Another school year has gone by, and it's hard to believe that this was the last week of school for my daughter. Summer is upon us, along with warm, sunny days and the possibility of sunburn. With fair skin and freckles, my daughter and I have to be vigilant about preventing sunburn.
While too much sun can cause sunburn and skin damage, moderate sunshine is necessary and beneficial to health. We all need adequate amounts of sunlight to stay healthy. Sunshine is the main source of vitamin D, which reduces the risk of certain cancers and other diseases. The light from the sun is very healing. How much is too much depends on the inpidual child. Some children, in the beginning of the season, can only take about 10 to 20 minutes at a time before burning. Others can go longer. If your child will be in the sun for a long period of time, they need to be protected. The least toxic form of protection is wearing a wide-brimmed hat and natural fiber clothing that covers the skin. You can also minimize their exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (in the northern hemisphere) when the sun is at its strongest.
Parents are now in the habit of generously applying sunscreen to their kids on a daily basis in the summer months. This is not a good idea since sunscreen can be very toxic and certainly not something you want to rub into your child's body every day if not necessary.
Common sunscreen ingredients are suspected or known carcinogens and/or hormone disrupters, including diethanolamine, triethanolamine (DEA, TEA), padimate-o, octyl dimethyl PABA, benzophenone, oxybenzone, homosalate, octyl-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), salicylates, and parabens.The results of numerous studies suggest that many of the popular sunscreens could contribute to cancer due to their mutagenic and free radical generating properties. And perhaps a more disturbing finding is that many commonly used sunscreen chemicals have strong estrogenic actions that may interfere with normal sexual development and cause reproductive problems. Chemicals in sunscreens can also cause skin irritation and rashes. Most people think that sunscreens protect against skin cancer.
While sunscreens do protect against sunburn, there is no scientific proof that they protect against melanoma or basal cell carcinoma in humans.
Many popular sunscreens contain the chemical ingredient Benzophenone (or its derivatives Benzophenone-3 or Oxybenzone) since it is one of the best of the chemical sunscreens in protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. However, sunscreens containing these chemicals are NOT a good choice. Here is an instance in which the protection may create more harm than good and actually cause the disease it's trying to prevent. Benzophenone is a powerful free radical generator activated by ultraviolet light. These free radicals could initiate a reaction that may ultimately lead to melanoma and other skin cancers.
Studies show that some of the chemicals in topically applied sunscreen are absorbed into the bloodstream in significant amounts. The longer sunscreen chemicals are left on the skin, the greater the absorption into the body. One study notes "it would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time, unless no alternative protection is available. There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well-developed processes of elimination, and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults."
Many sunscreen products contain triethanolamine (TEA). This ingredient may combine with nitrite (used as a preservative or may be present as an environmental contaminant) to cause formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines. Nitrites are not disclosed on cosmetic labels so there's no way of telling which products are contaminated with nitrosamines. Particularly disturbing is that up to 35 percent of TEA applied to the skin can enter the bloodstream.
Physical barrier-type sunscreens such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have been assumed to be safer products. However, research now shows that though titanium dioxide sunscreens may be safer than products containing chemicals such as benzophenone, they are not something we should be putting on our children's bodies on a regular basis. Titanium dioxide has the ability to cause DNA damage in human cells and there is concern that it may be carcinogenic.
Zinc oxide is a mineral that provides complete UVB/UVA protection, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is considered a safe sunscreen ingredient. However, the regular form of zinc oxide leaves a strong white residue on the skin. To create a clear skin product rather than one that leaves a white residue, zinc oxide is now made in the form of nano-size particles. There is some concern about the toxicity of micronized or nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titianium dioxide, which has initiated a world-wide effort to study the skin absorption and phototoxicity of nanoparticles of preparations used in sunscreens and cosmetics. At this time, the safety of nanoparticles has not been proven, so caution is prudent, especially when using these products on children.
Is there a safe sunscreen product? It seems that there are no definitive answers to this question, and this may be one of those issues in which we need to choose what offers the least harm. Of course, covering with clothing is always the safest, but this is not always practical, especially if our kids will be swimming in the sun for long periods.
Here is what I have decided to do for myself and my daughter. We try to get 10-20 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen every day. If practical, we stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or cover with hats and clothing during these times. If we will be out in the sun for long periods or swimming, we use a micronized zinc oxide sunscreen (my daughter will never go for the white residue of the regular zinc oxide). UV Natural (UVNaturalUSA.com) makes a sunscreen product with micronized zinc oxide as the only active ingredient. They make a waterproof 30+ SPF that provides four hours of protection while swimming. The caution here is that it is micronized (nanoparticles), so I can't say it's 100% safe. But in my opinion, it's the least toxic option that provides the greatest protection, next to covering up with clothing.
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