People who work or play outside in the summertime have to take steps to protect themselves from sunburn. When possible, people should stay out of the sun in the middle of the day when the rays are most intense. That isn’t always practical, though. What else can you do?
Hats, sunglasses and long sleeves are always a good idea (though long sleeves might become unbearably warm). People trying to avoid sunburn should also use sunscreen. What kind is best? [See Consumer Reports on the best sunscreens for 2017, and read on for other options.]
Zinc Oxide for Protection from Sunburn?
Q. My nose always burns when I go out in the sun. Zinc oxide cream works great, but makes my nose white. Is there something else I could use?
A. Zinc oxide is now available in sunscreens that are less visible. Brands such as Waxhead or Blue Lizard might do the job. Sunscreens containing both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, such as CeraVe Face Lotion are another option to protect your nose from sunburn.
Watching Out for BP-3:
We try to avoid sunscreens containing benzophenone-3 (BP-3), as it may be an endocrine disruptor. A few years ago, we got a message from a mother trying to protect her children from sunburn.
Q. I was alarmed to read in your article on sunscreens that benzophenone-3 (BP-3) could be a hormone disruptor. I looked at my sunscreens and found that they did indeed have the active ingredient benzophenone-3.
What sunscreen does not have BP-3? My 12 year old plays tournament tennis, so we as a family spend a lot of time in the sun and need to be protected! I know a lot of other concerned parents would be interested as well.
A. Most parents don’t want to expose children to a compound that might disrupt hormones. That is why the concern about BP-3 (also known as oxybenzone) got such attention. This compound, found in many sunscreens and lip balms, can mimic estrogen.
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that raised the alarm on this issue, has made some sunscreen recommendations on its Web site: www.ewg.org. They recommend looking for products that contain zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX and avoiding those that contain oxybenzone, insect repellent and vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate). You’ll have to read the tiny print on sunscreen labels to find these names.
Zinc Oxide to Protect a Horse’s Muzzle from Sunburn:
Q. I’ve been advised to use diaper rash ointment containing zinc oxide to keep my horse’s muzzle from getting sunburned while he’s grazing.
I’ve been wondering if this would also work to keep me from developing a “horse-woman’s tan.” All of the sunscreens I have tried help me avoid sunburn, but I have brown arms from the edge of my gloves to the edge of the short-sleeved shirts.
A. For decades, lifeguards have used white zinc oxide to keep their noses from burning. It blocks both UVA and UVB rays and provides excellent protection.
You could try the diaper rash ointment or get a sunscreen that contains both zinc and titanium. One with a high SPF might limit your tanning, though it probably won’t prevent you from browning at all.
New formulations contain microfine particles or zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that don’t leave a distinctive white color. Human sunscreens can also be used on horses to keep pale skin from burning.
Sunscreen to Protect Kids from Sunburn:
Parents protecting children’s tender skin from sunburn should allow at least a little light on their kids’ skin. That is how we make vitamin D, and children these days may not be making enough.
There was a time when children played outdoors. Not only did they go outside for recess, but they spent long summer days and many afternoons during the school year playing in the backyard or on the playground.
In those days, there were few fears about abduction, so parents didn’t worry about supervising their kids’ play. There also weren’t good sunscreens, so children frequently were tanned by the end of the summer. Some of those children have grown up to be adults dealing with basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers as a result of overexposure to the sun.
Nowadays, though, many children spend most of their time indoors. During the pandemic lockdown, they were not allowed to go out and play with others. Even now that many are going back to school, physical education classes have been trimmed for budgetary reasons or to maximize physical distance between youngsters. Television, video games and loads of homework keep many children busy inside after school.
What about High SPF Sunscreen?
Even children who play organized sports such as soccer, swimming or tennis are loaded up with high SPF sunscreen before they go outside. Such products are helpful in preventing sunburn and possibly future skin cancer. They may, however, be responsible in part for a growing dearth of vitamin D in children and adolescents. High-potency sunscreens may partially block the formation of this nutrient by the skin. This concern has spurred researchers to examine this question, and they have found that “judicious use of daily broad-spectrum sunscreens” does not interfere significantly with vitamin D production (British Journal of Dermatology, Nov. 2019).
Are American Children Low in Vitamin D?
About a decade ago, a review of 14 studies found that vitamin D insufficiency was widespread in American children (Rovner & O’Brien, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, June, 2008). Research published in the same issue of the journal showed that 12 percent of otherwise healthy babies and toddlers in the Boston area were deficient in vitamin D.
In Brooklyn, New York, more than half of the overweight children and adolescents studied had inadequate levels of vitamin D (Smotkin-Tangorra et al, Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism, July, 2007). Making matters worse, darker-skinned people, who make less vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight, also had lower dietary intakes of this vitamin (Moore, Murphy & Holick, Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 2005). A review claimed that vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic (Holick, Reviews in Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders, June 2017).
Why Does Vitamin D Matter?
Vitamin D is crucial for strong bones. At the turn of the 20th century, deficiency of this nutrient frequently resulted in rickets (malformation of bones). Most health professionals believed that this condition had been eliminated through vitamin supplementation.
Over the final few decades of the 20th century, however, pediatricians noted a growing number of cases. There is some good news, though. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reveal vitamin D insufficiency declined from about 75 percent between 2001 and 2006 to around 65 percent between 2007 and 2010 (Han, Forno & Celedon, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in Practice, May-June 2017). People with low vitamin D levels are also more likely to have asthma. Moreover, mothers with low vitamin D levels may give birth to babies with insufficient vitamin D, even if the women take prenatal vitamins (Nutrients, July 14, 2020).
Children are not the only ones at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Many adults also have low levels of the vitamin. This may increase their risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis and depression. People with inadequate vitamin D in their bodies appear to be more prone to many cancers.
How Does Sun Come into the Picture?
Perhaps it is time for both parents and children to get a little more sun exposure, without overdoing it. Experts suggest that 10 to 15 minutes of sun three or four times a week can improve vitamin D levels in the body.
When that is impractical, either because of nasty weather or indoor activities, vitamin D supplementation may be necessary to maintain adequate levels of this essential nutrient. You can learn more from our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency.