Friday, July 18, 2008

safe non-toxic sunblocks for infants?

Over the last week, I noticed that Thumper has started getting a tan on her face and feet. She's usually covered in long sleeve clothing, hat, and socks. But even then, she's tanning. She even grew a little sunspot already on her leg, which rarely sees the sun! Her father is very fair skinned and has lots and lots of sunspots.

So I just spent over two hours researching the Internet looking for the best sunblock for Thumper. It's mildly frustrating and makes my head spin. Each website says something different, sometimes contradicting other websites. This means that I then need to side track and double check facts. By the time I get back to the original website, I've got 20 other windows open and have already forgotten what I thought about what I'm reading.

To start, a few links:
  • Terressential's statement on why they don't make sunscreens. I like this company because whenever another report comes out on toxic stuff in "natural/green" products, they are almost always on the list of exceptions.
  • Cosmetics Database lists all the ingredients in your sunscreen and gives it a rating on how toxic it is. Unfortunately, since ingredient lists change, their database might not be accurate. But it gives you a real good place to start, and you can find out what each ingredient's potential problem is in depth.
  • Cosmetics Database Sunscreen Summary a good overview of concerns with sunscreen.
  • Mayo Clinic summary of skin cancer risk factors
I was going to list the links of other bloggers who's reviewed sunscreens but I find that some list things that are toxic and they conflict w/ each other. What I ended up doing was to start with their list, cross reference it against the Cosmetics Database, then cross reference that with the company website to find out the latest ingredients. It's made more difficult by the various names and the fact that there are so many products from the same company!

Anyways, here is my conclusion. No sunscreen is good for your body but you weigh the potential damage done by sun vs the damage done by products and you pick the best options that minimize both sun and product damage.

Here are a few things I'm learned and am thinking about.
  • Infants under 6 months can't wear sunblocks. I don't know what happens if your infant was born early. Is that 6 months after EDD or just 6 months?
  • Sunblock may contain skin cancer causing ingredients. However, sunburns (and really, sun tans) are risk factors for skin cancer.
  • People accumulate 50%-80% of sun exposure by the time they're 16. So limiting exposure to sun is important.
  • Children also have a higher body surface to volume ratio. This means proportionally they have more skin to their body size than adults. So if they absorb the sunblock on their skin, it's at a higher level than adults.
  • The best way to avoid the sun is to stay indoors, second best is to wear loose fitting, long sleeve clothing in a tight weave/knit and wide brimmed hats. However, don't forget that sunrays reflect. So even under a wide-brimmed hat, your face will get hit by sun indirectly.
  • A lot of people get a false sense of protection wearing sunscreen. Many times, you forget that you need to reapply. There are sunscreens out there that have indicators that tell you when you need to reapply. But of course, they contain bad chemicals.
  • If you're going to be concerned with the ingredients in sunblocks, then you ought to be concerned with other cosmetic items you're using in your home. Thumper is using regular soap to wash her hands, and then sucking on whatever bad residue it leaves behind. I'm using regular shampoo and then breastfeeding Thumper, who knows what bad things I'm passing to her?
  • Whenever baba sprayed sunscreen on, I don't let him hold Thumper. I know it's paranois, but Thumper is so grabby I didn't want her to rub the sunscreen off of us and then lick it as she's in the put everything in mouth stage right now.
Basically, you have to pick your poison. Cancer by sunblock? Or cancer by sun? Okay, it's not *that* cut and dry. But we shouldn't be scared away by all the "bad" stuff in sunblocks and just not wear any. I think the best way is to minimize exposure to both sun and sunblocks. This means that
  • We're going to cover Thumper up as much as the weather permits.
  • We'll apply the gentlest sunblock on areas she can't lick or suck on.
Some general rules
If you're a lazy person like me and don't have time to do research, I think there are a few rules in order of importance you can follow to minimize your exposure to cancer causing ingredients, without doing all the research. You can eliminate things that don't fit the criteria from top to bottom, and when you run out of choices, skip the higher number rules.
  • Titanium dioxide and zinc are better ingredients than other chemicals. Many people don't like how titanium dioxide makes your skin look "white". But I think you just have to rub it in very well.
  • Don't buy spray-on version. It's easy for you to inhale stuff that would otherwise be okay on the skin, like nano versions of zinc.
  • Skip the big name brands as they most likely will have the bad stuff in it. Not all of them, but that's one easy way to weed out your choices.
  • Don't buy them w/ bug repellent. Supposedly the ingredients in the sunscreen makes the bug repellent part more absorb-able.
  • If the ingredient list contains lots of long sounding scientific names, esp ones with lots of scientific beginnings and endings, and there are other versions w/o it, maybe try the other versions.
  • Avoid things with fragrance in them. First of all, they're not required to list what makes up the fragrance. Second, even fragrance made from natural stuff (like orange, lemon, etc) can be irritating to the skin as well. Just because something has natural ingredients doesn't mean it won't irritate your skin.
  • So try to avoid things with very long lists of ingredients as well. The longer the list, the more chances for it to contain items that are bad for you.

Which one I'll be getting

The top 5 choices on Cosmetics Database are:

  1. Keys Soap Solar Rx Therapeutic Sunblock, SPF 30

  2. Cost: $7.09/oz
    Active Ingredient: Nano Zinc Oxide 16%, not waterproof
    Pro: Has the easist to read ingredient list.
    Con: non organic ingredients. Doesn't say what essential oil blend is. Nano is new technology and easier to absorb than others, which isn't necessary a good thing!
    Conclusion: The nano ingredient is a no go.

  3. TruKid Sunny Days SPF 30+ Natural Mineral Sunscreen Water Resistant Face Stick

  4. Cost: $16.67/oz
    Active Ingredient: Micronized Titanium Dioxide 8%, micronized zinc oxide 5%, water resistant
    Pro: They seem to only use enough to get complete UVA/UVB coverage. So small % of each ingredient.
    Con: Has 7 ingredients with scores > 0, most of which are oil fragrances. The vitamin E additive can have potential harmful impurities in it.
    Conclusion: Favorite as they only used minimum active ingredient. Though I"m a bit concerned w/ the oil fragrance.

  5. California Baby SPF 30 + Sunblock Stick - No Fragrance, .5 oz

  6. Cost: $25.98/oz
    Active Ingredient: Micronized titanium dioxide 18%, water resistent
    Pro: Seems to have less of fragrance type additives that are bad for sensitive skin. 5 ingredients with scores > 0
    Con: One of its ingredients Japan has a concentration limit on. The vitamin E additive can have potential harmful impurities in it.
    Conclusion: A bit too expensive and a bit concerned with the Japanese concentration limit.

  7. Sunscreen-Everyday/Year round SPF 30+ - 1 - Stick

  8. The only difference between this one and previous is the addition of lemongrass as fragrance.

    Cost: $25.98/oz
    Active Ingredient: Micronized titanium dioxide 18%
    Pro: Seems to have less of fragrance type additives that are bad for sensitive skin. 5 ingredients with scores > 0
    Con: One of its ingredients Japan has a concentration limit on. The vitamin E additive can have potential harmful impurities in it.
    Conclusion: Too expensive.

  9. Badger All Natural SPF 30 Sunblock for Face and Body

  10. Cost: $5.51/oz
    Active Ingredient: Micronized zinc oxide 20.5%, water resistant
    Pros: Has the smallest number (3) of ingredients with scores > 0. It's basically zinc with lots of different oils.
    Cons: But people seem to have allergic reactions to this. Probably because of its natural oil ingredients such as citrus and lavender. Also scented. Some people also don't like the greasy application.
    Conclusion: Given the allergic reactions and added fragrance, I'm going to skip this.
It was a toss up between California Baby and Trukid. The things that gave them scores > 0 are all fragrance or oil related stuff. Except for the Japanses concentration limit ingredient that California Baby has. Give this, and the price point, I think I'm going to go with TruKid Sunny Days SPF 30+ Natural Mineral Sunscreen Water Resistant Face Stick. If it turns out that it doesn't feel good, then I will switch to California Baby non fragrance version. The price will be worth it since Thumper will only have it on her face. She's still chewing on hands and toes so can't have it anywhere else.

I explored other products by TruKid and California Baby, wondering why I couldn't buy the lotion version, since the stick version are so expensive. It turns out that the lotion version typically have additives that ARE bad for you; whereas the ingredients that scored > 0 in the stick version are usually due to the oil and fragrance. I will research lotion version for baba and me if I don't think the stick version will go a long way. Unlike Thumper, baba wears shorts and shirts every day and I don't think a little stick will cut it. There shall be a post about that when it happens. In the meantime, it's long sleeves for me or hats or just hiding from the sun!


Anonymous said...

Hi! I love all your sun tips as we live where it is warm most of the year (all but about two weeks - and then we have to wear a light jacket) so sun protection is HIGH on our priority list! Have you heard of the Technical Comfort System from Halo? - we love it and just about have our toddler LIVE it the stuff. It has a high SPF and she plays in it and we sleep her in it too since it is impossible to keep the house cool even with AC. She has VERY sensitive skin (Ezcema) and she hasn't had ONE outbreak since we started using it!
try it and i think you will love it - it is better than using chemical sunscreen and covers them up while keeping them cool!

Anonymous said...

We had an epidemic of beriberi in Quebec caused by overzealous use of sunblock coupled with not drinking milk. Vitamin D must come from somewhere.

Smurfett said...

you sound like a spammer. But I had to approve this message to show how wrong you are. Most sleepwear for babies have flame retardant on it. So you're avoiding chemical sunscreen but exposing your child to something worse.

Smurfett said...

i did a quick google search. beriberi is caused by lack of vitamin B1, not vitamin D. You're thinking rickets.

You only need 15 minutes of sun a day to get that vitamin D. And I don't advocate using sunblocks, clothes are better. For small children who eat their hands, I don't put them on hands so I'm not worried about vitamin D deficiency.