Green Matters | Sunscreen Basics

June 25, 2012

Summer has arrived and the girls have now been spending a lot of their time outdoors so we've been going through quite a bit of sunscreen.  Here are a few key things we look for when choosing our sun protection:

  • Mineral based sunscreen - Mineral sunscreens are much safer than chemical based ones.  Most chemical sunscreens contain hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate (which is a form of Vitamin A and are not safe when exposed to sunlight), parabens, and phthalates.
  • Zinc Oxide -  In choosing mineral based sunscreen, we opt for zinc oxide.  It not only provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays, it is also a safer choice than titanium dioxide.  Recent research shows that titanium dioxide has the ability to cause DNA damage in human cells and is potentially a carcinogen.
  • Micronized - We look for micronized zinc oxide and avoid nano-sized to prevent any from potentially penetrating the skin and entering the blood stream.  Mineral sunscreen always leave a tell-tale white, chalky look.  If it's a mineral sunscreen and not leaving a white haze, then it is most likely using nano-sized mineral.
  • Lotions - There are quite a few new formulations out there and while slathering sunscreen on two energetic girls can be a laborious effort, I prefer lotions to sprays because it ensures better coverage.  Additionally, I know that they are not inhaling any of the tiny particles from the spray which can lead to lung damage.
  • SPF -  We usually choose one with SPF 30, not for any particular reason.  While it may make sense to go for a higher SPF; it does not always mean better protection - increases in SPF only marginally improves the protection.  For example, SPF 30 blocks about 97% UVB rays whereas SPF 100 blocks 99%.   Instead, it is more prudent to be liberal with your application to ensure you're receiving the full SPF protection - it turns out if you only apply 1/2 the recommended amount, then you are only getting the square root of the SPF ( so instead of SPF 25, you are only getting SPF 5).  For best protection, regardless of SPF you choose, just apply liberally and frequently.

As to which brands are the safest and most effective sunscreen, EWG's 2015 Sunscreen Guide is a good place to start.  For more information about nano-particles in sunscreen, Healthy Child Healthy World also some good articles.

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