Sunburn Prevention: Are Sunscreens Safe?

by Jane Sheppard

Summer is almost here, along with warm, sunny days and the possibility of sunburn. With fair skin and freckles, my daughter and I have to be vigilant about preventing sunburn.

While too much sun can cause sunburn and skin damage, moderate sunshine is necessary and beneficial to health. We all need adequate amounts of daily sunlight to stay healthy. Sunshine is the source of vitamin D, which is absolutely necessary for proper brain development, to prevent colds and flu and reduce the risk of certain cancers and other diseases. The light from the sun is very healing.

Try to get moderate sun exposure every day. Vitamin D levels should be optimal if you get out in the sun every day without sunscreen, exposing as much skin as possible for about 30 minutes or for the time it takes for the skin to begin to turn slightly pink. Sun exposure should occur when the sun is high enough up in the sky so your shadow is shorter than you. The trick is not to burn. How much is too much depends on the individual. Some children, in the beginning of the season, can only take about 10 to 15 minutes at a time before starting to turn pink. Others can safely get 20-30 minutes or more. Providing your children with this limited daily sun exposure can be as important as providing your children with good nutrition. It’s critical to good health.

If your children will be in the sun for a long period of time that will cause them to burn, they need to be protected. The least toxic form of protection is wearing a wide-brimmed hat and natural fiber clothing that covers the skin.

Parents are now in the habit of generously applying sunscreen to their kids on a daily basis in the summer months. This is not a good idea since sunscreen can be very toxic and certainly not something you want to rub into your child’s body every day if not necessary. It’s very important to know that sunscreen blocks vitamin D production in the skin.

Common sunscreen ingredients are suspected or known carcinogens and/or hormone disrupters, including diethanolamine, triethanolamine (DEA, TEA), padimate-o, octyl dimethyl PABA, benzophenone, oxybenzone, homosalate, octyl-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), salicylates, and parabens.

The results of numerous studies suggest that many of the popular sunscreens could contribute to cancer due to their mutagenic and free radical generating properties. And perhaps a more disturbing finding is that many commonly used sunscreen chemicals have strong estrogenic actions that may interfere with normal sexual development and cause reproductive problems. Chemicals in sunscreens can also cause skin irritation and rashes.

Many popular sunscreens contain the chemical ingredient Benzophenone (or its derivatives Benzophenone-3 or Oxybenzone) since it is one of the best of the chemical sunscreens in protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. However, sunscreens containing these chemicals are NOT a good choice. Here is an instance in which the protection may create more harm than good and actually cause the disease it’s trying to prevent. Benzophenone is a powerful free radical generator activated by ultraviolet light. These free radicals could initiate a reaction that may ultimately lead to melanoma and other skin cancers.

Studies show that some of the chemicals in sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream in significant amounts. The longer sunscreen chemicals are left on the skin, the greater the absorption into the body. One study notes “it would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time, unless no alternative protection is available. There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well-developed processes of elimination, and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults.”

Many sunscreen products contain triethanolamine (TEA). This ingredient may combine with nitrite (used as a preservative or may be present as an environmental contaminant) to cause formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines. Nitrites are not disclosed on cosmetic labels so there’s no way of telling which products are contaminated with nitrosamines. Particularly disturbing is that up to 35 percent of TEA applied to the skin can enter the bloodstream.

Physical barrier-type sunscreens such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are assumed to be safer products. However, research now shows that though titanium dioxide sunscreens are safer than products containing chemicals such as benzophenone, they are not something we should be putting on our children’s bodies on a regular basis. Titanium dioxide has the ability to cause DNA damage in human cells and there is concern that it may be carcinogenic.

Zinc oxide is a mineral that provides complete UVB/UVA protection, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is considered a safe sunscreen ingredient. Zinc oxide is the only FDA approved sunscreen for use on children under 6 months of age. However, the regular form of zinc oxide leaves a strong white residue on the skin. To create a clear skin product rather than one that leaves a white residue, zinc oxide is now made in the form of nano-size particles. There is growing concern about the toxicity of nanoparticles, and this concern has initiated a world-wide effort to study the skin absorption and phototoxicity of nanoparticles of preparations used in sunscreens and cosmetics. Recent research shows that nanoparticles can cross the human placenta, possibly exposing the developing fetus to the tiny materials. At this time, the safety of nanoparticles has not been proven, so caution is prudent, especially when pregnant or using these products on children.

So then what do we do?

Here is what I have decided to do for myself and my daughter. We try to get about 30 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen every day. If we will be out in the sun for long periods of time, we know we will burn, so we use a zinc oxide sunscreen that is not made in the form of nanoparticles and does not turn our skin white (see recommendation below).

Moderate sunshine every day is critical to good health. But when our children’s skin will be exposed to longer periods of sun, we need to protect them with the least toxic means possible.


Recommended Healthy and Safe Sunscreen

I’m happy to say I finally found a great zinc oxide sunscreen that is micronized with a larger particle size and contains no nanoparticles. It is made by Kabana Skin Care and the ingredients are excellent. Kabana’s petrochemical-free, organic and natural skin care and sunscreen formulas are created by Erik Kreider MS MBA, a pharmaceutical scientist who became dissatisfied with companies that mislead their customers and ‘market’ natural but don’t ‘sell’ natural ingredients in their mass-marketed skin care products.

In order for an ingredient to be deemed natural by Kabana’s rigorous standards it must either be directly derived from a living organism via a sustainable process and free of petrochemicals, or is a mineral that has a proven safety record for use on and in the human body. Kabana’s ingredients are of the highest quality, chosen specifically to ensure good health and environmental sustainability.

Mineral sunscreens are either micronized or nano. Anything larger than micronized becomes the size of fine sand which is useless in a sunscreen preparation and impossible to evenly apply. Many sunscreen manufacturers will say instead they use micronized, but micronized also includes nanoparticles, so it’s difficult to tell what exactly they mean unless they are very specific in the description.

Kabana products are in the micron range and are non-nano. Kabana uses neither nanoparticle (size) zinc oxide, nor micronized (manufacturing process) zinc oxide. Instead Kabana uses micron-sized particles, created by a clean gas phase process that involves no grinding and maintains a tight particle size distribution in the micron range, average size 0.260 +/- standard deviation of 0.012 microns, which is 20x larger than most nanoparticle sunscreens. This particle size range has been used in products for decades and is considered safe.

We use Kabana’s Green Screen® Organic SPF 22 – Skin Tone Tinted Sunscreen and it feels great on my skin, non-greasy, and doesn’t make it look white. They have a whole line of other natural products, including moisturizers, shower gel, diaper rash cream, lip balm, and gift sets.



One Comment

  1. Pingback: What on Earth is a BB Cream?

Comments are closed.