By Beth Weinhouse
Dermatologists advise that daily protection with sunblock should begin
at six months of age, and most sunblock products state on the label
that they are not to be used by infants under six months of age. But
according to both the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), that rule is not absolute. In the
summer of 1999, the AAP issued a new recommendation which stated that
"when adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply
a minimal amount of sunscreen to small areas, such as the infant's face
and the back of the hands." (Tops of the ears and back of the neck are
also a good idea.)
Parents should check with their
pediatricians before using sunblock on the littlest infants, but here
are some guidelines for choosing a safe product and using it wisely:
- There's no need to cover a baby's whole body with sunblock if she's
properly dressed... in fact, it could be harmful. Infants don't
perspire as efficiently as adults, and covering too much baby skin with
sunblock could interfere with the body's cooling mechanism. Cover only
exposed areas such as face and hands.
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunblock (meaning that it blocks both
UVA and UVB rays) with a SPF of at least 25. Broad-spectrum products
contain one of three active ingredients: avobenzone (trade name: Parsol
1789), zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide. Avobenzone is a chemical
sunblock, while zinc and titanium dioxide are physical sunblocks. While
both have been tested for safety on baby's skin, some pediatricians
recommend that children under six months use a physical sunblock, as it
may be less irritating.
- Do a "patch test" on your baby before relying on the product.
Cover a small (quarter-size) area of skin with the sunblock, and wait a
day or two to see if there's any irritation.
- Apply the sunblock at least half an hour before sun exposure, to allow the skin to absorb the product.
- Choose a waterproof or water-resistant formula, and reapply at least every two hours while babies are outdoors.
- It doesn't matter whether you use a lotion, gel, or spray. "A
lot of parents like a stick product, which is easy to apply and doesn't
run into the eyes and sting," says Patricia Agin, a scientist with the
Coppertone Solar Research Laboratory, who recommends Coppertone's Water
Babies sunblock which comes in both lotion and stick form.
- Choose a product specially designed for babies, since these
sunblocks are liable to be gentler. Look for the words non-irritating,
fragrance-free, and hypoallergenic on the label. "Parents can also look
for the Skin Cancer Foundation seal, which means that an objective
third party has evaluated the formula and given its approval," says
James SaNogueira, director of suncare research and development at Sun
Pharmaceuticals, makers of Banana Boat Baby Block.
- Sunblocks marketed for older children are also safe to use on
babies... with some caveats. Some kids' sunblocks contain colors,
glitters or dyes specially designed to appeal to children to encourage
them to use sunblock daily. A baby who wears these products on her
hands, for instance, may ingest some of the extra ingredients if she
puts her fingers in her mouth. Small amounts of sunblock ingestion are
not a hazard for babies, but its best to keep baby sunblocks as simple
- Even if you're convinced that your baby is properly dressed,
suitably sunblocked, and safely parked in the shade, check him
constantly for signs of overexposure. If any area of skin appears
reddened or pinkish, bring your child inside. Call your pediatrician
immediately if your baby is severely sunburned.