Days at the playground afternoons at the pool or weekends in the backyard all mean one thing – summer sun safety! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends protecting infants and children from the sun with light-weight long clothing. While this is ideal, the whines and groans about dressing in full at the beach, pool or park aren’t. When you can’t cover up your little one, coat her down in an SPF of at least 15, notes the AAP. Which sunscreen should your kids wear? Learning the differences between major ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can help you to make the right choice for your child when it comes to protection from the sun!
Which one is better?
Zinc or titanium -- does it really make a difference? Even though both are perfectly acceptable options, zinc oxide provides better protection against UVA rays. UVA rays make up 95 percent of the overall UV radiation that makes it way to your child and contribute significantly to the development of skin cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. While UVA rays reach the deeper layers of the skin, UVB rays tend to damage the surface and cause sunburns. This means that your child’s sunscreen needs to protect against both. That said, the added UVA protection of zinc oxide is an advantage. That’s not to say that titanium dioxide offers no protection against UVA rays. It does – just not to the same degree as its zinc counterpart.
What are nanoparticles?
You’re selecting sunscreen and you notice something about nanoparticles? Are they space-age technology or something else? Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens leave behind chalky messes when the mineral particles that they contain are too large (think about that white chalk-like covered nose that lifeguards in the ‘80s sported). Nanoparticles are teeny, tiny particles that are 1/20 the width of one hair. They make sunscreens containing these ingredients sheer and stop the chunky mess.
Some sunscreens claim to be ‘non-nano’. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), this is rarely true. Most products contain both ingredients do contain these small-sized particles. Why do nanoparticles get a bad rap? The reduced size cuts down on the UVA protection (remember, that’s what protects your child from cancer-causing rays). Some companies also claim that nanoparticles are small enough to make their way into your child’s skin, crossing over into her body. The EWG notes that the research is sketchy on this subject, with the majority of studies finding that this does not happen and that there is no danger from nanoparticles.
Although the zinc or titanium nanoparticles won’t penetrate the skin, they can be harmful when inhaled. Avoid powdered or spray sunscreens that include minerals, and stick to the liquids and creams.
Are these ingredients safe for babies and children?
The AAP does say that using a physical cover (such as clothing and a hat) is preferable over a sunscreen. If you must use a sunscreen, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide mineral sunscreens are typically safe choices. The minerals provide a physical barrier against the sun’s rays, and not a chemical one. Additionally, mineral sunscreens are effective immediately and don’t require you to wait 15 or 30 minutes after application before heading out into the sun.
What about allergies?
No product, whether it’s natural or not, is 100 percent allergy free. The natural nature of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide means that your baby or child may handle the sunscreen better than a chemical-filled one (i.e., products containing avobenzone, dioxybenzone or ensulizole). Keep in mind that every child is different and it’s entirely possible for yours to have a reaction. Test the sunscreen on a small patch of skin before slathering it all over her.
What’s the final verdict on zinc oxide vs. titanium dioxide? Both offer an excellent natural barrier against the sun’s damaging rays. Even though either ingredient is an option for protecting your baby or child, the zinc version ups the UVA protection and may be the better pick.