Safe Sunscreens for Kids

How to avoid products with harmful chemicals.

Safe Sunscreen for Kids

Photo: Gerri Photography


Sun exposure has long been known to be associated with the development of skin cancer. The longer you are exposed to excess amounts of sunlight the more likely you are to develop some type of skin cancer.

Children are more vulnerable to this than adults. So using some type of sunscreen is important if your child will be spending long periods of time out in the sun this summer. However, most sunscreen manufacturers advise not to use these products on infants under 6 months. Instead, protect them from the sun with adequate clothing, hats, and shade.

Products to avoid

Before you buy a sunscreen for your child, read the label. Avoid products that contain oxybenzone, which mimics natural hormones the body produces.

While the amount used in sunscreens may have a negligible impact on adults, it can have a significant hormonal effect on kids. The immune system, thyroid, nerves and reproductive organs can be affected. These chemicals can be absorbed quickly through the skin.

Children do not detoxify and remove these substances from the body as well as adults do, so the negative impact can last longer.

Other  hormone-disrupting chemicals to watch out for on suncreen labels are:  Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC), 3-Benzylidene camphor, Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) and Padimate O.

Vitamin A (also known as retinyl palmitate) is another ingredient to avoid. Since Vitamin A is important for healthy functioning of the skin it was thought that it should be added to sunscreens. However, studies have shown that when it is used topically it can actually promote skin cancer.

Best sunscreens for kids

The best types of sunscreens for children contain substances like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide because there is very little absorption of these minerals into the skin. They tend to stay on the surface  and reflect sunlight – thereby preventing excess ultraviolet rays from reaching the basal skin layers where the damage occurs.

However, while these minerals are considered safe when used in creams and lotion forms of sunscreens, sprays and powders are a different story. In sprays and powders, zinc oxide and titanium oxide are micronized into nanoparticles.

These particles are so tiny that instead of staying on the surface of the skin, they can penetrate into the tissues and cause problems with allergies and toxicity. They can also be inhaled into the lungs where they can cause lung irritation and inflammation.

Other protection needed

Sunscreens alone should never be considered enough to fully protect your child from prolonged sun exposure during the summer months. Make sure they wear protective clothing – fair children are especially susceptible to burning. Hats are a must and good quality sunglasses will help to protect your child’s eyes from ultraviolet light as well.


The Vitamin D Factor

It’s necessary for adults and kids to get some sunlight on our skin to produce adequate amounts of Vitamin D. (The exception is infants under six months, who should not be exposed to the sun at any time.)

We know that 15 to 20 minutes per day of good quality sunlight around noon will produce enough Vitamin D to keep us healthy. If your child is likely to burn during that short period of time, perhaps a Vitamin D supplement would be a better choice.

If your are concerned about the type of sunscreen you are using, or if you want to find safe brands, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide at

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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