Question: My son goes to camp all day and I need a good sunscreen because he has sensitive skin and is very fair. I’ve also heard that there is a certain chemical that kids should not be exposed to because it causes cancer. And, are the sprays as effective as the lotion? Help!

Answer: I know just how you feel and I send my  three-year old Annabelle outside wearing a hat at all times, so send your sun to camp wearing at least a baseball cap to shield his face, or even a broader-rimmed fishing hat to protect his face and back of his neck and ears, if possible. Also, you mentioned he is very fair-skinned, so you might consider having him wear a t-shirt when swimming to help deflect the sun’s rays and provide extra protection.

Sunscreen chemicals to avoid:  Recently available data from an FDA study indicate that a form of vitamin A commonly found in sunscreens, retinyl palmitate, may speed skin tumor development when applied to skin in the sun and requires further testing. In addition, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer environmental and health watchdog group, some 65 sunscreens advertised for babies and kids contain oxybenzone, a synthetic chemical that absorbs the sun’s rays but also readily penetrates the skin, more so in children, and can disrupt the body’s natural hormones and also cause allergic reactions. Also, look for glycerol PABA, padimate A and padimate O instead of the original staining, reaction-forming PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid.

Safer active ingredients include Mexoryl SX (ecamsule),  Parsol 1789, also called avobenzone, and titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which physically block ultraviolet radiation. Although these sunscreen formulas may go on thicker and appear “whiter,”  they also stay on longer and are gentler to sensitive skins which is a good thing at camp!

Simply make a list of ingredients to avoid and to look for and take it with you to the store. Read labels to make the best choice.

Sunscreen recommendations:  Consumer Reports recently rated sunscreens according to the new FDA labeling requirements and reported that two for kids completely failed  tests so do not choose Alba Botanica and Banana Boat Kids, whose labels claimed broad-spectrum protection and failed the wavelength test. Banana Boat Kids was also poor against UVA rays. Do choose All-Terrain AquaSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30,  recommended by both the EWG and Consumer Reports ratings. I also like the chemical-free Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby, especially for sensitive skins.

You might also speak to camp counselors about how they reapply sunscreens for outdoor activities because sunscreens need to be re-applied after swimming or sweating, or every two hours.

What about spray-on sunscreen?  Stick to the lotions with an SPF between 30-50. Currently, the FDA has requested additional data to establish effectiveness of spray-on sunscreen and to determine whether there is safety hazard if  unintentionally inhaled by children.

Check out the infographic below from EWG which gives a great picture of what to avoid when looking for sunscreen for your child…

Sunscreen Infographic