Summer is here! Are you ready to venture with baby out of the house to enjoy the beautiful outdoors?
Learn more about how to enjoy the weather while keeping your baby safe in the sun!
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Did you know? Facts about Sun Exposure
- Skin cancer rates are increasing faster than any other type of cancer in the United States; children born today have an estimated 1 in 33 chance of developing a melanoma. 1
- The sun produces 3 different types of ultraviolet (UV) rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC, but only UVA and UVB make it through the atmostphere to reach your skin. 2 BOTH types can cause damage to your skin.
- Skin damage can happen in as little as 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure! 3
- You can still be exposed to UV radiation on a cloudy day. Clouds can filter out some of the rays, but do not completely block them. 3
- Babies are not born with fully mature skin – researchers know that it is still developing until at least the 2nd year of life. Their skin is thinner and not as well-equipped to protect from UV rays, so it is especially important to protect them from the sun! 4
- Strong evidence links sun exposure and sunburn at a young age to an increased risk for skin cancer later in life. Melanomas are becoming increasingly common in children and teenagers. 5
Six Ways to Protect Your Child from the Sun
1. Infants Less than 6 Months Old – Avoidance
For infants under 6 months of age, the best thing you can do is keep them out of the sun because they are too young for sunscreen.
However, we don’t all want to live like hermits, and most children and infants love spending time outdoors. So when you take them out of the house, follow these tips to minimize their sun exposure:
- Keep them in the shade. Set up a play yard under a shady tree, covered porch, tent, large umbrella, or other similar area.
- Use the stroller canopy on walks. Also, try to take whichever side of the street is shadier.
- Dress your child in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs. The more tightly woven the fabric, the better it will be at blocking the sun’s rays. Make sure you also use a wide-brimmed hat to help protect the head, face, and neck.
Now, if it is NOT POSSIBLE to keep your infant in the shade or properly clothed, the AAP states that it is acceptable to use a small amount of SPF 15 or greater sunscreen on small areas of the skin (like the face).
Remember avoidance is the best strategy for the youngest babies, but sometimes you get stuck in a situation you didn’t anticipate or weren’t prepared for. It’s better to use a tiny bit of sunscreen than risk a burn to such sensitive skin.
2. Stay In the Shade From 10am – 4pm
The sun’s rays are strongest during midday, so try to keep to the shade during the hours between 10am and 4pm. Don’t let a cloudy day fool you, either. Remember – UV rays still make it through, especially during these peak hours!
If you are outside during these hours, stay on top of applying and reapplying sunscreen, and make sure to follow as many of the other safety tips as you can.
3. Wear Appropriate Clothing and Hats
As mentioned earlier, tightly knit fabric is the best option for sun protection. If you can see through the fabric, it’s not going to protect your child. Cotton is a great choice because it is also very breathable.
Hats are very important to help protect your child’s head, face, ears, eyes, and neck. Wide-brimmed hats are going to provide better coverage than baseball caps.
Did You Know?
Wet clothing is less protective against UV rays.
A good reason to keep an extra change of clothes on hand!
4. Use Sunglasses
Your baby’s eyes are very sensitive to light. At birth, most infants have either blue or gray eyes. Unless your child’s genes have designated him to be blue-eyed, his eyes will darken over approximately the first year of life as melanin is produced in the iris. 6
And guess what? Melanin is what protects your eyes against UV rays. That’s why its especially important for infants and any child with lighter eyes to wear sunglasses.
5. Use Sunscreen
Once your child is 6 months old, it’s time to start using sunscreen! But what should you be looking for when choosing one?
- Broad Spectrum – Remember how both UVA and UVB rays can cause damage to your skin? A sunscreen that is labeled as “broad spectrum” will protect against both of these types of UV radiation. Make sure the sunscreen you choose for your child has this designation!
- SPF (Sun Protection Factor) – The SPF factor tells you how strong the protection is against UVB rays.
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
- The higher the SPF, the stronger the protection against UVB. However, the protection you gain when choosing an SPF higher than 50 becomes very minimal. The American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendation is to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. 7
- Water resistance – If you are sweating or swimming, you want to make sure you have a sunscreen that doesn’t immediately wash off. Look for these terms:
- “Water-resistant” – SPF activity lasts for 40 minutes in the water or while sweating
- “Very water-resistant” – SPF activity lasts for 80 minutes in the water or while sweating
Choosing a Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
Ok, so now we understand what the terminology on the product label means and how well it protects us from the sun. But which products are going to be least likely to be irritating to our childrens’ skin or produce an allergic reaction?
Sunscreens made from either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the least likely to cause irritations or allergic reactions. These are mineral compounds that provide broad spectrum protection on their own.
Be aware that these products can be harder to “rub-in” and may leave a white film, so some people don’t like to use them for those aesthetic reasons.
How to Properly Apply Sunscreen
There are a few things to remember in order to get the best protection you can from your sunscreen. Follow these guidelines to make sure you are using your sunscreen correctly!
- Apply liberally to all sun-exposed skin. Studies have found that, on average, people only apply 1/4 the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the labeled SPF! 8 There is a nonlinear relationship between amount of sunscreen applied and how effective it is. This means, for example, that if you applied half the proper amount of sunscreen to achieve the labeled SPF 30, you would actually only end up with one third the protection, at the equivalent of SPF 10.
- Apply 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. It takes a little bit of time for the protective film to form on your skin.
- Reapply AT LEAST every 2 hours. Even if you’re not swimming or doing sweaty, strenuous yard work, you will need to reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours for it to stay effective. If you are sweating or swimming, reapply based on the level of water-resistance your product provides (every 40 minutes for “water resistant”, and every 80 minutes for “very water resistant”).
6. Provide Sun Protection in the Car
Don’t forget about potential sun exposure while in the car! Side windows in cars generally do not provide much protection against UV rays. What options do you have, then, to provide sun protection in the car?
- Provide sunglasses. If your child will wear sunglasses, be sure to put them on while in the car.
- Use car window shades. This is especially helpful if your child won’t keep on sunglasses. They can also help block the UV rays
- Apply sunscreen for longer trips. A 5-minute trip to the grocery store isn’t a big deal, but a 2-hour road trip could mean significant sun exposure. If you know you are going to be in the car for a while, it’s a good idea to put sunscreen on your child.
- Consider UV window film. Transparent window film is available for application to vehicle side and back windows that blocks close to 100% of UVB and UVA rays.
Additional Resources and Infographic
For more information about sun safety for infants and children, check out the following resources:
- KidsHealth.org – Sun Safety
- American Academy of Pediatrics – Sun Safety and Protection Tips
- Skin Cancer Foundation – Sun-Safe Babies
- Centers for Disease Control Website – How Can I Protect My Children from the Sun?
If you’ve found this post helpful, please share it or the following infographic to help keep other babies safe in the sun!
Footnotes – Resources and References↑ Return to Top
1. Rigel DS. Cutaneous ultraviolet exposure and its relationship to the development of skin cancer. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58(5 suppl 2):S129–S132
2. Amy S. Paller, John L. M. Hawk, Paul Honig, Yoke Chin Giam, Steven Hoath, M. Catherine Mack, Georgios N. Stamatas. New Insights About Infant and Toddler Skin: Implications for Sun Protection. Pediatrics 2011;128;92
3. CDC Website. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/children.htm How Can I Protect My Children from the Sun? Accessed June 2 2019.
4. Stamatas, G. N., Nikolovski, J. , Mack, M. C. and Kollias, N. (2011), Infant skin physiology and development during the first years of life: a review of recent findings based on in vivo studies. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 33: 17-24. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2010.00611.x
5. Oliveria, S. A., Saraiya, M., Geller, A. C., Heneghan, M. K., & Jorgensen, C. (2006). Sun exposure and risk of melanoma. Archives of disease in childhood, 91(2), 131–138. doi:10.1136/adc.2005.086918
6. Hill, David L. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Eye-Color.aspx. Newborn Eye Color. Accessed June 2 2019
7. American Academy of Dermatology Website. https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/prevent/how-to-select-a-sunscreen How to select a sunscreen. Accessed June 9 2019.
8. Kim SM, Oh BH, Lee YW, et al. The relation between the amount of sunscreen applied and the sun protection factor in Asian skin. J Am Acad Dermatol 2010; 62:218.
9. Skin Cancer Foundation Website. https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/children/oh-baby Sun-Safe Babies. Accessed June 9 2019.
10. American Academy of Pediatrics Website. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Sun-Safety-and-Protection.aspx Sun Safety and Protection Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed June 9 2019.
11. KidsHealth.org by The Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sun-safety.html Sun Safety. Accessed June 9 2019.
12. Baron, ED. Selection of sunscreen and sun-rotective measures. Post TW, ed. UpToDAte. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. https://www.uptodate.com Accessed June 9 2019.