Sunscreen and Babies: Keeping Your Children Safe in the Sun
Understanding best practices for protecting young children and babies from the sun is important for parents and caregivers. Learn more from guest expert Danny Rosenthal about how to keep your children safe in the sun.
Sun safety is important for all, including young children and babies. Skin protection is crucial for preventing skin cancer—one of the most common types of cancers in the United States. This overview of sunscreen and babies provides parents and caregivers the guidance they need to ensure they are taking the right steps to keep their little ones safe.
Sunscreen and Babies
For babies under 6 months of age, many esteemed organizations—such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Mayo Clinic recommend against using sunscreen. Rather, they recommend using other forms of sun protection, such as covered clothing, strollers with UV protection sunshades, and umbrellas. The FDA also recommends keeping infants this age out of direct sunlight.
Sunscreen for young babies is advised against due to their thin and highly sensitive skin, putting infants at risk of sunscreen side effects, such as rash. And while no sunscreen for young babies is best, the American Academy of Dermatology Association suggests that if lightweight clothing and long-sleeved shirts are not available, a minimal amount of SPF 30 sunscreen or higher is acceptable.
It is important to note that there is no definitive evidence that sunscreen is harmful to infants and that every child is different. But remember, the best way to protect your young infant from the sun is to limit their exposure, not place them directly in the sun, and be sure their delicate skin is covered when exposed.
Once your baby reaches the 6-month mark, however, sunscreen is okay to use.
Two Types of Sunscreen: Which is best?
There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreen, also known as mineral, reflective, or inorganic sunscreen, reflects the sun’s UV rays back to the sun. Ingredients in this type of sunscreen include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are non-toxic and do not irritate the skin. Also, physical sunscreens are not absorbed by the skin. Instead, they simply sit on top of it.
The second type of sunscreen is known as organic or chemical sunscreen, which uses salicylates and benzophenone. These sunscreens absorb the sun’s UV rays, starting a chemical reaction that expels the energy as heat. While chemical sunscreens are light and easily blend into the skin, they come with varying levels of toxicity, must be reapplied over time, and take more than 20 minutes to activate. They also negatively impact coral reefs.
Of the two types, physical or mineral sunscreen is recommended by many pediatricians and dermatologists, however, chemical sunscreens are considered safe for older children. This being said, experts say that using any type of sunscreen is better than being exposed to the sun without any sun protection.
Choosing a Sunscreen
You may feel overwhelmed when buying sunscreen—there are so many options from which to choose. First, be sure you’re opting for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, meaning it can protect skin from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. It’s also recommended to use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. While you may be inclined to buy sunscreen with SPF 80, it’s likely to do more harm than good. Higher SPFs may give you a false sense of safety, that it is protecting your child’s skin more than it is.
We also recommend you refer to the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a non-profit organization focused on ensuring environmental safety for children and families. As part of their work, EWG rates the toxicity levels of sunscreens by comparing their ingredients. The EWG identified 66 sunscreens for babies with low or very low levels of toxicity to EWG, rated as a 1 on a 2 on a scale from 1 to 10. Some of the top-rated—or lowest toxicity—baby sunscreens include:
- Earth Mama Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 40
- California Baby Everyday/Year-Round Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30+
- Fresh Monster Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Kids, SPF 30
Check out the full list of EWG-recommended baby sunscreens here. Additionally, as you look for sunscreens for your baby, it’s important to remember that aerosol sprays may be harmful to your baby. It’s best to avoid them when possible.
Sun Safety Tips
While baby-appropriate sunscreens can help protect children from the sun’s rays, parents and caregivers can take action steps to keep their children safe. These include:
- Limiting time in the sun from 10am to 4pm.
- Using your phone’s weather app to track the power of UV rays.
- Dressing babies in clothing that protects their skin, including sun hats!
- Staying in shaded areas.
- Using youth-sized sunglasses with UV protection on young children.
- Ensuring all children, including those with darker skin tones, have some type of skin protection from the sun, such as sunscreen.
- Applying sunscreen on the most sensitive areas of the body, such as your child’s cheeks, nose, neck, and ears.
- Reapplying sunscreen every 80 minutes, and reapplying water-resistant sunscreen every 40 to 80 minutes.
- Making sure your sunscreen has not expired by checking the date on the bottle.
Remember, adults need sunscreen too, so make sure you’re protecting your skin as you head out into the sun. We hope these tips are helpful, and enjoy the weather!
Meet The Expert
Known as Danny J Nanny, he is the author behind Nanny ABCs: The Sitter’s Handbook and the host of Nanny ABCs’ Next Step. Rosenthal created Nanny ABCs to simplify childcare. His program keeps families and caregivers from reinventing the wheel. He has been recognized by Chicago Collegiate Nannies for his Outstanding Performance and Rosenthal’s expertise has been featured by the US Nanny Association, Care.com, and the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies. Learn more and connect with Danny J Rosenthal at www.NannyABCs.com or via social media @NannyABCs