Monday, June 20, 2016

Baby and Toddler-Friendly Sunscreen

Note: this is not a sponsored post.  I have no affiliation with ThinkSport/ThinkBaby....this is purely my personal opinion and experience!

It's summer in Texas again, which means we are slathering C in sunscreen daily!  We send him to school with sunscreen pre-applied in the morning, and they re-apply in the afternoon before going out on the playground after nap. 

Given that C is wearing sunscreen twice a day, every day, I started looking more closely at the ingredients in sunscreen, as well as the different types of sunscreen. I will admit this is not something I had done before - I stood by my trusty Coppertone Sport (and still do, for Blair and I, since it has worked well for us in the past and, both working in office environments, we are only exposed to the sun and wearing sunscreen once or twice a week, rather than once or twice a day).

It turns out that there are 2 types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens.  Most of your well-known sunscreen brands (Coppertone, Banana Boat, etc.) are chemical sunscreens. These sunscreens work by using one or more of a variety of chemicals to absorb the UV rays and release their energy in harmless ways.  It typically takes about 20 minutes after application for chemical sunscreens to be effective to allow the chemicals time to soak into your skin and form a protective layer. 

In contrast, physical sunscreens work by using minerals (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) to actually deflect or block the sun's UV rays.  Physical sunscreens work immediately after application because they actually form a physical barrier from the UV rays (no chemical reaction/absorption is necessary).  Generally, zinc oxide-based physical sunscreens provide better protection against UVA and UVB rays than titanium dioxide-based physical sunscreens, which provide good coverage against UVB but not UVA rays.  The main complaint with physical sunscreens is their texture - they tend to be thicker and more pasty, and therefore appear whiter on the skin and harder to "rub in" fully.

EWG's Guide to Sunscreens
I used the Environmental Working Group's 2016 sunscreen guide to sort through the myriad of sunscreen options. EWG evaluates different sunscreens based on their quality of UVA/UVB protection, as well as the health concerns posed by the ingredients, and gives each product a score between 1 (best) and 10 (worst).  As convenient as they are, spray sunscreens get a bad review from EWG.  They pose an inhalation risk (do you want your kids breathing in all those chemicals?!) and their effectiveness is questionable.  I have experienced this firsthand by one too many sunburns when the spray sunscreen seemed to just wash off my skin the second I enter the water!

Another thing to note is not to be fooled by the SPF rating!  The FDA considers SPF higher than 50 to be "inherently misleading" and may consider banning SPFs over 50 in the future.  In fact, Australia, Europe, Japan, and Canada cap SPF ratings at 30 to 50 SPF.  Why?  People typically place a false sense of security on high-SPF products, re-applying infrequently and actually exposing themselves to more UV rays than if they had properly used lower-SPF products.  The additional protection over SPF 50 is negligible.  Although SPF 100 seems (logically) like it is twice as effective as SPF 50, SPF 50 effectively blocks 98% of UV rays, and SPF 100 blocks 99% -- minimal difference.

Also keep in mind that the SPF rating relates to the effectiveness of blocking UVB rays (which cause sunburn and non-cancerous melanoma); it does not rate the sunscreen's effectiveness against UVA rays (which cause aging, suppress the immune system, cause free radicals to develop, and are linked to cancerous melanomas).  Higher SPF products may provide marginal incremental protection against UVB-caused sunburn, but generally do not provide incremental protection against UVA rays, and come at a cost of increased chemical exposure.

After reviewing EWG's sunscreen guide and reading WAY too many reviews on Amazon, I settled on ThinkBaby/ThinkSport sunscreen.  (Note that the products are exactly the same -- only the packaging is different, so I buy whichever is least expensive!)  ThinkSport is rated a "1" (best) by EWG for its effectiveness and its ingredients.  

It is a physical sunscreen that uses zinc oxide as the active ingredient.  While it is thicker in consistency than typical drugstore (chemical) sunscreen brands, I do not find it difficult to rub in, and it does not leave a white cast on the skin like many physical sunscreens can.  It has a very faint, pleasant smell too (grapefruit maybe?) - not the typical strong sunscreen smell!  We have been using this on C for the last year, and I've recently decided to switch to ThinkSport for the sunscreen that Blair and I use as well. 

C has sensitive skin and eczema, and has not had any reaction to the ThinkSport sunscreen.  I do make sure to bathe every night after he wears sunscreen to minimize the time that it spends on his skin -- even though the ThinkSport sunscreen contains "safe" ingredients and is free of harmful chemicals, it is still just one more thing on his skin!  It does sting his eyes if he sweats and rubs the sunscreen into his eyes, so we sometimes use a stick sunscreen on his face instead (as it is both easier to apply and less runny/more waxy).  I used the Aveeno stick sunscreen last summer but switched to the BabyGanics SPF 50 Pure Mineral Sunscreen Stick this year because it is more highly rated by the EWG.

Of course, sunscreen is the last defense against the sun!  We keep C in the shade as much as possible and try to avoid being outdoors in the middle of the day entirely.  When he's playing outside, both at school and at home, he wears a bucket hat to protect his face from the sun, and when he's swimming, he also wears a long-sleeve rash guard.  Sun avoidance is the best protection!

At the end of the day, applying ANY sunscreen (chemical or physical) regularly and appropriately is better than nothing!  I just wanted to share our family's experience with making the switch to a physical sunscreen!  Know better, do better, right?  :)

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