Why Are So Many Kids Having Scary Reactions From Sunscreen? Experts Weigh In
It's the latest in a seeming trend of social media posts in which parents claim their kids suffered terrible burns after they applied Banana Boat Kids SPF 50 sunscreen to their skin.
Mom Rebecca Cannon took to Facebook to share alarming photos of her 14-month-old daughter Kyla with a peeling and severely-swollen face she claims is the result of using the product in question.
The photos are heartbreaking to behold, as is Cannon's account of what happened to her little girl.
"Kyla is back home after another hospital trip this morning due to extream [sic] swelling but she is doing ok and is in good spirits," the mom wrote in her now-viral post. She goes on to warn, "Please watch and be carful when using aerosolized sunscreen! I have done a lot of research [s]ince coming home and have found a disturbing amount of cases like ours. I don't know why it's not removed from the shelves!!"
She specifically calls out Banana Boat SPF 50 Broad Spectrum Kids sunscreen and says the company refunded her money, but that is not enough. Other parents have claimed to have similar experiences with this product, like Jennifer Bradford Sayers, who said her young sons suffered first-, second-, and even third-degree burns after she used Banana Boat Kids SPF 50 spray sunscreen on them during a trip to the beach.
It's possible that these kids were the victims of extreme cases of allergic dermatitis. And it's worth mentioning that applying spray sunscreen to the face is never recommended AND that Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100 and Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100 were recently named two of the worst sunscreens for kids by the Environmental Working Group.
Rachel Prete, D.O. at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando told Parents.com, "To my knowledge there is no additional ingredient [Banana Boat] uses that their competitor sunscreens do not." She added, "Each child is different in the way they respond to sunscreen, especially on the face where the skin can be more sensitive."
Dr. Prete believes a reaction like what these parents posted could be an allergic contact dermatitis versus a true chemical burn from the sunscreen. A common irritant is oxybenzone, which she says, "is present in about 65 percent of chemical sunscreens on the market."
We asked Dr. Janet Prystowsky, board-certified dermatologist and president/founder of Livad Skin Care, about aerosol sunscreens specifically, and she said, "The problem with [these products] is that, with infants and toddlers, it can be tough to apply adequate coverage. You don't want your child to inhale the sunscreen either, which is always a risk with aerosols. Plus, the child may rub it off almost immediately. It can be hard to tell for any parent."
Dr. Prete also told us, "In general we do not recommend using spray sunscreens on the face since it can be difficult to control the flow and direction of the spray which can end up in your child's eyes or can be inhaled."
"I recommend broad-spectrum mineral-based sunscreens that come in a lotion or stick for the face," Dr. Prystowsky told us, adding, "Choose a sunscreen that is age-appropriate. If you choose a high SPF of 50+, make sure that your active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, [which] you'll notice adds a white tint and doesn't blend in fully. For small children, this can be an easy way to ensure that they are wearing sunscreen."
She also advises that babies wear a broad-brimmed hat during sun exposure. "I can't stress enough how important clothing is for your child's sun protection. A bucket hat will protect their scalp, ears, and upper face." Dr. Prystowsky further says, "Remember that infants should not be in direct sunlight before 6 months old. Even afterwards, direct sunlight should be limited."
Dr. Prete says chemical sunscreens do have one advantage over mineral sunscreens, in that they tend to last longer, especially when kids are in and out of the water. "Although [mineral sunscreens] work great, they tend to wear off more quickly in the water and the parent must reapply frequently," she says.
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The bottom line, according to Dr. Prete: "Whatever product a parent chooses to use they should always do a test on a small portion of the child's body first and then test the face as the skin on the face is known for being much more sensitive than the rest of the body."