School’s out and we’re already past Memorial Day. That means the summer season is here! We all know that sunscreen is important for our outdoor summer activities, but how do you decide which kind to use?
As a mom, I want the best, safest sunscreen for my family. I’ve found it disturbing to learn that some ingredients in sunscreen may be harmful. The idea that the sunscreen we apply to protect our skin could potentially cause harm? Yikes!
When choosing a sunscreen, there are several ingredients to consider to make an informed decision about a product. The ingredients below are FDA approved and supported by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). However, other groups and continuing research are raising some questions regarding their safety.
- Retinyl palmitate – According to WebMD, this Vitamin A derivative is sometimes added to sunscreen to reduce signs of aging; however, it is not an essential ingredient and dermatologists are divided regarding its use. Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out in its sunscreen FAQs that “data from a study by scientists at the FDA and the National Toxicology Panel (NTP 2012) showed that retinyl palmitate may speed the growth of skin tumors when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight.”
- Oxybenzone – This ingredient, a UV filter, is FDA approved for people over 6 months old. The AAD web site says, “No data show that oxybenzone causes any significant health problems in humans.” On the other hand, EWG reports in its sunscreen FAQs that “data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health harms.”
- Nanoparticles – WebMD says that these tiny particles are used in mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide so they are colorless (not white) when applied to the skin, but experts debate whether the particles can enter the body through the skin. The site’s sunscreen safety article notes that sunscreens are not required to disclose on the label whether they include nanoparticles.
In addition to these questionable ingredients, there are concerns about the safety of spray sunscreens. The FDA is investigating the safety of these sunscreens. EWG notes that the particular concern is inhalation of nanoparticles, so careful application is necessary – especially around the face.
I was really bummed to learn there is a potential problem with spray sunscreens, since they are so convenient to apply to active kids. For our family, I’ve decided to go with safety over convenience and use a lotion sunscreen instead of sprays.
With all these sunscreen safety concerns, it’s hard to choose the best option that provides sun protection without any potential harms from the sunscreen itself!
Obviously, it’s important to read individual product labels to find sunscreens that you’re comfortable applying to yourself and your family. EWG, in its sun safety tips, recommends looking for products with zinc oxide, 3% avobenzone or Mexoryl SX that offer broad spectrum protection without a high SPF (because a high SPF may be misleading and result in too much time spent in the sun).
EWG also has a helpful online resource, the 2014 Guide to Sunscreens, that rates various sunscreen options. The guide is searchable to find individual products and learn more about their sun protection and ingredient safety.
All of the links within this post contain helpful information about sunscreen choices as well as tips for application. It’s definitely worth the time to do some research to stay safe in the sun this summer!