Natural Sun Protection for the Whole Family
Its summer!!! It’s hot, sunny, and you are pumped to get out and about with your kiddos. Hiking, camping, splash pads and pool here you come. So, time to pack your essentials….snacks, towel, toys, extra clothes, more snacks, and of course sun protection!! But what’s the best and safest sunscreen for your child? If they are less than 6mo what do I do? Can’t we just use coconut oil and eat lots of oranges?? There are a lot of opinions and information out there, so let’s clear this all up and make a sustainable game plan.
A couple Facts:
Skin cancer is the #1 cancer in the US. It’s no joke, and I don’t say this is to be scary, but to empower you with the information needed to avoid this preventable problem! I’m all about prevention :)
Having 5 or more severe childhood sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma, so let’s talk about the best ways to avoid sunburn.
Plan your time and clothing in sun.
We can’t avoid the sun entirely of course…we need that amazing vitamin D! But here are some pro tips on choosing how to spend your time in it:
When you know you are going to be out for an extended period of time (more than 15-30min), choose long sleeves, hats, and seek out the shade when you can. They make many options of cool UPF containing rash guard bathing suits for kids (the tops with the sleeves and cute onsies for littles), and hats with wide brims and neck covers are the best choice. Just make it a habit…your going outside to play? Here’s your hat! Ones that have ties are helpful for babies who might want to rip it off.
Mind the time of day. The sun is its strongest from 10-4, so choose early morning or afternoon outings if possible. You can most definitely still get burnt outside of those hours, so keep doing the measures talked about here during those times as well.
This is the best recommendation for kids under 6mo of age since they are limited in wearing sunscreen.
If over the age of 6mo, I highly recommend wearing an SPF 30+, broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Here is the skinny on sunscreens:
Quality and ingredients matter. There are concerns, both in health and the environment, for using ingredients such as octinoxate and oxybenzone, Instead, choose a non-nano zinc based formula.
SPF is helpful from 30-50. Above 50, the jury is out if it's really that much more effective
Apply liberally (cover ALL skin well) 15min before sun exposure. Re-apply after swimming and sweating, or every 2-4 hours.
If under 6mo, talk to your child's doctor about what they recommend. If sun exposure is not avoidable, a small amount of a safe sunscreen (see below) might be OK on exposed areas.
Here are my favorite Sunscreens:
Beautycounter’s Countersun mineral sunscreen. Rubs in clear, non-greasy, and comes in both lotion and a super convenient spray bottle that doesn’t cause lung damage.
ThinkBaby Sunscreen. I like that it rubs in clear and the smell is nice too.
More options and some great info can be found at EWG. This is a great site to find natural skin care products in general!
Sunglasses are smart and cute
After a day at the lake here in Colorado one day, I noticed how red my son's eyes were. Well duh! I of course wore sunglasses the whole day, why didn't I have him do the same? We can get UV damage to our eyes too, so find some cute ones you like and start early to get them used to it and build the habit. You probably won't get them to wear them all the time, but long days in the sun around water or exposed hiking areas are a must.
What about other oils with natural SPF?
You may have heard of using coconut oil as natural sun protection and even seen it in some sunscreen ingredients. It does possibly have an SPF of 5-7 (this study was done in a petri dish though), but unfortunately it only blocks an estimated 20% of the suns damaging rays, with one study showing zero UV-blocking protection. Because of this I do not recommend using it as a stand-alone sunscreen. It can be combined with other oils and zinc oxide to make it more effective, or a nice addition to your <6mo old skin routine for short sun exposure, but formulating a sunscreen you can count on is probably best left up to the experts (In my humble opinion).
Is darker skin more protected?
The darker the shade of skin, the more melanin it contains. While melanin offers some degree of natural protection, it doesn’t rule out your risk for developing signs of aging or skin cancer. The sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays aren’t discriminatory.
Focusing on nutrient and antioxidant dense foods may play a significant role in helping protect you and your little one’s skin. Antioxidants such as carotenoids and polyphenols can accumulate in the skin and absorb various wavelengths of sunlight, reduce DNA-damaging free radicals, and are anti-inflammatory. A meta-analysis done in 2016 concluded that “based on the studies, there is evidence that polyphenols in both oral and topical form may provide protection from UV damage and sunburn, and thus are beneficial to skin health”
Food to focus on: Tomatoes, sweet potatoes and spinach, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and pomegranate, Oranges, grapefruit and kiwi, Omega-3s from fish oil, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Liquids to focus on: Maybe not for your child, but both coffee and green tea have a great dose of antioxidants.
* I would not recommend relying solely on food for sunburn prevention, but use it as a holistic approach.
Using the above measures whenever possible should keep you and your children sunburn-free and reduce their risk for future skin concerns. I hope this was helpful and please reach out if you have any questions or tips and tricks for fellow-parents I can share.
Foundations Family Medicine-Naturopathic care for the whole family.
Dr. Jessie Miller