The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recently announced that they're investigating dangers associated with using spray sunscreen. We found three primary risks:
1. The risk of spray sunscreen catching fire after it is applied. The FDA reports at least 5 incidents of bodies being burned following spray sunscreen use (from a grill, cigarette, etc).
2. The risk of chemical inhalation during application. There is concern that inhaling aerosol-borne chemical particulate matter can be dangerous for kids' health.
3. The difficulty of seeing where you've applied sunscreen. It is hard to tell whether your kid is entirely covered when you use spray sunscreen, leading to risk of sunburn.
Consumer Reports recommends not using spray sunblock until the FDA completes its full investigation into these issues.
Chemicals in All Sunscreen! We want to be clear that we don't know of any sunscreen options that contain no chemicals whatsoever. Whether it's oxybenzone or avobenzone, zinc oxide or titanium oxide, to protect against burns and lower your risk of melanoma you'll be applying chemicals directly to your skin. Chemicals happen to be very effective at blocking the sun's harmful rays, but some are more toxic than others
What to avoid: Here are the key sunscreen chemicals to avoid, according to the Environmental Working Group: Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Homosalate, Octisalate, and Octocrylene. Many of these tend to penetrate the skin, enter the bloodstream, and even cross the blood-brain and blood-breastmilk barrier. They also tend to be related to hormone disruption and skin allergies. And let's not forget methylisothiazolinone and parabens.
What is probably OK: Here are the relatively low risk sunscreen chemicals, according to the same group: Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Avobenzone, and Mexoryl SX. There is no evidence of hormone disruption for these and they have little to no skin penetration. But each is highly effective at preventing sunburn.
Here are our 2016 sunscreen & sunblock recommendations.
1. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen SPF 30. This is sensitive, and chemical and fragrance free. What they mean by chemical free is it contains only the relatively low-risk chemical pigments Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Blue Lizard also went paraben-free as of 2012, which is somewhat rare on the sunscreen market. In our tests we found that it spread easily for a non-chemical sunscreen, which tend to be thicker than other sunscreens. It also worked at blocking the sun quite well. Our 3 test kiddos also had no adverse skin reactions, and none was even slightly pink by the end of the day (save for some toe areas we neglected to reach!). None of them complained about any eye stinging either, which I will say is rare in our household! So overall, this seems like a great option. It doesn't contain any of the high risk chemicals, yet still does a great job preventing sunburn without burning a big hole in your wallet (maybe a little hole, but we think one that's worth it). We used an 8.75 oz tube that was about $25 online. Also check out Blue Lizard's FACE version.
2. Think Baby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+. Here is another excellent sensitive and chemical free option, but a bit more expensive than Blue Lizard. The Think Baby sunscreen only uses Zinc Oxide, one of the relatively low-risk chemical pigments that offer excellent sun protection. In fact, this particular sunscreen was the first to pass the Whole Foods rigid sunscreen inspection process (premium care requirements), and while we may not be huge fans of Whole Foods they're known to be quite picky with what they consider Health & Beaty products. This sunscreen offers the highest possible protection of 50+ SPF, with the highest possible level of water resistance (80 minutes)! Note that these are FDA-established maximums for all sunscreens. In our tests, we found it quite thick and creamy and a bit difficult to spread (but certainly possible with some effort). We didn't think it worked quite as well as the Blue Lizard, as one of our test kids was a bit pink on the shoulders after a day on the beach. But it was a hot day, and we didn't follow the instructions to re-apply every couple hours (we did twice for the entire day). Overall, we think this is an excellent and effective sunscreen option. It is basically tied with #1 on our list except for the price. We use a 3 oz tube that was about $10 online. By comparison, this is about twice the cost per ounce vs Blue Lizard; seems like a little, but it adds up for larger tubes.
3. Alba Botanicals Kids Mineral Sunblock SPF 30. We absolutely love Alba Botanicals, especially their sunscreen options for adults, like their Hawaiian Sunscreen SPF 45, which smells and works great without any high risk chemicals. This particular sunscreen is for kids and something they have marketed as "Mineral Sunblock" which is the same as #1 and #2, basically meaning that it uses Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide instead of some of the higher risk chemicals. Note that this isn't the case with all of their Kids sunscreens: their SPF 45 version contains some of the moderate-risk chemicals listed above. This particular one, however, is quite good. It contains no parabens, artificial colors, or other harmful active or inactive ingredients. It is 100% vegetarian (no animal byproducts). It offers 40 minutes of water protection, and goes on smooth and thick without any oily residue. We also loved that it had very little odor. In our testing, it performed very well, protecting the 2 kids that used it on the beach (reapplied every 2 hours), without any evidence of sunburn. Overall, this is a great option. It is listed third for a few reasons. First, it's somewhat harder to find than the others. Second, we didn't like that some of the Alba Botanica Kids versions had some of the moderate-risk chemicals. However, it is a bit cheaper than the others, coming in around $10 for 4 ounces.
4. Badger Balm Kids Sunscreen Cream SPF 30. Also see the Baby version here. This is the simplest, 100% natural, and 95% organic sunscreen on our list. The Badger Balm sunscreen only contains 6 ingredients, the first being over 18% Zinc Oxide (that's a high amount), and the rest some fancy oils and natural scents of citrus and vanilla. We thought it smelled great, and was a refreshingly simple option in an otherwise chemical-saturated sunscreen market. It offers 40 minutes of water protection. In our testing, we thought that it was rather thick and a bit too chalky white for our tastes. It also rubbed off a bit onto our swim suits (which washed off fine later). It did awesome in our beach testing though, with no signs of sunburn on our little ones, though we did reapply every 60-90 minutes or so. We also thought the scent was a bit overwhelming for one of our kids in particular, but not the other. The price was also a bit high, around $5 per ounce on average; the tube we tested was only 2.9 oz and cost us about $14. Note that Badger also makes a Baby Badger formula with chamomile rather than vanilla scent. We haven't tried that one, but will update when we do.
5. Babyganics Pure Mineral-based Sunscreen SPF 50. Note that Babyganics has several sunscreen options, but only two of the ones we've found actually use only mineral-based active ingredients. These are the Mineral-based Lotion and the Mineral-based Stick. While all of the Babyganics options do not include PABA, phthalates, parabens, fragrances, and nano-particles, some of them do use active sunscreen ingredients other than zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Like all sunscreens using only mineral-based active ingredients, the Babyganics Pure Mineral-Based Sunscreen goes on quite thick but does rub in with a little effort. If it's not rubbing in all the way, you're probably using too much. In our tests, we found that it is excellent for highly sensitive skin as it doesn't contain many common irritants. Our primary gripe with this sunscreen option is that the brand name "Babyganics" implies that this is an organic option, which it is not. That mislead us and likely many others; thus, while they're making a great product, we're not keen on their ethical values. In our testing, we re-applied every 40 minutes with use in water (pool or beach), and every couple hours without use in water. We didn't experience any pinkness or burns.