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What’s New in Sunscreen

With summer well underway, it’s important we remember to lather on sunscreen and cover up with brimmed hats, long sleeves, and sunglasses before heading out in the sun. But when picking a sunscreen, you may not be thinking about what type of ingredients in that sunscreen protect you from the sun.

You may have heard about physical and chemical sunscreens. Both types have their own benefits and drawbacks, and it’s important to learn the difference between the two. No matter which kind of sunscreen you choose, it’s always important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen) sits on top of your skin, so it’s not absorbed into the bloodstream. It acts as a barrier that blocks the sun’s rays. The active ingredients that are found in this type of sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium oxide, both of which are FDA approved. Physical sunscreen is harder to apply and blend into the skin, but it starts working and protecting your skin from the sun immediately.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, absorbs the sun’s rays like a sponge. It turns the UV radiation into heat and it then scatters, which helps prevent the UV rays from penetrating the skin.

While chemical sunscreen absorbs faster than physical sunscreen, it takes 20 minutes to start working after it’s put on. Because chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin, it enters the bloodstream. Some common ingredients that are found in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene.

Possible Risks of Sunscreen

In February 2019, the FDA proposed a new rule to update sunscreen regulations. The FDA states that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, found in physical sunscreens, are the only chemicals that are proven to be safe on your skin. The other six chemicals need to have further testing in order to tell if they pose any risk.

A preliminary study done  by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research reported high levels of some chemicals remaining in the bloodstream at least 24 hours after application; however, more research needs to be done on whether these levels are safe or harmful. In addition to this study, Reproductive Toxicology reported in March of 2019 that oxybenzone, an ingredient commonly found in chemical sunscreen, can cause a birth defect called Hirschsprug’s disease when used during pregnancy.

Health Risks of the Sun Outweigh Health Risks of Sunscreen

More research needs to be done on certain chemicals found in sunscreen to form clear-cut results about which sunscreen ingredients are safe on your skin. In the meantime, doctors still recommend applying sunscreen to protect you and your family from the sun, which can cause harmful damage to the skin.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most widely diagnosed form of cancer, as there are more cases of skin cancer than all other cancers combined every year. One in five Americans develop skin cancer within their lifetime.

Sunscreen, along with covering up and staying in the shade, helps prevent skin cancer. When picking a sunscreen, make sure to find one that provides broad spectrum coverage, protecting from both UVA and UVB rays. The best sunscreen is the sunscreen you and your family will use every time you’re in the sun.

The bottom line: any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.

Parents Magazine published an article of the Best Sunscreens for Kids in 2019. They are:

  1. Adorable Baby Sunscreen SPF 30+
  2. All Good Kid’s Sunscreen SPF 30
  3. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Lotion, Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin SPF 50
  4. Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream Tangerine and Vanilla, SPF 30
  5. Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
  6. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen SPF 30+
  7. BurnOut Kids Sunscreen SPF 35
  8. California Baby Calendula Sunscreen SPF 30+
  9. Coola Suncare Baby Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50
  10. Hawaiian Sol Sol Kid Kare Sunscreen SPF 50
  11. Kiss my Face Organics Kids Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
  12. MDSolarSciences Kid Crème Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40
  13. Nurture my Body Baby Organic Sunscreen SPF 32
  14. Sunology Mineral Sunscreen Kids SPF 50
  15. thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 50+
  16. Tom’s of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
  17. TruBaby Water & Play Sunscreen SPF 30+
  18. TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30
  19. Waxhead Sun Defense Baby Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 35

Sun Safety Tips for Kids

  • Use broad spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher on children.
  • Don’t use sunscreen on babies who are younger than 6 months; it could cause a rash called contact dermatitis. Instead, keep them in the shade as much as possible and have their bodies covered in sun protection clothing.
  • For children over 6 months of age, apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply every 2 hours or after going in the water.
  • Make sure your kids or teens don’t use tanning beds.
Kate Cronan, MD

About Kate Cronan, MD

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Dr. Cronan is a pediatric emergency attending physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and a medical editor at Nemours Children’s Health Media.