How to protect your baby's skin from the sun
Parents’ instinct is to protect their infants and toddlers from harm. Yet our experts report that too many babies are getting tans and sunburns. Research shows that some babies are being exposed to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays in the first six months of life, when their skin is most vulnerable.
The research was conducted among random group of new parents about how well they were protecting their young children from the sun and the results were alarming. It was discovered that as many as one-third of parents actively increased their infants’ sun exposure each day, believing mistakenly that it would build their babies’ tolerance to the sun’s rays. As a result, 12 percent of the parents reported that their babies’ skin had tanned before they were 6 months old, and 3 percent said their infants had been sunburned.
It is important to know, as a parent, that the skin of all babies (not just those who have fair skin) is particularly vulnerable to sun damage. This is partly because they haven’t yet developed all the melanin — the natural skin pigment that provides some sun protection — that they will have when they get older.
Because baby’s skin is so sensitive, it’s better in the first six months to shield them from the sun rather than use sunscreen. It’s especially important to avoid direct sun exposure and seek the shade during the sun’s hours of greatest intensity, between 10 AM and 4 PM. Keep to the shady side of the street on walks, and use the sun shield on your stroller.
Shade gives you some protection from UV radiation. Dense shade that creates a dark shadow is best. But UV can still reach you in the shade. So even if you’re sitting in the shade, make sure to dress your baby regularly in a brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that fully covers the arms and legs. Sunglasses that filter out UV are also extremely important, since the melanin in babies’ eyes is still forming. (Many stores sell baby-sized versions with soft elastic straps to keep the glasses on.)
Tightly woven fabric helps protect skin from the sun. Hold the fabric up to the light to see how much sun gets through. If the fabric lets a lot of light through, it’ll probably let a lot of UV through too.
A hat protects your child’s face, neck and ears from the sun’s UV. Bucket, broad-brimmed and legionnaire’s hats give the best protection. Caps aren’t recommended. For babies, look for a soft hat that’s comfortable for your baby to wear while lying down. Straps will help keep the hat on your baby’s head. If the hat is secured with a long strap and toggle, make sure it has a safety snap. You can tie long straps or straps with toggles behind your baby’s head, or trim long straps so that they don’t become a choking or strangulation hazard.
Many babies and toddlers don’t like wearing hats – keep trying and eventually hats will become part of your child’s routine.
Minimize sunscreen use on children younger than six months old. However, if shade and adequate clothing are not available, parents may apply a minimal amount of broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to their children’s skin. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. Remember to reapply your child’s sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating, as there is no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen.
You may want to test sunscreen on the inside of your baby’s wrist. If the baby has a little irritation, try another sunscreen. Continue to cover your baby with a hat and protective clothing. Use sunscreen on all exposed areas, such as the back of the hands, face, ears and neck.
Toddlers are difficult to catch and hold still, so you may need to be creative with your sunscreen routine. Sunscreen in stick form works well for the face and hands, as toddlers are less likely to rub the product into their eyes. Spray sunscreens are popular, but take care to apply the sunscreen evenly and liberally over all exposed skin, and rather than spraying a baby’s face directly, spray the sunscreen into your hands and apply it by hand.