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What’s the Difference between Sunscreens? Part 1

By Jak Burke,

In this two-part part of our report on sunscreens and your baby – we wanted to clarify the difference between sunscreens. This information was originally provided by the U. of California San Francisco – UCSF School of Medicine.


Physical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens reflect or scatter UV radiation before it reaches your skin. Some sunblocks combine both chemical and physical sunblocks.

The two types of physical screens that are available are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Both provide broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection and are gentle enough for everyday use. Because these are physical blocking agents and not chemicals, they are especially useful for individuals with sensitive skin, as they rarely cause skin irritation.(source UCSF)

Do not use sunscreen on infants younger than 6 months unless the doctor directs you to do so. It is best for infants to stay out of the sun and wear protective clothing (e.g., hats, long sleeves/pants) when outdoors.

Some ingredients can increase skin sensitivity. If a sunscreen causes redness or irritation, wash it off and stop using it. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about using another sunscreen product with different ingredients.


Chemical sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the energy of UV radiation before it affects your skin. Most chemical sunscreens are composed of several active ingredients. This is because no single chemical ingredient blocks the entire UV spectrum.

Instead, most chemicals only block a narrow region of the UV spectrum.

Therefore, by combining several chemicals, with each one blocking a different region of UV light, one can produce a sunblock that provides broad spectrum protection. The majority of chemical agents used in sunblock work in the UVB region. Only a few chemicals block the UVA region.

However, there is a real question mark on the safety of its use as research has shown that the use of chemical sunscreen is linked to the higher incidence of skin cancer due to its free radical generating and DNA/hormone disrupting properties.

What’s more concerning is the way in which Oxybenzone (a common sunscreen component) filters ultra violet light on the surface of the skin by converting light to heat that can be absorbed through the skin. This is disturbing because if light is converted to heat in the basal layers of the skin, damage to growing cells is very likely.


Organic sunscreens

Organic sunscreens also work by providing a reflective barrier against sun damage using active blocking agents zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Organic sunscreens are chemical free and will not contain any chemical UV-absorbers, synthetic preservatives, benzoates, petrochemical, artificial fragrances, parabens, artificial flavors or color and other harmful chemicals. For people with sensitive and allergy prone skin and for people who are concerned about cancer inducing chemical ingredients used in chemical filters, then an organic sunscreen may be a more suitable option. Also please be aware that nanotechnology is being used even with the physical sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium oxide. More studies are needed to determine their safety. Please read below our shocking findings about Nanotechnology on sunscreens


Our advice

Before buying a sunscreen read the ingredients carefully before buying, and understand what chemicals are harmful if they are allowed to build up in your infant’s body. There are other ways to protect your children. These include dressing your infant in sun protective clothing, and placing a wide-rimmed hat, and using infant sun glasses, and providing adequate shade such as an umbrella or using natural shade and limiting exposure on the hottest time of the day. Please see the Environmental Working Group EWG list of the safest sunscreens in the market. This guide will give you the best advice on what is safest to use on your baby’s delicate skin.



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One comment

  1. Thank you so much for this information! I have been looking for a good sunscreen for my son who has very sensitive skin and now I know what to look for.

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