Is your child’s sunscreen doing more harm than good?

The Centers for Disease Control recently came out with some bad news for nearly all Americans who use sunscreen. A recent study shows one of the commonly used ingredients in most sunscreens (for adults, children as well as babies), a chemical called oxybenzone, has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. In fact according to the study, 97% of Americans are contaminated with this chemical. Another study has showed oxybenzone is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. Also worth noting is “oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”

Boy in the sunNo FDA regulations
The last time the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the safety of oxybenzone was in the 1970s. It republished its evaluation in 1978, and announced plans to develop comprehensive standards for sunscreen safety and effectiveness. However, it’s been 30 years now and the Agency has yet to issue final regulations. “Instead, it encourages manufacturers to follow draft guidelines that the Agency has delayed finalizing at the behest of the sunscreen industry. As a result, sunscreen manufacturers in the U.S. are free to market products containing ingredients like oxybenzone that have not been proven safe for people.”

No special safety standards for children
What really frustrates me is that many sunscreens are marketed specifically for babies or children, and one might expect that because of this they are somehow “safer,” yet they contain the same chemicals as those sunscreens made for adults. There are no special safety standards for babies/children’s products.

Additional cautions must be employed when considering the effects of oxybenzone on children. The surface area of a child’s skin relative to body weight is greater than adults. As a result, the potential dose of a chemical following dermal exposure is likely to be about 1.4 times greater in children than in adults (SCCNFP 2001). In addition, children are less able than adults to detoxify and excrete chemicals, and children’s developing organ systems are more vulnerable to damage from chemical exposures, and more sensitive to low levels of hormonally active compounds (NAS 1993; Janjua 2004). Children also have more years of future life in which to develop disease triggered by early exposure to chemicals (NAS 1993). Despite these well-documented concerns regarding children’s sensitivity to harmful substances, no special protections exist regarding ingredients in personal care products marketed for babies and children.

What does this all mean? Is YOUR child’s sunscreen safe?
If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database web site, I highly suggest you do so. Products from skin care to baby care, from make up to hair care and oral care (and more) are ranked on their hazard level.

Skin Deep lists 607 skincare products containing oxybenzone. Please check the list to find out if yours or your children’s is on it. Again, I’m frustrated and disturbed that one of the worst sunscreens on the list is one specifically for babies – Walgreens Baby Sunblock.

California Baby sunscreenSo what IS safe?
Here is a link to a list of the sunscreen best bets for kids.
I was relieved to find the brand and type we have been using since Ava was about 9 months old – *California Baby SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion Everyday/Year Round – is on the list (the California Baby Sunblock Stick is also on the list and might be easier to apply. I’ll be looking into getting some of that, especially since we’re nearly out of the lotion.). I’m thankful that many of the mommies I know (which is where I got the recommendation for California Baby in the first place) do their homework when it comes to safe baby/child skincare products.
*You can purchase California Baby sunscreen and other products at health food stores like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage and apparently Target carries it too, or order directly from the California Baby website.

Avoid these ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone – In sunlight, can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals
  • DMDM Hydantoin – Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
  • Triethanolamine – Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants

Safe Sun Tips

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the greatest amount of ultraviolet light exists.
  • Wear Hats. Each inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. A hat brim of four inches or greater is recommended.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses with UV-blocking filters are very important.

Final thoughts
It’s frustrating when the groups that are supposed to be looking out for our health and that of our children let us down, but it’s things like these that reaffirm my belief of questioning authority. The best piece of advice I have is to arm yourself with information and trust your instincts. If dousing yourself or your child in chemicals doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. Find another way. In this information age where so much is available to us at the click of a mouse, it can be easy to find healthier and safer alternatives. Knowledge is power.

For more information, please check out: Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

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47 thoughts on “Is your child’s sunscreen doing more harm than good?”

  1. Thanks for the link. It seems like one of the sunscreens we use has a 7 rating, but the other one has a 3. I think we’ll keep using Blue Lizard from now on.

  2. Thanks for the link. The last time I looked the product I use wasn’t in the database and I’d heard special endorsements of its formulation. Today, I see it has a hazard level of 3. I’ve never seen California Baby or some of the others here in Canada. I’ll look again and then maybe ask someone to pick some up in Detroit. Thank goodness for sisters who will be personal shoppers!

  3. As you know, we spend most of our summer days at the pool. I had no idea about harmful chemicals in sunscreen. Shocking, I know. Thanks for this. California Baby, here I come!

  4. Thanks for this Amy! My family has a HIGH rate of skin cancer (melanoma) which is generally directly related to sun exposure (and Irish skin!). We’ve been using California Baby on X since he was a babe, we LOVE being out in the sun but I get worried about his skin!

  5. Ack, tried to StumbleUpon you, but as far as I can tell it didn’t work. So, I’ll just say that this was a great article. THANKS! It’s hard to navigate all the information about what is safe or not for my daughter, I need to see more USEFUL info like this! C ~

  6. I have to admit that I never gave a thought to the chemicals that are in sunscreen. We never wore sunscreen growing up and I vowed to take better care of my kids’ skin…. Guess it’s time to switch sunscreen.
    thanks for the heads-up.

  7. I really try not to hate summer here, but honestly…this news doesn’t help. Sheesh! Now even my sunscreen (which we slather on lavishly each day) is dangerous. Thanks for the awesome info, Amy. It’s going to snow tomorrow, right???

  8. Here’s something else to consider.

    Sunlight is a key source of Vitamin D. I’ve spent years slathering on sunscreen religiously, even in the winter, because I didn’t want skin cancer or wrinkles.

    But I recently tested severely deficient in Vitamin D and in conjunction with my other symptoms, my doctor is sending me for a bone density screening to rule out osteoporosis. I am 29 years old and may have a disease that old women get.

    I put sunscreen on my kids when we’re at the pool or at the beach or outside for extended periods of time. But this summer I will definitely be letting up a little bit on the sunscreen when we’re out for errands or short periods of time.

  9. We use Blue Lizard Sensitive, which does have parabens. I would like to switch to California Baby but the only problem – $15.00 for 2.9 ounces?! The average adult should use 1 oz. of sunscreen before sun exposure, right? If I slather up my 3 kids (.5 ounce morning, .5 ounce at night, that would be one tube a day, not to mention my own usage!

    Can I buy California Baby sunscreen in bulk?! 🙂

  10. Yet another valliant excuse to avoid the use of man-made chemicals whenever possible. In a pinch you can always rub your baby down with Desitin as the main ingredient is zinc oxide…that is if you want them to be sticky white and fishy smelling. LOL

    You have to be careful with some of the natural sunscreens because they are not as strong as the synthetic ones. I have gotten badly burned from using a natural sunscreen so try my best to cover up with light long sleeved shirts in addition to using them when I am out so my chest does’t burn.

  11. Thanks for this. I just disposed of our “natural”, chemical-ridden sunscreen. I’ll keep my eyes open for a better choice. I am interested in learning more about how diet plays a part in our bodies reaction to the sun. I’ve also heard that coconut oil might be a good choice as sunscreen.

  12. Yikes – makes you question what’s worse – using or not using sunscreen? It’s so hard to find a good sunscreen here in my small town – can you order the California Baby one you mentioned?

  13. Mom on the run, you can order California Baby at–thank goodness California Baby made the list! Does anyone know of any natural sunscreen that won’t clog your pores? I have acne, and daily sunscreen for me is a must due to family skin cancer history.

  14. okay this is scary stuff. have you tried the spf/uv protectant clothing? my kids wear those shirts to swim in, which i think makes it easier to apply less sunscreen…

    great post!

  15. Thanks for this! I was actually planning on writing an article similar for my blog. I knew about this chemical for awhile now & have really struggled finding a safe sunscreen.

  16. Mom to 3 – It is rather pricey, and maybe I’m not using enough on my kids, but we don’t go through it that fast. Perhaps after this news more companies will start making chemical-free sunscreens at more affordable prices if they want to stay competitive.

    Dr. Nicole – I’ve wondered about that, but so far we’ve had great results w/ California Baby. No sunburns here – knock wood.

    Mom on the Go and Mom on the Run – Yes, you can order it online. 🙂

    Crunchy Domestic Goddess

  17. Yikes! Thanks for the great post. I’m going to pass along the information to family and friends. Your notion of questioning authority goes right along with my belief that each of us must be an advocate for ourselves and our family. It’s a heck of a lot easier to be proactive rather than reactive! 🙂

  18. Awesome look at the issue. I will have to ask my husband about oxybenzone … I will have to watch for a brand in Canada that is free of yuckies!

  19. Excellent post! Very informative and the message needs to reach more moms. I’d love to link back to you and repost this over at my blog. Let me know. All credit to you, not me!!! I only use Shaklee sunscreen and my kids are protected, I feel good and we don’t burn. Thanks Amy for all your hardwork!!!

  20. Excellent list and info Amy!

    We know the effect of harsh chemicals in sunscreen! Since we’re a family with sensitive skin, we need sunscreen but the “typical” ones are too harmful and burn, sting and cause runny eyes and noses.

    We look for sunscreens with natural blocks as well, like titanium oxide and zinc. They are the only ones that work in this family!

    Thanks for the link to provide me with even more options! Because no sunscreen is NOT an option in this house!

  21. Thanks so much for bringing this to light! I really had no idea and actually applied some sunscreen containing Oxybenzone on my daughter before her field trip today. Now I’m really upset!

    We are fair and live in Florida, sunscreen is a must! Now, I’m off to check out some that are not harmful!

  22. Thanks Amy! I just bought some the other day too, wonder if I have to worry…off to check. I will be linking your blog from my other blog…thank you thank you!


  23. This is what we use for our daughter too. Thanks for such a GREAT post. I have sent this on to all my family members.

  24. Glad to see some exposure on this subject (no pun intended)

    My hubby is big into chemistry and can actually pronounce all of the ingredients in most products, which means he knows a little something about them. He has always maintained that sunscreen is not to be used frivolously and that hats, shade, and being responsible go a lot further towards skin health than lathering on sunscreen.

  25. Thanks for posting this. I haven’t actually read it…mostly b/c I don’t want to! We use natural sunscreen, but not CA Baby, which everyone recommends. But honestly, it’s so darn expensive and we go through some sunscreen in the summer since we go to the pool almost every day. Pathetic excuse… I just have to hope that the natural brand I use is as good as the company touts!

  26. oh oh! i love this stuff, great post. check out burt’s bees natural sunblock, and there are many others too, just head on over to your local health food/supply store. some drug stores also stock them.

    and for anyone who wears makeup or uses lotions, make sure to avoid parabens and the other chemicals amy listed as well. all of these are very common in cosmetics and the like. 😉

  27. Good stuff! I’m going to get one of your recommendations asap. It’s getting hot around here and the babies need some protection.

  28. I use California Baby too, thankfully, almost by default though since everything else gave Cricket a rash. I’m happy they did, wonder if I would have ever would have researched it as much as I did. Thanks for spreading the word.

  29. Hi everyone,
    I found your post through twitter from naturalmom. I’m a complete organic freak so when I saw this discussion I had to check it out.

    What a lot of great comments and discussion about about sunscreen and ingredients. Definitely important to get that vitamin D exposure.

    I am a HUGE ingredients list reader and that is how I become involved with the products that I use now. I am also an Independent Representative so I want you to know that.

    I sell a very clean sunscreen, it was rated on EWG’s skin deep database but the company is updating all their formulations and had to input new information so they took all the ratings down until they update them, which takes weeks, they should be up again soon.

    Anyway, I sell Miessence products and they have a wonderfully clean sunscreen with the basic ingredient being zinc oxide.

    Zinc oxide is a physical blocker and it has been used for years, I remember putting straight zinc oxide on my nose as a kid.

    Miessence Outdoor Balm has an SPF of 15 on the label but it has actually been tested to SPF 30.

    The truth of a product is in the ingredients, regardless of what it says on the label.

    If you have any interest in checking out the sunscreen here is the complete ingredients list:

    Organic olive, Zinc Oxide, capric triglyceride, Organic Shea Fruit Butter, Organic unrefined beeswax, oat kernel flour, polygonoum multiflorum root extract, natural vitamin e, organic carnauba wax, Organic olive fruit oil, Organic Rosemary Extract, dunaliella salina algae extract

    It’s a very basic ingredients list, with no chemicals at all.

    If you want to look at it here is link to my website

    just another option in case you’re interested.

    I also created a page that talks more about products that are directed toward children and kids that has some interesting information that might be useful to you.

    Keep up the good work in tracking down the truth about products and ingredients. It’s very helpful to all of us.


  30. Oxybenzone has made my life a misery for over ten summers now. I am extremely photosensitive to it and other people leave invisible sunscreen on doorknobs,toilet seats, tables, chairs, telephones, etc., etc. How can we get sunscreen manufacturers to stop using it?

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