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Sunblocks and Sunscreens: Back to Articles
by Lauren Feder, M.D.

 Excerpt from Natural Baby and Childcare by Lauren Feder, M.D.

Old-fashioned sunblocks create a physical barrier to the sun's rays by using titanium dioxide and zinc oxides to block UV rays.. These ingredients are not absorbed into the skin but rather leaves a whitish gleam to the skin. Sunblocks provide a broad spectrum to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

On the other hand, sunscreens are absorbed into the skin creating a chemical sun barrier which are usually invisible when rubbed into the skin. The sunscreens act to filter the UV radiation, and are considered the unhealthier choice. Sunscreen ingredients are linked to cancer due to their free radical generation and similarity to estrogen, known as toxic estrogenic chemical sunscreens. In addition, the latter may affect sexual development, birth defects, and lower sperm count and penis size in men. When using sun protection, the one that provides a physical barrier is preferable. I prefer the more natural varieties that are chemical free and PABA free.. PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) is known to cause allergy and is rarely used these days.

In addition, emerging research suggests sunscreens may not be enough to prevent skin cancer, since they do not offer protection against the formation of moles, which have been implicated in skin cancer, including the common and sometimes fatal form, melanoma. Only clothing can prevent moles from forming on the skin.

Most sun damage occurs during childhood, so it is particularly important to take precautions in these early years. Children and babies are more vulnerable to the effects of the sun and should be well covered, whatever the weather. Dress your child in a long white t-shirt (an adult sized t-shirt can be used to protect legs) and hat. The hat should also protect the eyes. If this is not sufficient, consider sunglasses with 100 percent UV filtration. Clothes provide minimal protection with an SPF of 5.9. Sunscreen should not be used on babies less than six months old.

At the beginning of your outdoor season, take your child out for ten minutes a day, preferably in the morning hours before 10 a.m. and increase exposure time gradually. Avoid the noon hour outside. Gradual exposure allows her skin to become accustomed to the sun, and within several weeks, she will be at less risk for sunburn. If skin ever appears too red, go inside. When outside, drink plenty of water and eat vegetables (the antioxidants in vegetables help protect against sun radiation). Be sensible and avoid excess exposure.

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