Family outings might be the best part of summer. If you’ve got little ones, you’re probably planning a trip to an amusement park or the beach soon.
While you’re planning, make sure to consider the guidelines on sunscreen for babies. You need to protect even the littlest travelers from the sun. And it may surprise you that you shouldn’t apply sunscreen to babies until they reach 6 months of age.
A baby’s tender skin can burn quickly in the sun. But because it’s very sensitive and immature, you shouldn’t use chemical sunscreen to protect them.
So, how can you protect your newborn baby without sunscreen? And what are the sunscreen guidelines for older babies and toddlers?
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Sunscreen Guidelines for Babies
Sunscreen guidelines for babies, toddlers, and older children differ. They also differ based on the type of sun protectant used.
There are two basic types of sunscreen: Those that absorb the sun’s rays using chemicals and those that physically block the sun’s rays.
Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays like a sponge. They are easier to rub into the skin and don’t leave a white coloring behind. Active ingredients for chemical sunscreens include:
Physical sun blockers sit on the skin’s surface and deflect the sun’s rays. Active ingredients in physical sun blockers are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They are typically white or light in color and don’t disappear when applied.
Sunscreen is a must for older children and adults of all ages. If you have sensitive skin, avoid sunscreen with fragrances and avobenzone or oxybenzone, which can irritate the skin.
Opt for physical sunscreen if you have sensitive skin. This is also the best option for younger kids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends not using sunscreen on your baby until they are 6 months old.
Newborn skin is still maturing and may absorb more sunscreen chemicals than is healthy. Instead, avoid sun exposure by keeping your baby in the shade and wearing protective clothing.
How to Protect Newborns from the Sun
The best way to protect a baby from the sun is to keep them out of it.
Here are some other sun protection tips for babies:
- Dress your baby in lightweight, long-sleeved outfits with pants to shield them from the sun.
- Your baby can wear a hat that shades the whole head, ears, and back of the neck.
- Sunglasses can help as well.
- Grab a UV-blocking cover-up or bathing suit.
- Stay in the shade. Grab a sunshade or umbrella to make your own shade.
- Stay inside when the sun is at its strongest — between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Keep a careful eye on your baby at all times. The sun can reflect off metal strollers and other surfaces, even in the shade.
With that in mind, keep your baby cool when you’re outside in the heat. Because babies can’t cool themselves by sweating the way adults do, they can easily overheat. This means they quickly get dehydrated or overheated.
Provide them with plenty of formula or breast milk. Watch them carefully for warning signs of distress, including fussiness, redness, and excessive crying. Take them inside if they start to seem agitated.
If these tips aren’t providing enough sun protection, you can use a small amount of physical sun blocker on your baby’s skin.
If you notice the baby’s skin turns red or looks sunburned, applying cold compresses to the affected areas can help. Call your baby’s doctor if they get a sunburn or show signs of dehydration or overheating.
Sunscreen for Older Babies and Toddlers
Use chemical and physical sunscreen liberally when your child is old enough.
- Make sure to cover any exposed skin with sunscreen. Don’t forget to cover their ears and scalp.
- Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to reapply every two hours or more often if you are swimming.
- Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 15. Keep in mind that higher SPFs provide more protection.
- Sunscreen for babies comes in many formulations, including gels, creams, and wipes. Avoid sunscreen sprays, which can get in the mouth and airways.
- Use a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays.
Older babies and children should also wear protective clothing in the sun. Clothing with a tight weave (not sheer) provides the best protection from the sun’s harmful rays.
A hat and sunglasses are a good addition if your child tolerates them. This provides coverage for the head, face, ears, and eyes.
Try to time your outings for all ages to avoid direct sun exposure when the sun’s rays are at their most intense.
Babies and UV Rays
The sun’s light contains ultraviolet rays called UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. These rays of light are shorter than the light we can see. They have more energy and can penetrate our cells.
This penetration means they can damage our skin cells, resulting in premature aging.
- UVC rays are the most harmful, but the atmosphere between us and the sun absorbs almost all of these rays.
- UVB rays are harmful rays that can cause sunburn and genetic and cellular damage in the outer layer of the skin. The atmosphere absorbs about 95% UVB rays, according to NASA.
- UVA rays are longer and can penetrate the middle layer of your skin (the dermis). This makes them more dangerous because they can damage the underlying structures that keep your skin healthy, aging it more quickly. The atmosphere does not block these rays at all.
Our immune system often destroys cells that have taken genetic damage, but sometimes, these cells survive. This genetic damage can build up and cause skin cancer, including the deadly melanoma. Some studies have suggested that this is especially true when UV exposure happens during childhood. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. But active sun protection for babies, toddlers, and everyone else can help prevent skin damage and severe illness.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.