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Summer Sun Safety - Is Your Family Safe?

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We need the sun for life! Plants and animals and people alike all need sunlight to thrive. We know that excessive sun exposure is harmful; more than 1 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.[2] However, unfiltered sunlight exposure is vital for the production of vitamin D, a hormone produced in your skin which contributes to proper calcium balance, bone growth and remodeling, cell growth, immune function, and decreasing inflammation, among other things.[1] The key is to use Safe Sun Practices – read more to learn how you and your family can stay safe this summer.



There are different types of sunscreens, but the FDA recommends using a broad spectrum product to protect you from both UVA (related to aging) and UVB (primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer). The minimum recommended coverage is SPF15, applied 20 minutes before going outside and reapplied every 1-2 hours, increasing frequency if swimming or sweating.   Doubling the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of a sunscreen does not actually double the coverage. For example, an SPF of 15 prevents exposure to 93% of ultra violet B (UVB) radiation, and SPF 30 prevents 97% of exposure when both are applied appropriately. The FDA has reported that there is no additional benefit of sunscreens with SPF over 50 as compared to SPF 50.[2,3] Be careful using products from last year or which are kept in your car; expiration dates which decrease when they are exposed to high temperatures (translation: you will be less protected).[4]


Certain health conditions, medications, including antibiotics and antihistamines (allergy medication) and even some herbal supplements may increase your sun sensitivity so please be sure to consult with your doctor before extended sun exposure. Certain skin types (lighter color, large number of freckles and moles, etc.) are also associated with higher risk of sun damage but having darker skin does not make you immune from skin cancer.[2] Those with sensitive skin should avoid sunscreens containing preservatives, alcohol, or added fragrances.



Signs of a reaction to sunscreen use include acne, burning, blisters, dryness, itching, rash, redness, stinging, swelling, and skin tightening; if you experience any of these symptoms you should seek medical attention.


The most common chemicals causing reactions are PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) and other benzophenones (dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone).


The FDA ruled in February 2019 that PABA and trolamine salicylate are unsafe for use in sunscreen.[6] Of the 16 most commonly used sunscreen ingredients, only 2 were labeled GRASE (generally recognized as safe and effective) by the FDA: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.[2,6]


What is concerning is that the FDA also concluded that 12 of the 16 had not been studied sufficiently to determine if they are safe.[6] Does this concern you? Several of the additional chemical sun blockers such as oxybenzone are derivatives of benzene, a known cancer-causing agent. Oxybenzone, a chemical sunblock used in up to 60% of sunscreens, has been identified as a “known allergen”[7] and hormone disruptor which has been detected in breast milk, amniotic fluid, blood and urine.[8,9]  It’s also important to note that the FDA is still collecting data about the safety and effectiveness of sunscreen sprays.[3]

sunscreenchartedit[2], edited

The chart above, compares the amount of ray protection of different sunscreen ingredients. It indicates that zinc oxide provides the most extensive coverage from both UVA and UVB rays, without the risk of a chemical irritation reaction.[2] Now that you’re better informed, are you looking for a new product? The Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of 260 safer sunscreens that may be helpful. There are also natural compounds containing SPF and you may be able to find DIY sunscreens online, but these have not been evaluated by any regulatory agency and you should be aware you are taking a risk using them.


“By themselves, sunscreens might not be effective in protecting you from the most dangerous forms of skin cancer.”(Enviromental Protection Agency)[2]


Keep in mind that the best times to enjoy unfiltered sunlight are early morning and late afternoon/evening, so that you can still get your daily dose of Vitamin D without overexposure to harmful rays. The most dangerous times to be in full sun are 10 a.m.-4 p.m., so plan accordingly. The amount of time you spend in the sun is also a factor, therefore it’s a good idea to take sun breaks and go inside at regular intervals, and wear long clothing whenever possible. If you’re on the beach, don’t forget that sand reflects light and you should still be cautious even when under an umbrella!   Also remember to protect your eyes from UV rays with sunglasses, excess exposure can increase your risk of cataracts.[2,3] Look for lenses that specifically mention UVA and UVB protection, many commercially available sunglasses do not offer enough.


For Infants and Young Children The FDA recommends not applying sunscreen to infants under 6 months of age and instead encourages avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If sun exposure is unavoidable, they recommend to dress your baby in covering clothing (lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats), use shading as much as possible (natural, umbrella, stroller canopy, etc.) and check with your pediatrician if it is safe to apply a small amount of sunscreen to smaller areas such as the backs of the hands and cheeks, testing first on the inside of the wrist.[2,3,4] Sun Safety Tips for Infants

  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness and excessive crying.
  • Hydrate! Give your breast milk or formula if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.
  • Take note of how much your baby is urinating. If it’s less than usual, it may be a sign of dehydration, and that more fluids are needed until the flow is back to normal.
  • Avoid combination sunscreens containing insect repellants like DEET. Young children may lick their hands or put them in their mouths. According to the AAP, DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months old.
  • If you do notice your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.[4]

Dehydration and overheating are also significant summer concerns, particularly for infants still developing proper heat regulation. Mild to moderate dehydration is likely to cause:

  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Sleepiness or tiredness — children are likely to be less active than usual
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urine output
  • No wet diapers for three hours for infants
  • Few or no tears when crying
  • Dry skin
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Severe dehydration, a medical emergency, can cause:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Extreme fussiness or sleepiness in infants and children; irritability and confusion in adults
  • Very dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes
  • Little or no urination — any urine that is produced will be darker than normal
  • Sunken eyes
  • Shriveled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and doesn’t “bounce back” when pinched into a fold
  • In infants, sunken fontanels — the soft spots on the top of a baby’s head
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • No tears when crying
  • Fever
  • In the most serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness[5]


If you see an individual with signs or symptoms of severe dehydration you should immediately seek emergency medical treatment.


Below are a few apps which may help you with monitoring your sun exposure. DO NOT take them as scientific fact regarding the time it will take to get burned, use at your own risk, but they can at least help remind you to re-apply sunblock and be mindful of your sun exposure.

EPA’s SunWise UV Index – provides information about when the sun is stronger (and you are at higher risk)

Sun Keeper (google play) or iTunes – get healthy sun exposure and be mindful of peak sun times

UVisio: Monitor Sun Exposure (google play) or iTunes – information about skin type and SPF recommendations.


There is no such thing as a healthy suntan. Any change in your natural skin color is a sign of skin damage. Every time your skin color changes after sun exposure, your risk of developing sun-related ailments increases.”(EPA)[2]


Read more about Beautycounter’s commitment to clean beauty standards and products!

Wishing you safe fun in the sun! Dr. Chelsea Drda, DC















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