An inside perspective of health care and life as a physician, from Pure Family Medicine

Staying Safe in the Sun

May 27, 2019

Summer is here and the internet has gone crazy with sunscreen articles! The dangers of sunscreen are all over my Mom’s groups, some of them are great overviews, but there is also a LOT of misinformation out there. So, what exactly should you put on your kiddo (and yourself)?

It’s 2019, and we all know that exposure to UVA and UVB rays damage the skin and increases risk for skin cancers. Protective clothing or finding shade are the safest options for little ones (under 6 months). Once kids are on the move that becomes harder; we all want to be outside in the pool, riding bikes, and having fun summer adventures, so sunscreen it is!

There are 2 main types of sunscreens:

  • Mineral based products (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) are barrier sunscreens, they sit on the skin and deflect UV rays, reducing the harmful damage to your skin and DNA.
  • Chemical sunscreens (such as oxybenzone and avobenzone) are absorbed by the skin and cause a chemical reaction to protect the skin cells from damage.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection (UVA and UVB protection), water resistance, and SPF of 30 or higher, but they do not make recommendations between mineral and chemical based sunscreens. No sunscreen is currently classified as “dangerous”, however the FDA has stated that they need to collect more data on chemical sunscreens. The ingredients in chemical sunscreens have been found in urine samples, breast milk, and blood, so we know that they do get absorbed into your body,  and the short answer is that we just don’t know the effects these ingredients have on your body once they are absorbed. There are questions as to whether they disrupt hormones that can lead to anything from skin sensitivities to endocrine issues. In addition, many of the additives that help sunscreen work better are not studied.

I can dig deeper into the studies and concerns regarding chemical sunscreens and additives but I’ll leave the detailed research out for now for the sake of brevity. There is a lot of misinformation about sunscreen (and everything else under the sun) online, so if you do your own research, make sure the sources are reputable (this is a good review article).  Here are my 2 cents after studying this many years ago for my little ones, and the advice I give to my patients: stick with mineral sunscreens. Look at the ingredients and pick the ones with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and WITHOUT other additives.  There are a lot of great brands with just these ingredients, and as a bonus they are safe for the reefs (not that we have much ocean in Colorado, last I checked)! Also, any sunscreen can be dangerous when inhaled so stay away from aerosolized sunscreen. Until there are more conclusive studies on the safety of the chemical sunscreens, I choose to play it safe for myself and my babies.

Have a great summer and get outside!

Rebecca Bub, DO
Rebecca Bub is a board certified family physician, the proud owner of Pure Family Medicine, and is on a mission to change the way people get health care, one patient at a time. In her spare time she enjoys chasing her three young kids around, spending time hiking and cycling, and living vicariously through her friend's social lives online.

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