Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Knowing the damaging effects that the sun’s UV rays have on skin, parents often ask whether or not sunscreen is safe to use on babies and small children. Share these tips with your patients to help them safely keep their children’s skin protected from the sun.
1. Babies Under Six Months Old Should Stay out of the Sun
Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics state that babies under six months of age should be kept out of direct and indirect sunlight as much as possible. Infant skin is thinner and less mature than adult skin, and it also has a much higher surface area to body weight ratio, which could heighten the risk of side effects from sunscreen. Young babies are also at a greater risk of becoming dehydrated and overheated when in the sun, since their sweat glands do not yet function in the same way that adult sweat glands do.
2. Use Physical Sunscreen for Babies and Children under 10
Your patients may be familiar with the hot topic of physical vs. chemical sunscreens right now. Ingredients in chemical sunscreens are being banned from some areas like the Florida Keys, as they are believed to be damaging to coral reefs. There is also some evidence that these same ingredients may disrupt hormone levels in adults, as they have been shown to enter the bloodstream.
All children under 10 years old and babies over six months old should use physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide when they will be in direct or indirect sunlight, rather than chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens are not absorbed into the skin, whereas chemical sunscreens are. Babies have a higher skin surface to body mass ratio so they will absorb more chemicals per body weight than adults. This is why it is very important to avoid applying chemicals to baby’s skin when possible.
3. Test Sunscreen on a Small Area If Using for the First Time
If parents have never applied sunscreen to their baby’s skin before, it’s a good idea to test in a small area before applying the product to larger areas. While zinc oxide sunscreens are generally well tolerated by sensitive adult skin, it is possible for a rash or other skin reaction to occur any time you try something new on an infant.
4. Use Sun Protective Clothing, Hats, and Glasses
According to a 2018 study, sun protective clothing offers more effective SPF than most sunscreen ingredients. Stress the importance of wide-brimmed hats, cover-ups, lightweight long-sleeve shirts, and sunglasses for parents who are looking to keep their babies protected from the sun. There are even a number of brands that now make UV protective clothing, designed specifically for this purpose.
If spending the day at the park or beach, parents can use umbrellas or stroller covers to offer added sun protection, and they should seek shade wherever possible.
5. Avoid Going Outdoors During Peak Hours
The sun’s UV rays are the strongest during the peak hours of around 10 am and 2 pm, so babies and small children should stay indoors or in the shade during this time. If babies over six months must go out in the sun during these hours, parents should use several of the methods outlined above, including a physical sunscreen, sun protective clothing, and seeking shade.
Protecting infants from the sun is imperative for healthy skin now and later in life. These sunscreen tips can help parents better protect their children’s skin and impart healthy sun protection habits to them as they grow older.
Do you have additional tips or strategies for using sunscreen on babies and small children? Please feel free to share them with me (Leslie Baumann) via LinkedIn. I would love to hear your ideas!
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