Sunscreen for Babies
By Lita Aeder, M.D.
Babies are particularly susceptible to the effects of the sun. Sun
damage to a baby's skin may result in severe sunburn and may lead to an
increased risk for skin cancer later in life. Growing evidence suggests
that sun damage is cumulative throughout life with most of the impact
occurring during the early years. This does not mean that you and your
baby must always stay indoors. Rather, you should learn how to
significantly reduce the risks of the sun:
- The best way to decrease sun damage to your baby is to avoid direct
exposure to the sun. This can be accomplished by the use of protective
clothing. This should include a hat with a wide brim (at least three
inches), to protect the face, ears and neck. The clothing itself should
be loose fitting and made with a fabric that is tightly woven. It's
also important to know that wet fabrics afford decreased protection.
- When going out at any time, even if you're not going to the
beach or the park, you should also be careful to keep your baby
protected from the sun. Use a canopy for the stroller and an umbrella
for the beach or park. Keep in mind, though, that sun is reflected from
many surfaces including sand, cement, water, and snow, and even when
shaded your child will not be fully protected.
- Avoid direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Take precautions
even on cold or cloudy days and in spring or fall, since the rays of
the sun can still be strong enough to damage your baby's skin.
- Sunscreen should be used when your infant may sunburn. The
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that in children below the
age of 6 months, sunscreen should be applied in small amounts to areas
of the body that are not protected by clothing. At other ages sunscreen
should be applied to all susceptible areas in an even layer. Sunscreen
should be at least 15 SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and should provide
protection for both UVA and UVB (look at the label). It should be
reapplied every two hours, more frequently with profuse sweating,
swimming or toweling. Remember to apply sunscreen thirty to forty-five
minutes before sun exposure.
Although sunlight is recognized
as an important source of vitamin D production, studies show that the
use of sunscreen does not result in vitamin D deficiency. Only ten to
fifteen minutes of natural sunlight, two to three times a week, are
required to produce sufficient quantities of the vitamin.