Baby Sunscreen: Everything You Need to Know
Whether it’s a family vacation or just a day in the park, you want your dearest little one protected at all times during those hot summer months, as well as those tempting, sunny days of winter. Babies' skin is super gentle and very susceptible to sunburns - what’s more, nasty sunburns in the early years of a child’s life can increase the risk of melanoma in later years, which is why protection at all times should be a priority number one
Of course, the best way to protect your baby from potentially harmful sun rays is prevention itself - but, then again, who can actually remain at home the whole day, especially when it’s warm and sunny? Luckily, we live in an age when we can safely wander outside without feeling too anxious about the health of our little ones. And, indeed, baby skin protection is no small matter, which is why we’re gonna go over the most important things you need to know about it, making sure you and your baby can safely enjoy the lure of the next batch of sunny days outside.
Why You Shouldn’t Apply Sunscreen on Babies Younger Than Six Months
The first thing you need to know is to avoid putting sunscreen on babies younger than six months. Even though applying sunscreen is a must for adults and older children, it’s recommended that you don’t burden the still-developing baby’s skin with too many chemicals in its early months. Otherwise, you run the risk of exposing your baby’s organism to absorbing more sunscreen chemicals than is usually healthy. What you can do instead is dress the baby in light, protective clothing and keep it in the shade as much as possible.
But sometimes parents are concerned that clothing and shade won’t provide enough protection – in these cases, for additional protection, you can rub small amounts of sunscreen on the most exposed areas of your child’s skin. It’s important to note always to opt for the so-called “physical sunscreens” or “physical blockers”, creams that contain only zinc-oxide or titanium-dioxide as primary ingredients. These creams stay on the surface of the skin, rather than being absorbed in the skin itself.
Some Tips on How to Protect Your Baby Without Applying Sunscreen
- Dress the baby in lightweight and long-sleeved clothing (loose but with a tight weave – and not see through), which will help cover most areas of its body. For the little one’s head use a hat (preferably a wide-brimmed hat) that covers the whole area of the head, the ears and also the back of the neck;
- If your baby lets you, protect their eyes with sunglasses that guard against UVA and UVB sun rays;
- Keep check if the baby is overheating – babies in their earliest months don’t yet have a properly developed sweating mechanism, which is why you should make sure it is kept cool. This means that they should drink plenty of fluids (especially breast milk) to keep away from dehydration, as well as stay in the shade;
- Don’t cover the stroller with a blanket – it’s risky because it may cause suffocation and overheating. Just use the protection from the stroller itself or a special umbrella (parasol) that you can fix on the side of it.
- Try to stay inside or in the shade when the sun is strongest, somewhere between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Be careful of the sun’s reflection on surfaces - even when you’re not directly exposed, sometimes it can still cause sunburns by reflecting from various surfaces such as water, glass, concrete etc.
Sunscreen for Babies Older than Six Months
Sunscreen is safe to be applied liberally for babies that are outside the six-month limit. It can be applied to all exposed areas of the body.
- Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes before going outside in the sun, and it should be reapplied every two hours – even more often if your child is frequently in the water.
- Use a sunscreen that’s not below SPF 15. The bigger the factor the more protection you get from the cream.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen – these kinds of creams protect against both UVA rays, which are responsible for skin-aging and UVB rays, the ones that cause skin burns.
- Try to avoid fragranced sunscreens, as well as ones that contain chemical blockers that get absorbed in the skin. Instead always try to find a cream that is a physical blocker, usually with zinc oxide as a main active ingredient that blocks the sun’s rays on the surface of the skin without getting absorbed.
- Use sunscreen all year round – even in winter, and especially if there’s snow - sun rays and snow can be a perfect combination for sunburns. Also, don’t get fooled by cloudy weather – clouds don’t actually block UV rays, they only filter them, which means that sunscreen shouldn’t be used only on clear, sunny days.
How Much Sunscreen Should You Apply to Your Baby’s Skin?
For babies older than six months you can be very liberal with the application of sunscreen, covering all exposed skin areas from 15 to 30 minutes before going in the sun. In this case, more is better, which means you shouldn’t be too stingy with the cream. Make sure the ears and nose are also properly covered, and use lip balm with an SPF 15 to protect the baby’s lips. Remember that sunscreen wears off more easily with sweating or swimming, even if its labeled as waterproof, which means you should reapply it every two hours or more often if your child is outside for longer periods of time or spends a lot of time in the water.
SPF Factors in Sunscreen
Ideally, you should use a sunscreen with a higher SPF. SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor”, which marks the time the cream effectively protects your skin. So let’s say if you stay in the sun for 10 minutes without sunscreen and you burn, it means that an SPF 30 will provide 30x protection against sunburn – this is 300 minutes of ideal protection, but it’s ideal because it’s never actually that amount of time - in the meantime you move, you sweat and you swim, all of which make the sunscreen protective potential wear off faster. That’s why for an extra-delicate baby’s skin a higher SPF factor is preferred, somewhere between 30 to 50, but not above 50 because it actually offers a poorer quality of sun protection.
What Kind of Sunscreen is Safe for Your Baby?
There are a couple of initial guidelines to keep in mind when considering the safest and most effective options for your baby’s skin:
- Avoid sunscreens that contain chemicals that protect by absorbing into your skin, such as oxybenzone and avobenzone, as well as paraben and phthalate. Instead, look for active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are hypoallergenic and sit on top of the skin acting as physical blockers of the sun’s rays. Preferably, look for a cream that contains both in one, because zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work magic together in blocking UVA and UVB sun rays! The UVA and UVB are especially tricky because they come in different wavelengths, and the zinc and titanium manage to catch both the short and the long wavelengths.
- If you do decide on a chemical-based sunscreen, you can test it out first to see if your child will have an allergic reaction to it: just apply a small amount of the cream to the inside of the upper arm of your baby. If it develops a rash or any type of redness at the site the next day, definitely use another product instead.
- Look for broad-spectrum creams which protect from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Ideally, look for an SPF factor of 30-50. Don’t get fooled by the above 50 ones – according to the EWG (the Environmental Working Group) they’re actually poorer in quality when it comes to sun protection.
- Preferably, choose a sunscreen that’s designed especially for babies and children, and also one that is waterproof, even if your kid won’t be getting wet a lot.
- Avoid sunscreens that contain insect repellents – they’re usually less effective. It’s better to just buy the insect repellent separately and spray it after you apply the sunscreen (you should also always consult with your pediatrician first when applying insect repellents on your baby’s skin).
Since there are billions of sunscreen options out there, choosing the right one for your baby can be tricky and stressful. But we’re kinda on the no-fuss side, which is why we’ve got you covered with the best sunscreen options that you can find right now. You can check them out here
and then enjoy your next trip in the sun, wherever you are. We’ll make sure to always keep you informed and keep your baby on the safe side.