By Doris Montanera
There’s a divide among parents: to apply sunscreen and potentially harmful chemicals on your kids, or not to apply sunscreen and take your chances with the sun?
The answer is clear to dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett of DLK On Avenue in Toronto.
“Excessive sun exposure causes skin cancer, period,” she says. “Most of our lifetime exposure to the sun occurs during childhood. One blistering sunburn in childhood doubles your risk of developing a potentially life threatening form of skin cancer—malignant melanoma. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canada. These are the facts…Furthermore, if you have a tan then you’ve damaged your skin.”
Covering up with hats and light clothing or staying indoors are options. But add heat and humidity and stripping is more likely. And it’s hard to stay in when the sun is shining outside.
With the right sunscreens, though, you can straddle the divide and let the sun shine in.
“The main ingredient to avoid is the chemical oxybenzone as it is a known hormone disrupter,” says Donna Bishop, founder of Greenbeauty.ca, a curated eco beauty boutique. “Chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin, hence why if they have toxicity concerns there is even more reason to avoid them.”
She suggests looking for sunscreens with the minerals zinc oxide and titanium oxide, the safest active ingredients. “These ingredients rest on top of the skin and reflect the sun’s ray, as opposed to absorbing them as the chemical sunscreens do.” To maximize the effectiveness of mineral sunscreens, though, you need to apply them 30 minutes before going outside. “Cream formulations are best,” she continues, “as they avoid the dreaded nano particle (teeny-weeny particles that could pose healthy risks if inhaled).”
THREE MYTHS BUSTED
1. You won’t get enough vitamin D if you wear sunscreen: If you’re concerned about not getting enough vitamin D, try an oral supplement, says Kellett. It also decreases the risk of solid tumor malignancies, she says.
2. Spray sunscreens are bad for kids: “Spray sunscreens are great for children, especially the clear formulations,” says Kellett. “They are non-greasy, don’t run and are cosmetically acceptable. All of these reasons increase compliance and thus they are very useful in children.” She uses a clear sunblock spray on her kids. “It is easy to apply, feels great on and, most importantly, it’s their favourite and they actually use it!”
3. The chemicals in sunscreen are more potent in kids than adults so use a kid-friendly formula: “Often formulations for children contain the same active ingredients and concentration as those in adults so you do not necessarily need to buy a formulation specific for children,” Kellett says. “And there is no evidence-based medicine that suggests that all sunscreens are more potent in children.”
• SPF measures UVB rays, which tan and burn you. Deeper penetrating UVA rays are the prime culprits causing premature aging and skin cancer. So look for sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
• Kellett recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that has been approved by Health Canada with either a DIN or NPN number.
• “Apply sunscreen liberally and reapply often,” says Bishop. “A 1 oz shot glass full is a gauge for how much would effectively cover a child’s body in a traditional bathing suit.”
• For sunscreen safety rankings, check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/. But, Bishop suggests taking their rankings with a grain of salt. EWG is extremely conservative and not all companies are listed, but it provides a lot of good info.
SUNSCREENS WITH AN EXPERT SEAL OF APPROVAL
Leslie Garrett, author of eco-friendly living book The Virtuous Consumer:
“I like La Roche-Posay‘s Anthelios sunscreen. It’s free of the usual crap in sunscreen that’s in a lot of personal care products (parabens, phthalates…) plus two higher profile ingredients: retinyl palmitate, which has been linked to cancer and oxybenzone (hormone disrupter).”
“I LOVE All Terrain‘s sunscreen, which you can find sometimes at outdoor stores — recycled packaging plus a great product that is truly waterproof and goes on easy.”
Donna Bishop, founder of Green Beauty:
“UV Natural Baby SPF30 is especially good for wee babes (very gentle ingredients and low on EWG ranking).”
“DeVita is a mineral sunscreen. The texture is amazing (no drag and no white residue); it is a pleasure to apply. Perfect for the whole family.”
Any sunscreen from Badger got two thumbs up, from Garrett and Bishop:
“It’s a mineral sunscreen with a low ranking (a good thing) on the EWG skindeep database and not too spendy,” says Bishop.
What is your favourite sunscreen to use on your family?