Is sunscreen with zinc oxide safe on children?
Zinc oxide is one of the most popular sun filters in sunscreens that do not contain chemicals. It is an excellent sun filter, as it gives broad-spectrum protection from the sun’s UV-A and UV-B radiation.
UV-B causes sunburn, while UV-A penetrates deeper into the skin, and is associated with pre-mature ageing, and the more deadly form of cancer, melanoma. Few sun filters, including new-generation chemical sun filters, are able to give both UV-A and UV-B protection on their own without combining with other sun filters. Zinc oxide is one of the few which can protect the skin from the sun’s long (UV-A) and short (UV-B) waves. Zinc oxide is also commonly found in baby creams to treat diaper rash. It is generally regarded as safe on children.
Another reason why zinc oxide is safe is that zinc occurs naturally in our body. It is a mineral vital for the proper function of the body’s immune system, and the secretion of hormones in the thyroid gland. It is also needed for the development of red and white blood cells in the body.
The World Health Organization uses zinc supplements to treat children with severe diarrhoea in the world’s poorest countries. According to WHO, a dosage of 20 milligrams per day of zinc for a child over six months old (and half of the dosage for a baby) over a period of about two weeks is enough to keep diarrhoea away. Poor sanitation, lack of access to clean drinking water and zinc deficiency are the causes of severe diarrhoea among children in impoverished areas. Zinc is available mostly from meat sources.
Zinc oxide is better than chemical sun filters for children because it doesn’t irritate the skin, and is not known to be a hormone disruptor. When buying a sunscreen for children, choose one that uses zinc oxide that is micronized and coated. Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide in micro- rather than in nano-sizes reduce the risk of inhalation. The main concern over the use of nanoparticles is that they could enter the body via inhalation, and stay embedded in the lungs to cause respiratory problems later in life. Zinc oxide that is coated makes it more photo-stable, with less chance of it breaking down with sun exposure. The higher the level of zinc oxide in the sunscreen, the higher is the sun protection.
However, the disadvantage of a sunscreen made with zinc oxide is it is harder to apply than chemical-based sunscreens. Zinc oxide leaves an unsightly white coating on the skin. You may need more time to rub and even-out the sunscreen on the child’s skin. Another option is to use a tinted sunscreen made with zinc oxide like Kabana Bali Bloc, tinted. The tint matches the skin tone, and makes it easier to blend the sunscreen on the skin. If you don’t mind the inconvenience, zinc oxide is currently the best sunscreen ingredient around for children.
The Trouble with Sunscreen Chemicals, Environmental Working Group.
Zinc supplementation in the management of diarrhoea: Biological, behavioural and contextual rationale, WHO.