As parents, we want to believe that applying sunscreen to our children is protecting them from the sun's potentially harmful rays. But according to a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some sunscreens can actually be unsafe for kids and babies.
Some sunscreens performed well on tests in the EWG's 2018 Guide to Sunscreens. By and large, they were all mineral-based with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. Parents should still be wary of products that contain low percentages of these ingredients because, according to the report, they may contain other ingredients that boost the SPF on the label without actually protecting from other skin damages.
Ingredients the study says to avoid that may pose safety concerns include: retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that is linked to sun sensitivity, and oxybenzone, which, the EWG says may be a hormone disruptor. The American Academy of Dermatology, however, states that there is no data showing that oxybenzone causes hormonal problems or any significant health issues. Oxybenzone is approved by the FDA for use by children 6-months and older.
Another red flag to steer clear of when shopping for sunscreen for your family is an SPF of over 50, according to the study. I'll admit I thought the higher the SPF, the better I was protecting my kids.
Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst and lead author of the 2017 Guide to Sunscreens, told Parents.com, "People select products based on their SPF, or sunburn protection factor, and mistakenly assume that bigger numbers are better. Consumers think that they'll get twice as much protection from an SPF 100 sunscreen as from an SPF 50 product."
But as Lunder explained to us, "In reality, the extra protection is negligible. For example, an SPF 50 sunscreen that is properly applied will block 98 percent of UVB rays; an SPF 100 sunscreen will block 99 percent. In reality, people rarely apply enough sunscreen to achieve this level of protection." She added, "Every sunscreen needs to be reapplied at least every 2 hours, so when used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn."
If you have concerns about sun safety, you can speak with your dermatologist before choosing the right sunscreen for your family.
These are the 14 products that received low scores in EWG testing:
You can click on each product link to read more about why the EWG considers the sunscreen a bad choice for your kids. Their reasons include that the advertised SPF is higher than the actual protection it offers, that the aerosol spray design doesn't provide complete skin coverage, or that the sunscreen contains a potentially-harmful ingredient.
Here are more tips for safe and effective sunscreen use on kids from the EWG: