Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Is There a Safe Sunscreen for Infants?

July 22nd, 2014 · 19 Comments · Food for Thought, Green Living

Is There a Safe Sunscreen for Infants? :: via Kitchen Stewardship.  Get the facts on safe sunscreen options for babies.

Should babies under 6 months be in the sun at all? Should all the same rules apply to sunscreening their soft baby flesh like we do older children?

When I was a mother of one child nine years ago, the summer that he was 13-17 months, he got breakfast, clothing, and (chemical) sunscreen every morning. I cringe at the thought now that I know how sunscreen works, especially when applied so early before even getting into the sun (and we had a very shady yard! Ugh!).

How times have changed.

When baby number three was born in mid-August three years ago, we purposely took him outside to "lay out" in the sunshine without clothing on for about 10-15 minutes at a time to help get his mild jaundice out. With my big kids nowadays, we value a little sun and only use sunscreen when the duration and timing of their sun exposure calls for it (over 30 minutes, between 11a-3p or so).

I wouldn’t really bother with sunscreen for an infant – but if I couldn’t keep that baby skin out of the midday sun for whatever reason, maybe a boating trip, I’d like to know what my options are, since almost all sunscreen (definitely all chemical sunscreen) states on the bottle that it’s not meant for children under six months old.

What that really means is that the ingredients haven’t been tested on babies, since doing research on babies is pretty frowned upon.

I wouldn’t let any of those chemical sunscreens touch any of my babies’ skin, even when those "babies" are teenagers.

So what is safe for infants under 6 months short of keeping them shaded 90% of the time?

A Moment of Clarity

testing natural sunscreens - waterproof!

When our family was testing 25+ natural sunscreens a few summers ago for this massive natural sunscreen review, I had so many that seemed "fine" that I wasn’t sure how I’d ever write up the post recommending a few at the top of the list. (We’ve now tested over 40 brands, by the way – right here if you want to check it out.)

I finally had an "aha!" moment in the midst of all the bottles and tubes of lotion when my cousin asked me if I had one that she could put on her then 3-month-old son for a trip around the lake on a boat (a good example of not really being able to avoid sun exposure).

Within seconds of pondering, it was clear to me that there were only two I would choose for an infant.

The active ingredient had to be zinc oxide, of course. Most of the ‘screens we were testing used either zinc or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients, and many relied on a mix of the two. Zinc oxide is the only one that has been tested to be safe on infants, however – it’s the same thing that makes most diaper creams both white and effective.

At the time, Melansol and Kabana were the only two brands that fit the bill, and Kabana had fewer and cleaner ingredients (plus the eucalyptus oil in the Melansol gave my aunt a wheezing attack, quickly X-ing it off my short list!). I gave her our tube of Kabana and told her to keep it, and ever since, Kabana has remained my top choice.

Zinc Oxide Only Options

sun protection for babies

In the years since 2010, many other brands have formulated using only zinc oxide, so the options are a bit wider now.

If you’re wondering whether a tube of sunscreen in your home would be safe for tiny babes, here are some recommendations to assess:

  1. The only active ingredient should be zinc oxide.
  2. The "other ingredients" should be things you recognize, not strange, long chemical names and especially not parabens.
  3. There should be some antioxidants, the more the better: carrot oil, Vitamin E, green tea, sunflower oil, shea butter, and more.
    1. Essential oils can be tricky for infants safety-wise, so I’d actually recommend none of those, just to be on the safe side.
  4. The zinc oxide needs to be NON NANO and UNCOATED. See more below.

Zinc Oxide = Free Radicals??? You’re Kidding Me!

Natural Mineral Sunscreen texture

I was visibly upset when I read an email newsletter this spring about the dangers of sunscreen and health benefits of sunshine. I agree with all that – but this company was saying that even mineral sunscreens are dangerous, and made this claim, without citation:

Research shows that zinc oxide sunscreens "potentially generate free radicals upon sun exposure."

That’s what I have been saying about chemical sunscreens for years but I hadn’t heard it about zinc, and I was ticked off. A little more digging (thankfully) eased my mind.

The citation should have been from Dr. Yinfa Ma’s 2009 research out of Missouri S&T, which did find exactly those results.

However – the research was not on just any zinc oxide, but only studied nano particles of zinc, examined on lung tissue (how often do your lungs see the sun?), and the cells used were not in a human but in a petri dish (in vitro).

The results of the study are startling and important, and more research needs to be done – hopefully on skin cells, please, and in vivo (in a human being) as soon as possible. There’s simply not enough research on "coated" zinc oxide for me to use it on an infant.

For now, even Dr. Ma recommends continuing to use sunscreen while also trying to avoid the sun when possible. A 2010 study in the Journal of Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences stated that "based on data from internationally-recognized guideline studies and current 20+ year history of human use is that nano-structured titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safe," and that the "risk for humans…is considered negligible."

Some even conjecture that not only are nano particles not harmful, but they may in fact may provide better coverage and therefore protection from the sun.

The good news is that the 2010 human safety review also states that even nano zinc doesn’t really penetrate the skin more than normally sized zinc particles, so that’s one of the reasons for which I used to avoid nano particles off the table.

Don’t you love how you can find credible sources for every side of every issue?

In this case, for an infant in particular but also for my own family, I’m choosing to stick with non-nano, non-coated zinc oxide sunscreens. I’d rather lean toward what has been used for a longer time and more tested rather than the "new and probably not harmful" formulations with the smaller particles. We may not know what we don’t know, you know?

Here are the ones I have reviewed the currently fit the bill:

I thought there would be more, honestly, and a couple are close but either don’t include antioxidants (Neutral Skin and Hair) or have a few too many ingredients for my liking (TruKid). Miessence is another close option, but expensive.

Do you put sunscreen on infants under six months? Why or why not? Do you have any other brands to add to the list?

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Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon, Vitacost, Kabana and others from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase, as well as in my own Miessence store. See my full disclosure statement here.


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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Mandi

    We’re using ThinkBaby this year. I’m still on our first tube because we also try to avoid needing it, but I did use it once on our little man before he hit 6 months.

  • Holly Lomelino

    There is a new company out that just started selling an amazing sunscreen with the most excellent ingredients I have seen in a sunscreen. The ingredients are: organic coconut oil, organic unrefined Shea butter, organic jojoba oil, raspberry seed oil, organic beeswax, zinc oxide, and vanilla with coconut notes fragrance oil. That’s it! And it has a SPF of 25-30! It is definitely what I would put one infant if I were having him out in the sun.

    Check it out at http://www.radiantlyyou.com/hollylomelino

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thanks, great ingredients also! :) Katie

  • Andrea

    We use Badger, but for the first time have purchased the ingredients to make our own. (Recipe here: http://wellnessmama.com/2558/homemade-sunscreen/)

    Great post, Katie, thanks for the information! Not to be nit-picky, but you do have 2 terms reversed – in vivo means in a living being. In vitro means in a petri dish (as in in vitro fertilization). Sorry, scientist in me is showing today :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thanks Andrea – I’ve been collecting DIY sunscreen links to share at some point, I’ll have to add this one. And I even switched those terms – wrong thinking, blah – should have done a quick search to check. Editing now, thanks! :) Katie

  • Rebekka

    I haven’t needed to use sunscreen on my babies until they’ve been older. I can’t get badger balm where I live so we use lavera.

    I just wanted to give you a heads up that you’ve mixed up in vivo and in vitro.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Arg, I hemmed and hawed over that one and even switched the terms – why I didn’t do a 60-second search to confirm, I don’t know. Changing now, thanks! :) Katie

  • Lori Barrett

    One you missed was Ava Anderson’s SPF 30 Sunscreen which was recommended by the Environmental Working Group at http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/skin/the-most-toxic-sunscreen-and-safer-options. The active ingredient is zinc oxide (23%, non-nanoparticle). Inactive: beeswax (organic), theobroma cacao seed butter (organic cocoa butter), butyrospermum parkii (organic shea butter), olea europaea oil (organic olive oil), simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba oil). It’s $15.95 for 2.9 oz.

    It also comes in a stick form for the face and a women’s moisturizing cream with SPF 15.

    Lori in NY
    ;-)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Lori,
    Others have recommended that I try that one and I’ve just never gotten my hands on a tube. Hopefully someday I’ll add it to the list, thanks! Great ingredients! :) Katie

  • Lindsey

    Great post.

    Congratulations on your pregnancy, I’m so excited for you. I hope you’re planning lots of pregnancy-related posts. Specifically I’d love to hear what superfoods and/or supplements you take when you’re pregnant and your decisions about your birth. I’m not currently pregnant, but after 3 natural hospitals births, I can’t help thinking that hospitals leave much to be desired. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a home birth, but maybe a birth center?? Anyway, can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thanks Lindsey,
    I probably won’t be writing much about the pregnancy diet because I’m seriously hardly doing anything different than normal, for better or for worse. :/ But at some point you’ll hear about birth decisions… :) Katie
    PS – you can find past posts on pregnancy by flipping through these: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/tag/pregnancy/

  • Lori Barrett

    Lindsey, I had an uncomfortable hospital birth with my second child only because there were no birth centers around. However, my first child was born at a birth center and it was a lovely experience! They had large Jacuzzi tub and I swear it relaxed me thru the process, plus really helped with the pain of contractions! And giving birth in an actual large, comfortable bed certainly improved the experience. It was also very personal, with just two midwives there and no other intruders (residents, etc.) in the room (which happened at the hospital). It’s the way to go if you are blessed with a good center nearby!

  • Nicole'

    A CONCEPT TO CONCIDER:

    Ultraviolet A (UVA) – Considered the unhealthy wavelength because it penetrates your skin more deeply and cause more free radical damage. Sunblocks containing SPF filter out the beneficial UVB, not these cancer-causing UVAs, unless they also contain a UVA blocking ingredient.
    As a result, wearing sunscreen may prevent you from burning, as excessive UVBs are the chief cause of sunburn, but you still receive a large amount of skin-damaging radiation. Moreover, UVA rays are constantly available, even on cloudy days. There are likely some benefits to UVA in moderation that we do not fully understand, as there appears to be with many spectrums emitted from the sun.

    Ultraviolet B (UVB) – This is the ‘healthy’ wavelength that helps your skin produce vitamin D. While both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, UVB does so far more rapidly.
    Contrary to UVAs, which are more readily available, UVB rays are low in morning and evening, and high at midday or solar noon, making this the most optimal time for vitamin D production (roughly between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.). Ironically, this is the timeframe most mainstream experts warn you to stay out of the sun.

    LINK to dr mercola’s:

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/07/21/sunburn-treatment-prevention.aspx?x_cid=20140721_lead_facebookdoc

    Nicole' Reply:

    i would love to hear your thoughts on this concept :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Nicole,
    Absolutely, I’ve read all that – and it’s confusing! I think if you can monitor sun exposure and keep it to about 10-20 minutes midday like that, depending on the person’s skin type (some would be a lobster after 15 minutes at noon…), then it’s definitely the best way to go. I try to avoid sunscreen when I think my kids won’t burn, but if they’re going to be out in the sun for 4 hours 10a-2p, I have no choice. Does that make sense? Bottom line is I hear you for sure – nothing is easy, is it?? :) Katie

  • Cait

    I use the ecoLogical baby sunscreen you reviewed…I had thought it was a favorite back then but maybe I misread. For whatever reason, it’s what I picked for my baby (now two). I’ve only used it once on my second baby, going berry picking when his legs were sticking out of the carrier on a hot day. I can’t remember the ingredients but now I’ll have to check – I thought it was just non-nano zinc as the active ingredient!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cait,
    It totally was, you’re right – but the company is now totally gone :( :( and I had to cross it off my list. I was super bummed because it was wayyyy up there on my fav list!!
    Katie

    Cait Reply:

    Oh no! Glad I wasn’t missing something though! At least I have two bottles since we hardly use it (maybe that means we need to get out more!). Congratulations on your pregnancy! I don’t know HOW I missed that but I am so excited for you! What a blessing!
    Just for the record, I had both of mine at home so far and we LOVED it :) Good luck making a decision!

  • Serena

    Thanks for the reviews and recommendations. When I was a first-time mom (11 years ago) I did not even think about reading the bottle and put some sunscreen on my under 6-month old…she immediately started crying until I washed it off…something in there severely irritated her skin. Thankfully, now I am much more educated and conscientious about what I put on my children. We have a very shaded backyard, so I don’t put sunscreen on my kids when we’re at home. For years, though, when we are going to be out in the sun, I just use extra virgin cold pressed coconut oil. It needs a chance to soak into the skin before sun exposure to be effective. My kids can be out in the sun for a few hours without burning, but they do still tan with the coconut oil.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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