How to deal with chemicals in sunscreen for babies and kids

Jenna Hua / Founder of Million Marker / Updated Oct 21, 2021
chemicals in sunscreen

Product selection can be an overwhelming experience for parents and sunscreen is no different. 

But there’s no need to sweat it—your baby doesn’t need to miss out on a family pool day or fun in the sun. There are plenty of sun-savvy sunscreens and natural forms of skin protection that are safe for your little one. 

The following are commonly found chemicals in sunscreens, utilized to make application easier or more pleasing:

  • Oxybenzone: Endocrine disruptor which has been linked to hormone disruption.

  • Octinoxate: Can affect metabolism and thyroid hormones.

  • Homosalate: Has been found to penetrate the skin.

  • Octocrylene: Has been linked to high rates of skin allergies.

In an initial study undertaken by the FDA, these ingredients were found to be detectable in the bloodstream of adult participants after a single application. The extent of sunscreen absorption is unknown in pediatric patients. 

It’s worth noting that the FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology have deemed currently marketed sunscreens safe and effective, but further data is needed for all ages at this time to determine whether absorbing sunscreen has any effects on your skin or body.

Sunscreen has been approved as safe for babies older than 6 months old. It’s important to point out that all leading experts agree that any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all, especially as the American Academy of Pediatrics notes most sun damage occurs in childhood. 

Much like reports of heavy metals in purees, information about chemicals in products like sunscreen can be stressful for parents because there is a lack of data on something nearly impossible to just avoid using altogether. The FDA is calling for more safety data on these ingredients, so what’s an overthinking parent to do in the meantime?

Like safe adult sunscreens, you can consider using baby sunscreens that are free of the ingredients listed above when possible. 

What we also know is that the AAP recommends prioritizing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide when possible. These ingredients are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) and act as a physical sunblock that sits on the surface of the skin rather than being absorbed like most sunscreens. These types of products also tend to be the most hypoallergenic, making them a great choice for sensitive skin types.

Of course, mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide also tend to be thicker and leave a pasty white coating, so they’re more difficult to apply. But slathering enough sunscreen to make your child look like a ghost is practically a rite of passage in parenting, so consider this struggle worth the trade-off.

sunscreen chemicals for babies

For babies who are younger than 6 months, the AAP and the FDA both recommend avoiding sunscreen and keeping babies out of direct sunlight. This is because infants are highly susceptible to sunburns and they are at greater risk for sunscreen side effects, such as rashes.

Of course, it’d be impossible to avoid the outdoors entirely and it’s good for the whole family to get some fresh air! So to keep babies under 6 months safe, make sure to adopt other natural forms of skin protection, including: 

  • Airy clothing

  • Shade covering

  • Umbrella

  • Wide-brimmed hat

  • Covered stroller

While these are great options for babies under 6 months, we also recommend using them as further protection for anyone older. And one of the best ways to teach sun safety is to lead by example, so don’t forget your hat and sunglasses too.

If you’re taking the extra step to avoid chemicals, note that under excessive heat, chemicals in plastic sunscreen bottles such as BPA and phthalates can move into the sunscreen and contaminate the product. Even if you’re using sunscreen products that don’t contain the chemicals we touched on above, it’s worth keeping an eye on packaging materials used on the bottle when possible. 

An easy solution is to throw your sunscreen in the cooler on a hot day and avoid leaving bottles in the car. Plus, if you’ve ever reapplied chilled sunscreen midday, you know how refreshing it feels.

Curious about your exposure to chemicals while using sunscreens? Take Million Marker’s Detect & Detox + Lifestyle Audit Kit and receive personalized feedback and recommendations on how to protect yourself while staying lathered up in sunscreen.