Choosing A Safe Sunscreen

I’m just back from Shoppers Drug mart (a very large Canadian drugstore) because I wanted to try an experiment. Using only a few tips in my memory, would I be able to find a sunscreen that didn’t contain ingredients I want to avoid? I know where to shop for organic, highly recommended sunscreen brands, but I distinctly remember the feeling of hopelessness when running out of sunscreen on vacation and having to purchase sunscreen in a rush, on the fly, without any notes in front of me. I can recommend sunscreen brands all day, but this article is being written to help empower you to find sunscreen based off ingredients – not brands. Even easier for mamas with iphones, etc., you can just Google Mommy Footprint Choosing A Safe Sunscreen and you’ll have these tips at your fingertips. But I’m winging it old school tonight and I was shocked to discover that only 1 brand met my criteria and it’s not one I would ever purchase because it was 30ml for $38. But the Lise Watier Sun Smart brand didn’t’ contain any of the below ingredients to avoid. BUT – out of the 50 of so brands on the shelves I did manage to narrow down a sunscreen brand I would purchase if I was stuck and really needed something for the kids. The Ombrelle Kids 30 SPF for sensitive skin sunscreen had 10.5% mineral based active ingredient, but did have 3 parabens listed in the ingredients. The bottle was large and under $18. This is what I would have chosen if stuck. Even with the parabens, it contained the least number of ingredients on the naughty list below. =(

Look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium as the only active ingredient. I prefer zinc vs. titanium because Gwen from Nayla told me that zinc stops UVA1 and UVA2 while titanium only reflects UVA2. Both of these ingredients are known as physical blocks rather than chemical blocks which stops harmful rays at the skin level, rather than having them penetrate the skin. Another tip from Gwen is that Zinc is a counter irritant that is ideal for people with sensitive skin (another bonus for Zinc) which is why this ingredient is used in diaper creams. While we are talking about diaper creams I received an interesting opinion from the pharmacist I was working with tonight at the drugstore. I was explaining to her the scenario of being ‘stuck’ for a sunscreen and wanting a zinc, non-chemical brand when shopping in a big box store. She pointed out that diaper cream could work for this purpose. I went and looked at some brands and with zinc being listed as the only ingredient – she’s right! If you needed something to cover small parts (neck, face, ears) for a smaller child or baby, a zinc based diaper cream would go on very thick but would be an excellent block of harmful rays.

Parabens – may mimic estrogen; therefore this preservative is really not ideal for women or children. Paraben chemicals can also can trigger inflammation for people with sensitive skin. The ingredient may have a butyl, ethyl, mthyl, and propyl at the beginning of the word paraben (e.g. butylparaben) – so just look for the word paraben. If it’s embedding within a word on the ingredient list – this sunscreen contains parabens.

SPF numbers – just stick with SPF 30 and 30+ sunscreens. A perfect example of the greenwashing out there is Coppertone 90 SPF for Babies. First of all – babies aren’t supposed to use sunscreen and the 30 level of SPF protection is just as effective as inflated numbers since these super high numbers give sunscreen users a false feeling of protection causing them to reapply less.

Avoid 3 ingredients octinoxate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.

Oxybenzone is also known as Benzophenone-3 and is known to cause estrogenic activity; these chemicals are also linked to development of the brain and reproductive organs. This is a chemical that you usually see listed in the ‘old-school type’ brands of sunscreen – watch for this ingredient.

The sunscreen that the pharmacist recommended to me had octinoxate in the active ingredients. When octinoxate is in a sunscreen that contains avobenzone, they destabilize each other causing the skin damage. Octinoxate even on it’s own is not a stable chemical block and it does not filter UVA rays. The side effects of octinoxate is it can product estrogen like effects and should not be used by women or children.

Avobenzone can produce free radicals in your body because it’s a chemical that absorbs ultraviolet radiation energy. Also in sunlight, avobenzone degrades and becomes ineffective within 1 hour. To summarize, while ingredient reading – stay clear from octinoxate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.

Just by ingredient reading and sticking to titanium or zinc based sunscreen brands and avoiding parabens, octinoxate, oxybenzone and avobenzone I was able to quickly shortlist all of the sunscreens (which will save you and the nice sales person helping you a lot of time). Words like mineral based sunscreen, physical block sunscreen, nanoparticle free sunscreen, and zinc based sunscreen will also assist you with finding a safer brand for your family.

My best tips would also include not relying solely on sunscreen for your sun protection needs. If you have a baby – don’t use sunscreen. Instead use sun shirts, hats, and possibly a UV protectant tent at the beach. I still put sun suits and shirts on my children so that we only need limited sunscreen on their neck, ears, and face which helps prevent using massive amounts of sunscreen. Also, shopping online for sunscreen is a great way to find safer sunscreens since you have the information at your finger tips for top rated brands. So far this season I’ve used Badger sunscreen and Green Beaver – I’m very happy with both brands. To read my review on Green Beaver sunscreen click here.

Hang in there parents! There have never been a larger selection of safer sunscreen brands out there – we just need to continue to weed out the chemical filled brands and this can be done by ingredient reading. If you have any questions on sunscreen or personal care products, simply post on the Mommy Footprint Fan Page.

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  1. I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream for NATURAL Sunscreen! | Little Turkeys - May 15, 2012

    […] Mommy Footprint’s has a great post on choosing a safe sunscreen on the fly, when your organic option isn’t […]

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