My question is, do you know of or have an organic/natural sunscreen for babies? With the weather warming up here in Tennessee, I would really like to find a sunscreen for my almost 1 year old that doesn’t have all those chemicals in it. Thought maybe you would have some ideas! Liz
This is an excellent question- thanks Liz! You’re not the only one who’s been asking me my thoughts on this very subject lately!
Before I delve into more natural options in choosing a sunscreen off the shelves, allow me a few minutes to do something that you may consider completely off-the-wall– let’s consider the question of whether we even need to wear sunscreen at all!
If you’re already starting to sputter, “But… but… UV rays… skin cancer… must. wear. sunscreen… must. obey. propaganda…” (ahem, did I actually write that?), please stick with me for a few moments and allow me to challenge some typically un-challenged ideas.
All right, here goes. I’ve talked before about the fact that our skin is the biggest organ in our body. Not only can it be affected by what we put on it (ie. creams, soaps, etc.) it is also an agent of absorption, simply meaning that what we put on the outside of our body quickly finds it’s way inside, and into our bloodstream. This is why natural and organic beauty and personal care products, which (hopefully) avoid toxic chemicals, colors, preservatives, etc. are so important.
Naturally, this applies to sunscreen as well.
Here is a quote from a study done by Skin Deep, the cosmetic safety database:
Some sunscreens absorb into the blood and raise safety concerns. Our review of the technical literature shows that some sunscreen ingredients absorb into the blood, and some are linked to toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, some act like estrogen and could disrupt hormone systems, several are strongly linked to allergic reactions, and still others may build up in the body or the environment. FDA has not established rigorous safety standards for sunscreen ingredients.
Aside from this, there are other issues with sunscreens:
- According to this study, 86% of sunscreens tested offered inadequate protection from the sun
- Many products guard against only UBV, not UVA rays (the ones that can actually cause more harm)
- Many products (according to this study, up to 50% of them) break down in the sun and do not offer the protection for nearly the amount of time they are supposed to
- Claims on sunscreen bottles are exaggerated and meaningless- there is no regulation for what they can and can’t say, and most statements made are false or unproven.
Even so, what if you could find a naturally made sunscreen, non-toxic, and that actually provided the protection that you are looking for? Wouldn’t that be worth using?
The thing is, despite the widespread use of high SPF sunscreen, skin cancer rates continue to jump every year. If sunscreen is the answer, why is this trend continuing?
Possibly for a few reasons.
- Many sunscreens only adequately block UVB rays, but not UVA (or not well enough). We now know that UVA rays are the ones that the real concern when it comes to skin cancer.
- As a matter of fact, the UVB rays that our sunscreens are adequately blocking are the ones that help our bodies to make Vitamin D through sun exposure. Vitamin D research is revealing more and more that this nutrient helps to defend our bodies against all forms of cancer, and that it is absolutely crucial to our health!
- As mentioned above, many sunscreens are not providing the protection they claim, and yet we believe the claims anyways. So, we spend all day in the sun at the beach, applying sunscreen once, maybe twice if we remember. Yet many sunscreens are only providing protection for a couple of hours (if they are not breaking down in the sun). Ultimately, we spend more time out in the heat of the sun, without protective clothing or breaks in the shade, than we would have otherwise, because of our unfounded trust in the marketing claims of the product’s manufacturer (oh right, those people who make money when we buy more of their products!).
Based on my discussion last time about my concerns with the use of sunscreen (which brought up great discussion- thanks for all your comments!), you may well be wondering what am I suggesting for sun safety.
I believe that being aware of the sun, your own natural tendency to burn, the time of day, the length of your exposure, your location, what you are wearing, etc. all together will allow you to make the best decision you can to keep your family healthy and safe while playing in the sun this summer.
Here are the things that I would take into consideration:
Time of day and length of exposure
It is just not wise to spend large amounts of time out in the heat of the day, when the sun it at it’s peak. If you have ever visited a country with very hot weather, somewhere close to the equator especially, you may note that they tend to stop work or school in order to rest during the mid-day. They recognize that this is not the best time to be out and act accordingly. We should also do the same.
It would also be helpful to slowly build up your exposure to the sun. As the weather is becoming increasingly warm, start by spending smaller amounts of time in the sun (as little as 5-15 minutes) and gradually increase that in 10 minute increments. This is especially good advice for children, and babies, who are not accustomed to much sun exposure and tend to have very delicate, pale, and sensitive skin.
What you are wearing
Since our desire is to be modest anyways, it shouldn’t be too hard to cover ourselves up a bit to offer our skin greater protection! Light, flowy shirts, skirts, pants (cotton or linen, for example), are great. Light colors or white are preferable over dark colors, which only absorb the heat.
Hats are crucial, especially for kids but for us as well (I’m speaking to myself here- I’m really bad at wearing a hat!). Choose ones with wide brims, that help to shade the face and neck.
When I lived in Japan about 4 years ago, I was so surprised to find that all of the Japanese women wisely wear brimmed hats and even carry umbrellas to shade themselves in the sun. They prefer to stay pale in the summer, and consider dark tanning unattractive!
And I think it’s fine to go for a swim and have moderate sun exposure in a bathing suit for a period of time that you know that your skin can handle, just make sure you cover up afterwords or head for the shade.
Where you are
It may be helpful to know that our family lives in Canada. I learned an interesting statistic from our naturopathic doctor a couple years agothat most people in cloudier regions like the Pacific Northwest take all the way until September to get their Vitamin D levels back up to optimal levels after the lack of sunshine in the winter. , That’s a big deal! We’re spending over half of our year with inadequate levels of Vitamin D, which is highly protective for the immune system, against cancer, etc.
For us, because we lack sunshine for 8 months of the year, when it comes out in the summer, we really need to take advantage of it. We still need to be protective and cautious during the mid-day heat and full glare of the sun, and consider our length of exposure, of course. But we seek it out more freely, because of where we live and our seasonal sunshine patterns.
Now, if you live in a southern California, in Florida, in Australia, etc. you’re going to need a different strategy than what we have. When you’re dealing with near constant sunshine, you’re closer to the equator, and experiencing more intense rays of the sun, being proactive and protective is much more important.
As I mentioned before, the rays from the sun actually help our body to make Vitamin D, an absolutely crucial nutrient, so we’re not out to avoid the sun. What we really want to avoid is burning, which is an unnatural state for our skin (if burning wasn’t bad for us, God probably won’t have made it so painful- ouch!).
If you are someone that burns easily (or you have children that are especially fair and prone to burning), you’re going to need to take more precautions than someone whose skin can handle longer periods of sun. That just goes without saying, I think. Burning is definitely something you want to avoid.
Eat your fruits and veggies
Anti-oxidants help to protect our skin from radiation received from the sun. The more anti-oxidant rich foods we eat, the greater the level in our body for natural skin cancer (and other types of cancer) protection. The highest levels of anti-oxidants are found in the most deeply colored produce.
Here is a quick list of foods that top the list:
- Fruits— berries (blueberry, acai, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry), prunes, raisins, currents, purple grapes, avacados
- Vegetables— Leafy greens (esp. kale and spinach), sprouts, red bell pepper, beets, brussel sprouts, onions
- Other foods/beverages— cocoa/ dark chocolate (yes, Stephanie is telling you to go ahead and indulge in a little dark chocolate, just stay off the Oh Henry and Kit Kat bars, ok?), white tea, green tea, rooibos tea, oolong tea, black tea
I have actually heard anecdotal evidence of moms who’s kids eat really well, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, that live in hot places and say that their children can play all day in the sun and just don’t really ever burn. I would say part of that is that they are accustomed to the great amount of exposure, but part of it is that their bodies have an increased natural level of protection.
Now remember, the research on this has gone back and forth and is not conclusive yet on whether antioxidants truly help to prevent cancer or not. This isn’t a protective measure to rely on, but I do think it’s worth attempting to up your antioxidant level in general, whether it’s proven or not.
Find a high-quality natural sunscreen for when it’s needed
If you know that your children will be out in the sun much longer than usual (on a vacation, for instance), or that they (or you) have a tendency to burn particularly easily, you may want to seek out a sunscreen that you feel comfortable with for the odd day that it seems appropriate to use.
Here is a link to a list of the best (and the worst) from Skin Deep. Note that there are three ratings– a health hazard (based on the ingredients in the product, lower numbers are best)), a sun hazard (based on how effective they are- again, a low number is good), and then an average score, taking both the health and sun hazard scores into account.
Based on my own research through Skin Deep, here are some of my thoughts on brands (there are other brands out there with great ratings, but not that are readily available to me or most consumers)
- Aubrey– Don’t love the ingredients
- Alba– Bit weak on protection, also not keen on ingredients
- Jason– The Sunbrellas Mineral Based Sunblock looks pretty decent, but I don’t like their Family or Kids sunblock. I would stick to the mineral based one.
- California Baby– Overall, this might be my favorite, for good ratings, pretty clean ingredients, protection, and ease of buying (many of the really high rating ones you have to buy specially over the internet, but at least this one is more readily available).
- TruKid– I had never heard of this one, but I was so impressed by their skin deep ratings and their ingredients! The price was also reasonable. The only drawback is that it seems you have to buy it from their website, but this one may be worth it. (Edit: I just found this on Amazon, so it may be available in other places too)
- Badger – This has become my go-to brand of choice, when I don’t make my own. I love the ingredients and we find it gives excellent protection when we need it. The one I linked to is a Sport SPF 35 and we find it particularly great for the beach or hiking, so that it stays on for longer despite being wet or sweaty.
As I researched these posts, I came across several great articles and resources for you to do more of your own research into this important topic. Check them out:
- Best and Worst Sunscreen Lists
Trash Your Sunscreen and other Summer Sun Tips (sunscreen toxicity, Vit D and sun tips)
Sunlight and Melanoma- The Surprising Connection (very interesting article at Weston Price on the effects of sunscreen on skin cancer)
- Article on sunscreen safety at Natural News
EWG’s Sunscreen Summary (results of their studies, many informative links)
- Safety of the use of zinc and titanium nano-particles in sunscreen
Personally, our family will be avoiding sunscreen in our regular day to day, though we use it for those times when we are in the sun for extended periods of times, especially during the peak of the day. We will actually be trying to spend some time in the sun every day, taking the above precautions, for all that beneficial Vitamin D, and just for the sheer enjoyment of being outside in the summer time!
I know that there will be differing opinions on this topic, let’s just keep it friendly, ok? 🙂 Much appreciated (as are your thoughts)! And really, truly, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject– do you use sunscreen? Why or why not?