Thursday, July 22, 2010

Safe sunscreen?

Imagine for a moment you are taking your family on a beach vacation.  You run out to Target to stock up on essentials for your trip, including sunscreen.  Here are your choices:

      1.  Banana Boat Baby Max SPF 100 $13 - labels says pediatrician-tested,  safe as water, and bares the Skin Cancer Foundation  seal of recommendation
     2.   Hawiian Tropic Baby Creme SPF 60 $10 - label says pediatrician-tested,  made with natural island botanicals, and bares the Skin Cancer Foundation seal of recommendation
     3.  California Baby No Fragrance SPF 30 $21 - label says provides chemical free broad spectrum sun protection
    4.   Aveeno Baby SPF 55 $7- label says UVA/UVB protection  and fragrance free

Which do you put in your cart?

Did you choose Hawiian Tropic Baby Creme??  It seems like a good choice.  After all, what can be bad about having a high SPF, being pediatrician-tested and made with natural ingredients.  It is even recommended by the SCF.

Or did you choose Banana Boat Baby Max?  I have seen a bunch of those bottles at the pool so it seems like a popular choice.

Unfortunately both of those choices contain hazardous chemicals that could put your child's health at risk.  In fact, the only safe choice among those listed is the California Baby sunscreen. 

Many of todays sunscreens contain harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, polyethylene, benzyl alcohol, BHT, parabens, and fragranceOxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor.  Endocrine disruptors are basically synthetic hormones that can wreck havoc on an endocrine system.  Retinyl palmitate is a synthetic version of vitamin A.  Sounds good right?  Not so fast.  It is shown to cause skin cancer (yep, the very thing you thought you were avoiding by smearing on sunscreen).  Polyethylene is a form of plastic that is known to cause allergies and irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs.  Benzyl alcohol and BHT are neurotoxins.  Neurotoxins are toxins that specifically affect cells in the nervous system.  They are also found in chemical warfare.  Parabens are endocrine disruptors as well.  They are also found in breast cancer tumors.  Fragrance is a source of many allergies.  The American Contact Dermitis Society voted fragrance "llergen of the Year" in 2007.

Does this sound like stuff you want to rub on your or your child's (or even your worst enemy's) skin? 

Currently the FDA does not regulate sunscreen products so consumers need to be incredibly vigilant about the products they buy.  Fortunately we live in the information age and can find out just about anything online.  I encourage all of you to check out (the Environmental Working Group) and see what is lurking in your current sunscreen.  Label reading is crucial if you want a safe product.

What should you avoid?
 - the chemicals listed above (oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, polyethylene, benzyl alcohol, BHT, parabens, and fragarance)
 - SPF 50+  =  Claims of more than 50 can not be substantiated
 - Skin Cancer Foundation seal of recommendation = To get approval the sunscreen manufacturers must show an SPF of 15+ and donate $10,000.  Manufacturers essentially buy this seal
 - sprays or powders = There is a risk of inhaling these sunscreens.  This is especially harmful if the spray contains some of the listed allergens and irritants

What should you look for in a sunscreen?
 - Broad spectrum UVA and UVB coverage
 - Zinc
 - Titanium

According to the EWG some of the best sunscreens are:
Alba Botanica Mineral, Blue Lizard Australian, California Baby, Jason Sunbrellas, and Johnson & Johnson baby.  These are all available on

Personally, I want to make sure my family gets enough vitamin D so we do not wear sunscreen 100% of the time we are outdoors.  I rarely follow the recommendation to apply sunscreen 20  minutes before sun exposure.  I wait until we have been outside for a few minutes and then apply it.  I feel confident that we are getting a decent amount of vitamin D before the sunscreen is effective.  I do not want to risk sun burn or damage so after 30 minutes or so we cover up.  The kids put on their sun shirts (if they are not already wearing them), put on wide brimmed hats and sunglasses, and go indoors if necessary.  It seems to work.  Hannah and Ben have never had a sunburn.

If you want more information check out Dr Mercola's website. Dr. Mercola has a video discussing the sunscreen and vitamin D dance.  He also talks about what to avoid/look for in a sunscreen.

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