How to Protect Your Baby from the Sun
UV rays from the sun are harmful to the skin. They can cause sunburn in the short term, and in the long term can significantly increase the risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer, which is why it is important to know how to protect skin effectively from the sun.
Babies are especially at risk of sunburn, as their skin is thinner and more sensitive than that of adults. Plus, babies have more skin (relative to body mass) than adults, and their skin protection system is not fully developed at birth. This is true for all babies, regardless of whether they have pale or very dark skin. As a result, sunburns are more dangerous for infants than for adults, meaning they need maximum sun protection.
How can I provide maximum sun protection for my baby?
Babies are entirely reliant on adults to protect them from the sun. They can’t tell you when they’re too hot or when the sun is too strong for them, and they can’t get out of the sun and into a shady spot on their own. Depending on the UV index, you and your baby can experience sunburn in as little as 15 minutes of exposure without protection.
The sun’s rays are at their strongest between noon and 2 p.m. It is recommended you avoid exposing your infant’s skin to direct sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Keep your baby in the shade under a tree, a sun umbrella, a canopy, or their stroller sun cover. But be mindful of the immediate surroundings, as surfaces like water, sand, snow, and concrete reflect sunlight. So even if your baby is beneath a parasol at the beach, their skin will still be indirectly exposed to the sun.
Never leave your infant in a parked vehicle, even if it is parked in the shade or with the windows down.
Long pieces of clothing made from tightly woven fabrics offers better sun protection than even the very best sunscreen. Dress your baby in light, loose-fitting clothes that cover their arms and legs. Be sure to protect their head, face, neck, and ears with a wide-brimmed hat. Some clothing and hats made with UPF fabric offer anti-UV protection.
Can I apply sunscreen to my infant’s skin?
Keep in mind that your baby’s skin is thin and fragile, and can burn easily. Therefore, for babies under 6 months of age, it is recommended to avoid sun exposure. Parents have long been told to avoid applying sunscreen to babies under 6 months because of their sensitive skin. However, the Canadian Dermatology Association now says that if you are unable to keep your baby in the shade, it is preferable to apply a small amount of sunscreen to any exposed skin not covered by clothing, e.g., hands and face, rather than risk your child getting sunburn.
Opt for sunscreen that contains a physical filter like zinc oxide and take care not to apply it too close to the eyes and mouth. Apply lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 on and around lips and protect eyes and eyelids with sunglasses rated “UV 400” or “100% UV protection.”
For babies age 6 to 12 months, it is recommended you limit sun exposure and protect their skin as much as possible with clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. For any skin exposed to the sun, you can apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen for sensitive skin. Keep your infant out of the sun at the hottest times of the day (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.). Stay in the shade and be aware of surfaces that reflect sunlight.
How much sunscreen should I apply?
Depending on the size of your baby, you will need between 15 and 30 mL (3 to 6 teaspoons) of sunscreen to cover all of his or her exposed skin when wearing only a swimsuit. If they wear long clothes, you will need much less.
People tend to overlook certain parts of the body when applying sunscreen. Be sure to pay special attention to the ears, neck, behind the knees, the tops of the feet, and the scalp, if hair is sparse.
What type of sunscreen is safe for my baby?
Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. For children with pale skin, it is recommended you use sunscreen with an SPF of 45 to 60. Opt for a fragrance- and allergen-free product formulated for sensitive skin bearing the Canadian Dermatology Association logo—a sign of product safety and efficacy.
For babies and infants, it is preferable to use a sunscreen with a physical filter like zinc oxide, which protects skin by blocking and reflecting UV rays and is less likely to cause an adverse reaction.
Products containing a chemical filter such as oxybenzone or avobenzone are also a good choice. However, the risk of skin reaction is slightly higher with these types of sunscreens.
When should sunscreen be applied?
If you opt for a sunscreen containing a physical filter, you can take your baby outside immediately after applying it. With sunscreens containing a chemical filter, you should wait 20 to 30 minutes so it has time to penetrate the skin.
In both cases, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. If your baby is in the water, you will need to reapply sunscreen, as some will rub off when you towel them dry.
Since UV rays can penetrate clouds, sunscreen should be applied even on cloudy days. Check the UV index: If it’s higher than 3, you will need to protect skin with sunscreen.
If you need advice on which sunscreen to choose, feel free to ask your pharmacist. There is a wide range of products available to meet every need.
The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.