Sun Protection For Your Baby

You may be surprised to learn that skin cancer is 5 times more common than breast or prostate cancer, and experts agree that severe sunburns during childhood are the greatest risks for developing melanoma—skin cancer.

Start with prevention

Your baby’s skin is 20% thinner than your skin–it’s delicate and it burns and is easily irritated. It’s a myth that darker skin, say tan or brown skin is protected from sunburn–all individuals are at risk for sunburn from sun overexposure.

Hey parents, be proactive: babies can’t tell you if they’re too hot or if their skin is starting to burn. They can’t remind you to apply sunscreen or keep the shade pulled on the stroller. That’s where dressing them correctly for being outdoors and in the sun is essential.

Your baby’s thinner skin dries out more quickly. And before their first half-year birthday, babies also lack protective melanin in their skin, and this is why they sunburn more easily. Sunburns early in life increase your baby’s risk for skin cancer.

Most experts agree it’s best to keep babies up to age 6 months out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time. When clothing and shade aren’t enough, add a safe sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face and backs of the hands, say experts at the AAP. Don’t apply sunscreen near baby’s eyes.

Prevent Sunburn in Babies

Learn how to stop sunburn before it happens and keep your baby happy, safe, and smiling:

  • Keep newborns and young babies out of sunlight prevent heat stroke. Avoid being out with baby in the hottest part of the day, between 10 am and 2 pm.
  • Nurse your baby often when outdoors on hot days to keep baby hydrated
  • Shade your baby with a stroller cover, under a tree, canopy or umbrella or on a covered porch or patio; avoid covering a stroller with a blanket to avoid the sun as baby could quickly overheat without a breeze or airflow
  • Dress for comfort, which means putting baby in loose and light cotton clothes with long sleeves and long pant legs, plus a hat with a wide brim and baby sunglasses if they will wear them–begin with the baby glasses with UV protection that are held in place by a stretch band around the back
  • Start sunscreen; use sunscreen made for babies and ensure you protect all exposed skin surfaces–this mean’s baby’s face, front, back and sides of neck, ears and ear tips, arms and hands, legs and feet–all exposed skin
  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before any sun exposure; reapply every 1-2 hours, and always right after baby has been in any water such as a kid’s pool or water splash play

Choosing Sunscreen

If you’ve ever stood in a big box store staring down an abundance of sunscreen products trying to figure out which one to buy, you’re not alone. Here’s how to get or buy the best sun protection for your baby.

What SPF is needed? What is broad-spectrum protection? Are these scientific-sounding ingredients safe? These are the questions that race through your mind as you try to figure out which sunscreen is best for your family, especially for your baby.

The FDA has put new sunscreen guidelines into place and they’ll help address some of the confusion by adding a star-based rating system to help you choose the sunscreens with the most sun protection for your baby.

Understand these 3 things

As a parent, consider these 3 key things to understand when heading out with baby into the glorious sunshine:

  • All the ways you can protect your skin, and baby’s skin, from sun exposure
  • Getting protection from both UVA and UVB rays
  • Choosing an effective sunscreen and safely using it

Protect baby’s skin, and as they grow older, teach them the importance of using sunscreen to prevent sunburn and to reduce skin cancer risks.

UVB vs. UVA rays

The sun emits both UVB and UVA radiation. Traditional SPF ratings on sunscreen products only address protecting from the rays that cause sunburn—UVB rays. However, UVA radiation is also dangerous because it contributes to premature aging and the most dangerous forms of skin cancer.

The FDA is requiring sunscreen manufacturers to apply ratings of 1 to 4 stars, with 4 providing the greatest protection, to help you choose a safe sunscreen that has the broadest protection. Sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays will be labeled as “broad spectrum.”

Use sunscreen safely

Always apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. Most people don’t apply enough, so cover your skin liberally to prevent sunburn and free radical production that comes from sun exposure, which can prematurely age skin. Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours when outdoors; reapply more often if you’re getting in the water or sweating a lot.

Buy A Good Sunscreen

Lotion or stick? Spray or powder? Sheer or waterproof? There are lots of choices when it comes to sun protection for your baby. Most people buy on SPF factor alone—and the higher the better, they assume. Yet experts agree that anything more than SPF 50 may not actually provide extra protection. Buy wise:

  • Always read the label—not just the advertising language on the package’s front.
  • Choose sunscreen with the fewest ingredients possible—mineral-based sunscreens are the safest and are easy to find.
  • Pick a lotion—sprays and powders can be unsafe.
  • Use a minimal SPF from 15 to 50; there’s no evidence that anything higher than SPF 50 adds extra protection.
  • Choose SPF 30 to 50 for beach play, swimming and outdoor activities.
  • Choose “broad spectrum protection” to minimize both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Check the product’s water resistance—no product is really waterproof.
  • Look for the new UVA “star” rating system on sunscreen labels. The more stars the better.

Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS, LCCE, is founding editor of Healthy Mom&Baby, Senior Director of Partnerships & Publications at AWHONN, and a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator in Sarasota, FL.

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