Dermatologist-Recommended Safe Sunscreens for the Whole Family

As moms, we always want the best for our kids, and when it comes to choosing sun protection it’s no different. So how do we respond when news emerges that a product we slather on to protect goes more than just skin-deep, with some unknown consequences?

A new study published in the May 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found four common chemical sunscreen ingredients – avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene – are present the bloodstream at least 24 hours after sunscreen use ended. These four are part of a dozen sunscreen ingredients the FDA recently recommended sunscreen manufacturers research further before they could be ‘generally regarded as safe and effective.’

To give you some background on my perspective, I’m the mom at the park in the wide-brimmed hat who once found nine bottles of sunscreen in her oversized purse. My husband, David Fieleke, a dermatologist and skin cancer surgeon, made up a sunscreen song to sing to our daughter from the time she was an infant. We wanted our kids to grow up enjoying, rather than squirming away from the SPF. Family sun protection is something we’re passionate about.

We approach this news in an informed way, and we want to share with others in the hope that families can have peace of mind and stay safe in the sun this summer.

Dr. Fieleke reviewed the study, and he answers the questions that moms like us want to know. We also recommend our favorite mineral-based sunscreens in a variety of price ranges for you to try with your family this summer.

Q: In light of this news, do we as parents now have to choose the lesser evil?

A: UV light is a known carcinogen. Even one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma.

We’ve always known that the skin is a dynamic organ that interacts with internal body systems, so it’s no surprise sunscreen ingredients could be absorbed into the bloodstream. There’s nothing in the study (or elsewhere) that says these chemicals cause any harm even though they can be found in the body.

So the question becomes do we carelessly expose ourselves to a known cancer causing agent (the sun), or do we continue to protect ourselves in a responsible way?

Q: How should we continue to protect ourselves from UV light responsibly?

A: The good news is that there are plenty of excellent ‘physical blocker’ sunscreens that do not contain any of the chemicals evaluated in this study. For anyone who’s concerned, I suggest selecting a zinc-based sunscreen.

Q: Zinc sunscreen, the kind that you wear in a white stripe on your nose?

A: A lot of people have the misconception that all zinc sunscreens are thick, white and pasty. But there are now numerous lightweight, colorless cosmetically elegant sunscreens available on the market with zinc as the main ingredient. You don’t have to sacrifice appearance anymore when you opt for a mineral-based sunscreen.

Here are our family’s favorite mineral-based suncreens in a variety of formats to keep you sun-safe all summer long.

 Creams and Sticks 

  • Badger Clear Zinc Kids Sport sunscreen with non-nano zinc oxide contains just six ingredients, and provides UVA/UVB protection without chemicals for up to 40 minutes. It’s formulated to rub in cleanly with little white residue (when you rub well). Our whole family loves the Tangerine and Vanilla creamsicle scent. Eco-Conscious parents will love that it’s reef-safe and comes in a biodegradable tube. Also a top pick of the Environmental Working Group.
  • Blue Lizard is a brand that Dr. Fieleke has been recommending for kids with sensitive skin for years. But be sure to check your label if you’re looking to avoid chemical ingredients. Blue Lizard Baby and Sensitive formulations use just zinc and titanium dioxide (physical blockers). Blue Lizard Kids, Active, Regular and Sport also contain octocrylene and other chemical blockers.
  • Aveeno Baby SPF 50 with zinc oxide provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. It’s formulated for sensitive skin and is parabaen, phthalate and fragrance-free. It’s a top pick of the Environmental Working Group.
  • Thinksport Kids Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ provides UVA/UVB protection. It’s paraben, phthalate and PABA-free and a top pick of the Environmental Working Group. We like how it rubs in on our kids and is not greasy. Our kids love the light tropical smell. 
  • Coola Mineral Baby Organic Sunscreen Stick (SPF 50) is a gentle, fragrance-free sunscreen stick. Also a top pick of the Environmental Working Group. It does carry more of a white residue.
  • Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Holographic Shimmer lotion and stick are the latest craze with our 10 and 7-year old. This sunscreen adds (subtle) shimmer and color and protects their skin with zinc and titanium dioxide.  This brand is also a top pick of the Environmental Working Group.

Mineral Sprays

There aren’t many sprays out there that use just minerals as the physical blocker (usually they include a combo of physical and chemical UV barriers), but we expect purely mineral-based ones may become more popular. These can be pretty pricey, so don’t let kids go crazy with the spray bottle!

Best Under/Over Makeup

And now for the mamas, here are some of our family-favorite ‘cosmetically elegant’ mineral-based sunscreens for the face that you can easily layer without fear of white chalky residue. Because of their higher price tag, we use these on the face and opt for one of the creams listed above on our bodies. 

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Natalie is a Lee’s Summit freelance writer and mom to a sweet girl, Adelyn, and a spicy boy, Gage. She’s married to David, a dermatologist. This means she's that mom at the park in the wide-brimmed hat with nine bottles of sunscreen in her oversized purse. Natalie’s first job out of journalism school was as a health and cuisine reporter for a small-town newspaper. Today, her continued love for food, fitness, and family adventures are manifested on her lifestyle blog, Lovely Inside Out. Making healthy food from scratch is her jam, and you’ll often find her trashing her kitchen while making cashew butter, protein balls or plantain tortillas.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing the study I am going to look into it but you lost me at EWG. They are a terrible organization that does not base their rstings on science but on opinions or better yet who gives them more money. Stop giving this group any mention they are not worth any of our time.

    • Thanks for sharing your feedback. The primary focus of this piece is new information about sunscreens published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, as well as our own abundant personal experience with sunscreens. Regardless of your opinion of the EWG, I hope you found something useful here!

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