By now, you have likely seen the article that was on several different outlets about the most dangerous sunscreens. As per usual, I had a (borderline) panic attack because of course some of the products on the list are sunscreens I’ve relied on for years! And though, like most people, those are the headlines that grab me, I’m always frustrated that a solution of what sunscreen IS safe isn’t in the article and I’m left at square one. Breezy Mama turned to Dermatologist Dr. Vanessa London to get her picks on which brands are safe… and, meanwhile, was pleasantly surprised to find my “dangerous” sunscreens that were on the list actually are fine! Read on to find out why and to see which sunscreens are safe.
Why do you recommend those brands?
The sunscreen I recommend is the one that you will use on a daily basis, and also the one that you will reapply properly (every 2 hrs in direct sunlight or every 40 or 80 min. if getting wet). There is no such thing as the perfect sunscreen- otherwise only one product would exist. Instead, there are now over 900 different sunscreen products on the market today. You have to choose the one that is of high quality (and has the 3 most important features, which we will discuss below), but also feels good on your skin, so that you will actually like wearing it.
What should moms look for when choosing a sunscreen?
The most important keys to look for are:
1) SPF 30
2) broad spectrum
3) water resistant (if you or the kids are getting wet or will be sweating.)
The reason the American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30 is because SPF 15 will block 92% of the sun’s rays, where as an SPF 30 will block about 97%. An SPF 50 only gets you to 98%, so there is very little marginal benefit of those higher SPFs.
It is very important to see “Broad spectrum” because this not only means you are blocking UVA and UVB but you are blocking them in equal amounts.
Finally, it is helpful to know that in 2011 the FDA changed some rules about how sunscreens are to be labelled. Sunscreens can no longer claim “water-proof” or “sweat-proof,” and instead they have to say “water-resistant” and only up to either 40 or 80 minutes. There are no other time options.
I’m seeing a lot of sites say Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids spray is a no- no. I see the lotion is okay on your list – what is the difference?
That sunscreen (Neutrogena Wet Skin), as well as Neutrogena Pure and Free (another one that I recommend), both have retinyl palmitate as an inactive ingredient. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) has sited studies that show vitamin A compounds (of which this is one) can lead to reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS can lead to cell damage and are implicated in cancers and heart disease. The problem is that you simply cannot extrapolate this finding to claim this is at all worrisome for these things. Also, Neutrogena Wet Skin has oxybenzone as one of the active ingredients. Again, the EWG notes in some studies animals fed this ingredient can have endocrine problems (thyroid and reproductive cycle changes). The amount they are force feeding these animals in the studies is far greater than any amount that may be absorbed from a topical agent. And again, this is an extrapolation of data, and we have not seen any such changes in humans. Further, this website notes the potential harm of a spray. Yes, if inhaled or sprayed into the eyes, sprays can be harmful. That is why we recommend simply spraying into your own hands first, then applying to your child’s face.
I’ve always used Coppertone Water Babies face stick and see it on the no-no list – why ?? Have I done damage to my poor kids?
Coppertone Water Babies has both oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate as ingredients and so therefore has those poor ratings from the EWG. I don’t believe there is any evidence you have done harm to your kids. Remember, when you are using sunscreen, you are protecting your kids against sunburn and skin cancers. Melanoma, which is the potentially fatal skin cancer, is significantly associated with burns- in fact one blistering sunburn in childhood will double one’s lifetime risk of melanoma (from 2% to 4%). And by providing routine everyday protection of exposed areas, you can decrease your risk of melanoma by 1/2!!!! So, next time you read any website’s claim about potential, possible toxicity of a sunscreen, think about the KNOWN harm of melanoma, and how you are protecting against that.
ABOUT DR. LONDON
Dr. Vanessa London is a board certified dermatologist, a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and works at Bernardo Dermatology Medical Group. She completed her undergraduate studies at Cornell University and then completed a Master’s degree in physiologic science at UCLA. She went to medical school at the prestigious Case Western Reserve University where she received numerous awards including induction into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, given to the top 10% of medical students. She pursued her dermatology training at USC, where she served as Chief Resident. She is a member of the San Diego Dermatologic Surgery Society, and serves on faculty at UCSD, where she enjoys teaching residents fundamentals of surgery.
To learn more, visit: http://www.bernardoderm.com/docs/vanessalondon.asp