Monday, June 9, 2014

Screen Your Sunscreens: Why mineral is the way to go

I never really gave much thought to what went into the food I ate and the products I used until I got pregnant. And now that Baby G has arrived, I am even more concerned about what I use on him. I have sensitive skin, plus I am very fair with light eyes so I often have reactions to products and burn very easily. I have even had a few second-degree burns from the sun, which means that I am high-risk for developing skin cancer. (Just one blistering burn in childhood more than doubles your risk of skin cancer later in life). I have not always been the most diligent about applying sunscreen (especially when I was a teenager), but I have gotten better. My husband has helped a lot in that regard - reminding me to apply it when we're heading outside for a while. I still haven't gotten to the point where I apply it every day, multiple times a day... but I would like to.

Even though my boy seemed to get my husband's olive skin, I vowed to prevent those second-degree burns I had and to use sunscreen diligently. But because I recently became interested in the ingredients of everything we use, I wasn't just going to slather him in Banana Boat without doing some research first.

A baby's skin is much thinner than adults. I've read different numbers on it - some say it is 5 times thinner than an adults and others say only 20-30% thinner. But either way, that means that their body absorbs more of what is put on their skin than yours does. Which is why so many people are concerned about the chemicals in baby products: lotions, soaps, diapers, even clothing. I haven't gone completely to the organic and green end of the spectrum, but I do try to make easy, healthy, and smart choices and substitutions as much as I can - always doing my research first.

We are taking a trip to visit family at the end of June, and will be going to the beach when we're in Florida. I know that means a lot of being outside, in the sun, and on the sand (which the sun reflects off of). Though I will do my best to keep baby boy in the shade as much as possible, I still wanted to find a sunscreen that was safe for him just in case. Many sunscreens are not recommended for children under 6 months old, and since he will only be 3 months old on our trip, I wanted to find one that was appropriate for a baby his age.

Goddess Garden's Toxicity Rating card

In my search, I read that traditional sunscreen ingredients can be potentially harmful. The standard chemical ingredients have been found in lab studies to have high rates of skin penetration, can disrupt the hormone system and potentially cause harm to the reproductive system. These are the main ingredients in many sunscreens: octinoxate, homosaltae, octisalate, octocrylene, avobenzone and oxybenzone. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a guide which lists the potential harm associated with each of these ingredients. They give Oxybenzone the highest Hazard Score - an 8 - because it was detected in nearly every American and in mothers' milk and it "acts like estrogen in the body; alters sperm production in animals; [and is] associated with endometriosis in women." It also has high rates of skin allergy. The remaining ingredients have only slightly lower hazard scores.

Avobenzone is the best of the above ingredients and filtering out UVA rays, and it does not cause hormone disruption, but used alone, it can break down, and so needs another chemical to stabilize it - like Octocrylene.  So you won't be finding any sunscreens with just avobenzone. In fact, the majority of the most common sunscreens on the market (Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiin Tropic, Aveeno, Neutrogena... just to name a few) contain at least four of those above chemicals.

Though the effects of these ingredients hasn't been bad enough (yet) to pull products from shelves or force manufacturers to change their ingredients... I don't see the harm in making the very easy switch to a mineral sunscreen. A mineral sunscreen does not have the above chemical filters (though some have both mineral and chemical ingredients), and instead uses the minerals Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide (or both) to filter the sun's rays. These minerals do not cause any hormone disruption, do not penetrate the skin as much if at all, and have no skin allergy problems. Mineral sunscreens are clearly the safer choice for both you and your kids.

Now... how do you find a safer sunscreen?

The EWG's Skindeep Database is a very helpful tool for investigating ingredients and comparing products in regards to safety. The database has safety profiles for cosmetic and personal care products, and "scientists compare the ingredients on personal care product labels and websites to information in nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases" to provide easy to read safety ratings. They rate the various ingredients and the products themselves from 0-10, with 0 being "safe" and 10 being "unsafe."

I did a quick search and comparison of many of the most popular baby sunscreens to see their ratings before I searched for the "unknown" brands that could be the safest of the bunch. It seems that most companies try to make their kid and baby sunscreens "safer" - the standard sunscreens usually have a higher hazard score on the database than the kid or baby ones.

Aveeno, a brand I always thought was better than Banana Boat and Hawaiin Tropic, etc, has a surprisingly high hazard score of 7 for their Baby sunscreen.
Coppertone Waterbabies gets a 5 on the Hazard Scale.

Neutrogena's baby sunscreen stick has a lower hazard score than Coppertone and Aveeno: 3.

Banana Boat's baby sunscreen also rates a 3 on the hazard scale.

These high hazard scores were common with all the main sunscreen companies. But I did manage to find plenty of sunscreens with hazard scores of only 1 or 2 - you just may not always be able to find them at your local Walmart or CVS. (But Amazon has almost all of them, or you can check the brand's own website).

Babytime! by Episencial's sunscreen rates a 1.

Badger Balm's Badger Baby sunscreen rates a 1.

Goddess Garden's Baby Sunscreen rates a 1 and can be found at many Whole Foods stores.

The Honest Company's sunscreen also rates a 1. 

There are many other "safe" sunscreens, like Dr Robin , Babyganics, California Baby, Burt's Bees and Seventh Generation.

You're free to make your own sunscreen choices, but as for me, I will be choosing only mineral sunscreens for my baby and my family. I already have a travel size Babytime by Episencial sunscreen - it's one of the few that is okay for babies 0 months and up.

I would especially recommend that all pregnant and breastfeeding women use a mineral sunscreen, since the lab studies showed the chemicals in the traditional sunscreens were absorbed and found in mother's milk. 

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