Is Sunscreen Really Safe?

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We are told apply sunscreen to protect us from skin cancer, but what happened to my son after applying sunscreen has me concerned.

One morning, I was getting him ready for water day at school and I grabbed a new bottle of sunscreen. I applied it on his legs, arms and face just like I normally do. I dropped him off at school and his grandma picked him up. Later that evening, she noticed red patches on his face. My son has lots of food allergies, so my first thought was that he had to have eaten something. My mother then gave him a dose of Benadryl, which usually works. About an hour or so passed and nothing changed. He fell asleep and when he woke up in the morning his face was worse! The tip of his nose was red, the area above his left eye was red and he had a rash on his cheek! What was wrong with my baby?

We immediately called his allergist. Again, we assumed that this was an allergic reaction. He was immediately fit in for an appointment and the allergist began to ask about his routine on yesterday. Then it hit me, the sunscreen! As odd as it seemed, that had to be it! The allergist diagnosed him with contact dermatitis, which is a skin rash caused by contact with a certain substance. An allergic reaction to sunscreen, known as allergic contact dermatitis, affects less than 1% of the population.

In this case, the substance was the sunscreen. I was satisfied with the diagnosis and prescription for an antihistamine and ointment. Or so I thought, until a few days passed and the rash did not change. Of course I turned to google and searched  “sunscreen and reactions.” The rashes looked similar to Mojo’s. I thought to myself, “Sunscreen is supposed to protect him, not hurt him.” Looking at his face brought tears to my eyes. I had to explain to him that he had a “sun rash” because the kids at school kept asking.

As a pharmacist, I know that sunscreens are considered over the counter medications, so their guidelines are much different from prescription drugs. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has raised questions about the safety of sunscreens. As a matter of fact, Sen. Chuck Schumer said he’s recommending that the FDA review all of the ingredients in sunscreens to ensure that we don’t get burned by chemicals that could “seep into the bloodstream.”

Does this alarm you? I wouldn’t have known about this possibility until it burned my son’s face! I decided to take a closer look at the ingredients in sunscreen. The FDA states that “of the 16 currently marketed active ingredients, two ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are safe for use in sunscreens; two ingredients – PABA and trolamine salicylate – are not safe for use in sunscreens.”

Take a look at those labels! I wonder if one those ingredients caused his reaction! From now on, I’ll choose a mineral based sunscreen with Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. These are usually the ones that don’t absorb well into the skin. It’s also recommended to wear UV protective swim shirts and hats to avoid having to apply as much sunscreen.

I’m happy to report that after a week, the rash has almost gone away and Mojo is still enjoying water day! We are headed to the beach in full gear and I’m bringing Zinc Oxide sunscreen for all of us!

Have you had this happen to your child? What type of sunscreen do you use for your littles?

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