Sunscreen for children

Today when I go out looking for sunscreen for children, every brand seems to have what is claimed to be a "specially formulated for children" option. Things I have noticed that concern me especially where sunscreen for children is concerned, include:

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  • Appealing scents like strawberry, ice cream or bubblegum
    While attractive and great marketing copy where kids are concerned, added fragrance can be quite toxic

  • Waterproof and sweat-proof claims
    These are to be banned from labeling of sunscreens in the future as per the new FDA ruling, but in the interim it's handy to know that a sunscreen cannot be fully waterproof or sweat-proof, so it's best to reapply as often as required for effective protection

  • Easy-application via spray bottles or powder
    If there are any potentially toxic ingredients contained in a sunscreen, it is not recommended to use a spray or powder, especially with children, due to the increased risk of inhalation

  • Very high SPF (UVB) protection
    This is not necessarily required, as after SPF30 there is very little extra protection provided and can mislead parents into thinking they have got their children more protected that they actually are. Also, the higher the SPF level, the greater the UVA protection should be. To obtain a high enough level of UVA protection to correspond with anything higher than SPF30, will require the use of a chemical sunscreen instead of only mineral sunscreens. This has considerably greater potential for toxicity, which is most definitely something to avoid on children's young skins

  • No UVA protection
    In my mind, this is one of the worst things you can do to a child where sun protection responsibilities lie - to expose them to the sun with protection from the sun's UVB rays only. ie by buying a sunscreen with SPF only, but no 'broad spectrum' or specifically certified UVA protection. Blocking the sun's UVB rays effectively provides the UVA rays carte blanche to do their damage undetected. For more detail on sunscreen for children see here

  • No detailed ingredient information
    If you're a diligent parent who likes to be aware of what you're putting onto your children's skin and are suitably informed about not only potential unwanted toxicities, but the preferred ingredients too, having no access to ingredients must surely put you off completely from buying the product? It certainly puts me off.

No Difference to the normal sunscreen

However, I have also found that in many instances there was absolutely no difference between the particular sunscreen for children product formula and their products. The difference seemed only to be in the labeling. Seeing this as essentially dishonest, puts me off buying any of their sunscreens, never mind just the special sunscreen for children's.

So, what I encourage people to look for in a sunscreen for children's labelling are the following...

  • High UVA certification - UVA 5 star or equivalent.
    Protection from the sun's UVA rays are even more important where children's delicate skin is concerned, as the deeply penetrating UVA rays could potentially damage their DNA structure

  • SPF 40 for UVB protection is usually sufficient.
    Dermatologist James Spencer, M.D. puts it like this - "SPF refers to multiples of how much longer it takes the skin to burn, but it isn't a linear progression." Dr. Spencer recommends sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30, "because we know you're not going to put enough on."

    In this light and because children have a more delicate, thin skin with melanin levels yet to be developed, I think having a little higher SPF protection is worthwhile, but higher than SPF40 is relatively meaningless.

  • Certified water resistance
    New legislation from the FDA is requesting manufacturers to certify their claim for water resistance at either 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Water proof claims are considered impossible, and therefore illegal.

  • Ingredients that are non-toxic and preferably have additional benefits
    Look for natural, non-chemical sunscreens, with no harmful added ingredients like synthetic preservatives, colorants or scents, or mineral oils. If possible, look for added ingredients that help boost the skins ability to combat potential free radicals that your children will be exposed to if they get too much sun. eg antioxidants and Vitamins C and E, but not Vitamin A.

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