When Your Sunscreen Burns You
Editor’s Note: Since this post’s original publication, Canada has also been reeling from several incidences of infants receiving severe 2nd degree burns while using sunscreens specifically marketed for children. In looking at one of the product reported, Banana Boat Kids Free SPF 50+, it fortunately does not have some of the red flags that I have seen in other children spray sunscreens like alcohol and oxybenzone. My quick assessment of the product leads me to suspect that it’s unlikely to be a true SPF 50+ with ingredients of 3% avobenzone, 6% octocrylene and 10% homosalate. In looking at the solar simulator, a helpful on-line tool for estimating SPF and the UVA protection factor, this ingredient load would give an SPF of 15-17. I would also consider whether the avobenzone was fully stabilized from photo-degrading (i.e. breaking down in the sun) by the octocrylene. Finally, spray sunscreens are always problematic because you can just never be sure that you are applying adequate amounts evenly. I understand they are convenient for children (I have a wriggly toddler so I REALLY understand) but stay tuned for some tips for applying sunscreen and providing the best protection against the sun for young children in our next blog post.
In today’s digital age, it’s common place for alarming stories to bubble up and go viral, typically with the pictures to match. Pictures of bad sun burns can sometimes make for fun Buzzfeed columns but when children are involved and their burns are significant, the stories are heartbreaking.
The news cycles in Australia and New Zealand are replete right now with the story of a brand of sunscreen manufactured for their skin cancer council called Peppa the Pig. This was a brand of sunscreen especially marketed towards kids so the several pictures of young children with 2nd degree burns were shocking to everyone. Many questioned- how is this possible?
We source our zinc oxide from Australia and in our minds, we always imagined it to be the land of sunscreen. You can imagine the need for it. It’s one of the few places in the world with a predominantly fair population with never ending and intense sun. I was surprised then when I was corresponding with a beauty e-commerce owner in Australia about what she felt was the complete lack of good options. She said they also faced the same issue with consumer confusion. Many were starting to get the message that they needed to wear sunscreen every single day but most stumbled in trying to decipher what to use. So many people were still getting caught in the trap of relying on the front of the box where their only real cue for information remains the SPF. As we’ve stated many times (here and here), SPF can be a misleading piece of information, especially if it’s the only piece of information you are looking at. The real source of information remains the ingredient list, however, I concede that is a daunting task to wade through complex chemical names and percentages (if available!) even for professionals. We continue to use a tool called the Sunscreen Simulator- it’s an online tool created by a provider of sunscreen filters that allows you to graphically see what your protection looks like. It’s not perfect but it’s one of the few tools we have.
In taking a cursory look at the family of Peppa the Pig products, they do contain some ingredients with questionable photo allergy data. Encazamene is a filter that we do not have here in North America. There are studies that show it has potential issues with photo-allergy. We also would never use it in our formulations as it’s a small particle sized filter that can enter the body. The products also contained Avobenzone, which is ubiquitous in the market. It also has a small risk of photo-allergy (about 1% in the general population) but we also would never use it since it can enter the body. Moreover, research is mounting about its potential as a serious endocrine disruptor with a similar profile as oxybenzone. Click here to read more about that.
The Peppa the Pig situation prompted the very understandable consumer reaction of calling for more regulation. This incident does represent a failure on the part of regulatory bodies. However, it’s not an issue of lack of regulation but one of focusing on the wrong pieces of information. In an ideal world, we would have a global standard for sunscreen regulation. We wouldn’t have the current situation where some countries had better access to better sunscreen filters than others. We would settle on a robust standard for measuring the UVA protection of a sunscreen and would represent that in a meaningful and clear way on the label for sunscreens. We would find a better test for measuring SPF that does not allow manufacturers to ‘game’ the test and falsely inflate their SPF . We would review every single filter, both old and new, from an integrated medical perspective. In short, we would look at its effectiveness but also at its potential impact on our health, including hormonal health and the environment. We’d use the precautionary principle to say that if an ingredient had significant concerns associated with it- that would be enough to call for a suspension of use. Especially, as there are many ingredients that do not have controversy with them and are effective.
The secondary cost of these incidences remains that consumer faith gets shaken in products that are meant to protect. The confusion leads many to just abandon the use of sunscreen altogether. It’s an unfortunate reaction that would only lead to more potential for damage. Education and advocacy remain our only tools and engaging through our professional communities our means for spreading the word.
We’d love to hear your take on this so please leave us your thoughts in the comment section.
All the best,