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The concerns with chemical sun creams for kids

As a Mum of two young kids, my first instinct when the sun comes out is to grab the sun cream.  Our family’s summer mantra is “Sun cream means sun and fun”, usually said with gritted teeth as we attempt to cover squirming bodies to cries of “NOT IN MY EYES!”  But how safe are these products that we slather on our children every day of the summer months?  The short answer is: it depends which type of sun cream you use. 

There are two types of suncream: physical (sometimes called mineral-based or natural) sun creams and chemical sun creams.  Crucially, both types have to meet stringent, government approved standards for SPF (the protection against UVB rays) before being allowed on to the market so there is no difference in the protection offered from the sun’s rays against sun burn.  They merely achieve this SPF in differing ways.  Provided the sun cream is labelled as being ‘broad spectrum’, both types of sun cream will also protect against UVA rays so provide equal protection against skin cancer as well.         

Physical sun creams

Physical sun creams are made of minerals (zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide) which sit on top of the skin and act as a physical blocker, reflecting the sunlight away from the skin.  Most dermatologists consider these to be the safest sun cream products because, unlike chemical sun creams, they do not penetrate the skin.  For this reason too, they are much less likely to aggravate skin problems such as eczema.  

In February 2019, this view was reinforced by the US Food and Drug Administration which proposed new regulations for sunscreen in the US, including the fact that only zinc oxide and titanium oxide (the ingredients in physical sun creams) can currently be proven to be safe for human health.  An independent assessor of toxicity in skincare products, the Environmental Working Group, has also long been an active proponent for physical sunscreens over chemical sunscreens.   

Chemical sun creams

Currently, most sun creams sold on the high street (e.g. Nivea, Garnier, Soltan) are chemical sun creams.  This is because physical sun creams can be thicker and sometimes leave a whitish hue to the skin which customers have not tended to like.

The problem is that chemical sun creams are made of synthetic chemicals which seep into the skin’s pores and absorb the sunlight once it penetrates the skin.   The fact that these chemicals seep into the skin, and then into the bloodstream, is the main concern with these types of products.  Many of these chemicals are also terrible for the environment, particularly coral reefs.   

By way of example, Nivea Kids Protect and Care Sun Lotion SPF 50+ contains the chemical, Homosalate.  According to the Environmental Working Group, Homosalate disrupts levels of the hormones estrogen, androgen and progesterone.  It transfers into the bloodstream to such an extent that it is found in mother’s milk and can therefore, worryingly, be passed on to nursing babies.   

There is not enough evidence currently available to show that these chemicals in babies and children are safe. What we do know is that children’s skin is particularly susceptible to the toxic and irritation effects of chemical ingredients because their young systems are still developing.  It is therefore concerning that we are routinely smothering our kids in chemicals which are subject to little toxicity regulation and which experts openly say have not been tested sufficiently to ensure their safety.       

If physical sun creams are the safer option, can anything be done about the whitish hue they leave on the skin?

In an effort to make physical sun creams more popular with the public, new technology has emerged which splits the minerals in physical sun creams into smaller, nano-sized parts (“nano-particles”).  The tiny size of the mineral particles means that they rub on to the skin clear. 

Whilst this seems like a good thing, as you get the high sun protection without the residue, there are concerns about this new nanotechnology.  The main concerns are whether these new, smaller sized particles are safe to breathe in and whether they might penetrate the skin’s surface (unlike the larger mineral particles).  The Environmental Working Group states that nanoparticles are dangerous when inhaled and could cause lung damage.  The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens seems to back this up in relation to titanium oxide, which it classifies as a possible carcinogen when inhaled in large doses.  For these reasons, there are some concerns over nano sunscreens.        

Green Monkeys’ view

Until we have hard evidence that chemical sun creams do not pose any harm to our kids, Green Monkeys is a firm advocate of the following:

  1. non-nano, physical sun creams;
  2. which are made of zinc oxide (rather than titanium oxide);
  3. which are in a lotion form (rather than a spray which could be breathed in); and
  4. which score highly on the Environmental Working Group’s list of safe sun creams.

We only sell sun creams which meet this high standard of safety.  Result?  We can sit back safe in the knowledge that our little ones are fully protected in the sun without any adverse effects to their long-term health.

To view our range of sun creams, please click here.