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The Sunscreen Issue

How to choose safe protection for little ones

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Picking the right sunscreen from all the so-called safe and non-toxic options out there can be a little daunting. Although no single resource is perfect, we (and a lot of moms we know) always look to the Environmental Working Group for guidance. EWG's 2013 Guide to Sunscreens is a great source of information, but it covers more than 1,400 sun care products. So we chatted with EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder to help us narrow down the options.

StrollerTraffic: What are the key things to look for when parents are trying to decipher labels?
Sonya Lunder: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxode [both physical sunblocks, rather than chemical ones] are good active ingredients in kids' sunscreens. Choose lotions or sunscreen sticks.

ST: Not sprays?
Lunder: EWG recommends that parents always avoid sunscreen sprays. Aerosol sprays can be inhaled and expose people to higher doses of chemicals than a lotion. They might also not coat skin with a thick and even layer for good sun protection. [According to the EWG report, powder sunscreens pose inhalation risks, too.]

ST: What about ingredient no-no's—anything we should absolutely avoid?
Lunder: EWG recommends avoiding the additives retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that might cause skin damage, and oxybenzone, a potential hormone disruptor.

ST: Got it. What is the right amount of SPF?
Lunder: EWG recommends that people look for SPF between 15 and 50, depending on the sun intensity and your skin tone. The most important thing to remember is that clothing and hats offer better and more dependable sun protection than sunscreen.

ST: What is sunscreen's shelf life?
Lunder: Sunscreens do not last forever. If your product has an expiration date, use that as a guide. Otherwise you should probably throw it out after a couple years or when the product consistency changes.

ST: So, the big question: what are your top few picks for baby sunscreen?
Lunder: EWG recommends 184 beach and sport sunscreens. [Among the top-rated baby products on this list are Burt's Bees Baby Bee Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30, Babytime! by Episencial Sunny Sunscreen, SPF 35, thinkSport thinkbaby Sunscreen, SPF 30+, Green Babies Zinc Oxide Sunscreen, SPF 30, and Seventh Generation Wee Generation Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30.]