts on, the average person will soak up 10,000 units of Vitamin D in about 10-15 minutes. Making it a daily habit to take a fun walk outside everyday can provide benefits to your children long before they would be at risk of burning. Avoid wearing sunglasses during this time unless needed for comfort, as assimilation through the eyes is important for Vitamin D.

On the other hand, if you want to spend a long time outside, such as a day at the beach, plan on leaving later in the afternoon and bring along an umbrella or other shade. Time direct sun exposure in small bouts, checking on children every 10-15 minutes for redness. Every individual is different and careful observance is needed until you can judge your child’s exposure reactions.

So you understand all of this, but you still need sunscreen. Maybe your child is very fair or you are going to be in the sun for a long time. If you need to use sunscreen, make an informed choice. Sunscreens are not regulated very well by the FDA so companies can make broad or misleading statements. For example, things such as “safe” “natural” “organic” and “formulated for babies” are not regulated or tested. You’re simply trusting the manufacturer's word. More importantly than what’s touted on the packaging is the ingredient list. If there are more than a few ingredients listed, don’t even bother. Put it back on the shelf.

Instead, consider an actual “block” sunscreen, which is a mineral block that sits on the skin and provides protection against UVB and UVA rays. This is important b/c the FDA does not require sunscreens to protect against UVA. The Environmental Working Group discovered that in the sunscreens they tested:

“Four percent of high SPF sunscreens (SPF of at least 30) protect only from sunburn (UVB radiation), and provide poor protection from UVA, the sun rays linked to skin damage and aging, immune system problems, and potentially skin cancer. FDA does not require that sunscreens guard against UVA radiation.”

The two primary mineral blocks are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Both have been deemed fairly safe for usage as a sunscreen, BUT it is important to note that manufacturing processes have changed and many companies are now using nanotechnology. This means the mineral is broken down into minute particles for better application purposes. Unfortunately, this process has not been proven safe and several ongoing studies are showing serious concerns, such as inhalation leading to lung inflammation and cancer. You can read more about the EWG’s findings here:


Mineral blocks still work better and provide less chemical exposure, so it is worth it to find a company that does not use nanotechnology. The one I am sure of is the 30SPF Badger stick with Zinc Oxide:


And here is the link to the entire rating guide. Note that “0” is safest.


And last but not least, why should we make an effort to avoid typical sunscreens? Many common sunscreens on the market contain a host of toxic chemicals, hormones and other dangerous products such as fragrance and coloring. Some even contain heavy metals and cat urine. Others protect against some rays but not the ones that cause the damage, which can lead to a false sense of security. Check out these alternative views to learn more about the dangers of chemical sunscreens:


Oxybenzone is probably the most common ingredient you see when researching sunscreens. What is it and what are its other names?


If you found this article helpful, please share with other parents! We all have the right to make an informed choice for our children about such an important health issue.

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