Since the advent of sunscreen, we’ve been encouraged to slather it on ourselves and our kids before heading out into the sunshine. And it’s sage advice, because it’s estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. But a recent study by the Food and Drug Administration finds that some of the ingredients in sunscreen are absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream. So, what’s a parent to do?

Here’s what we know
Too much sun exposure can be dangerous, and that’s why pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw and providers at Eugene Pediatric Associates encourage patients and their parents to wear sunscreen year-round.

“If you make it part of your every day, all year, skin care routine for you and your children, you will save everyone in your family from an increased risk of skin cancer and premature aging,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays as a child is a significant risk factor for developing skin cancer as an adult.

“Severe sunburns before the age of 8 increases your kids’ lifetime risk of developing melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

About the FDA study
Some parents have expressed concern about the FDA’s study, which shows that when we use sunscreen, our bodies are absorbing some of the active ingredients—specifically avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule.

The study included 24 people as study subjects. In Dr. Bradshaw’s opinion, that number is too small to come to any conclusions. The study suggests that the ingredients in sunscreen are absorbed through the skin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unsafe.

Doctors say the one thing we do know is that the sun’s cancer-causing rays are dangerous, and until we have more information, sunscreen use is still advised.

“We know the risks of UV light exposure and sunburn are significant. We don’t know as much about the risks of chemicals in these sunscreens. So, for now, what the medical community does know is that preventing sunburn is important,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

If you are concerned about sunscreen ingredient absorption, opt for mineral sunscreens, which rely on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect sunlight by resting on top of your skin.

Lower your risk of sunburn by taking these precautions:

  • Avoid being in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are strongest.
  • Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep your skin covered and wear sunglasses and a hat with a large brim.
  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and reapply ever two hours, especially if your children are sweating or are in the water.

Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA rays (which damage skin and cause premature aging) and UVB rays (which lead to burns). SPF 30 or higher means the product will repel more than 97% of the rays that cause sunburns.