You’re applying sunscreen in the morning as you usual do when suddenly a thought pops into your head: should you slather some on your baby as well or will it harm him/her? While it can seem premature to use sunscreen on a baby, infants too can unfortunately develop skin cancer. Moreover, the effects of unprotected sun exposure during childhood will show up on their skin later in life, with the premature formation of wrinkles.
On the other hand, infants’ skin is thinner and not fully-developed yet, which means that the active ingredients in sunscreens penetrate it more easily. In addition, compared to adults, babies have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio (in other words, proportionately infants have more skin for the size body as compared to an adult). Because of these factors, an ingredient that is perfectly safe for adults can instead more easily cause allergic reactions, irritations and inflammations in babies.
So, what to do?
Babies under 6 months old don’t need sunscreen
According to Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D., a pediatrician at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun, and to avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet (UV) rays are most intense.” Infants should be kept in the shade. If that’s not possible, then Sachs says to make them wear lightweight protective clothes (avoid fabrics that keep bodies too warm as infants can’t cool theirs down with sweat as adults do yet and so when they’re too hot, they are at risk of becoming dehydrated), a wide-brimmed hat, glasses and then to apply a small amount of sunscreen to small areas that remain exposed such as the cheeks and hands (only their back).
Use only physical sunscreens
When it comes to sunscreen ingredients, natural is best, especially for young children. Chemical ingredients such as Avobenzone and Oxybenzone are more likely to cause an adverse reaction and can also be absorbed by the body, which then disposes of them through urine. Just because they can penetrate the body, it doesn’t mean that they are toxic and harmful. Studies have shown they aren’t, but so far none have been conducted on babies, which is why it’s best to avoid them, just in case. Instead, opt for non micronized Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, which stay on the surface of the skin, creating a protective barrier that simply reflects sun rays off it.
My favourite is Zinc oxide as it can, on its own, protect against the entire UV spectrum. A good option would be Blue Lizard Australian Sun Cream SPF 30+ ($19.35) which is suitable for most skin types and doesn’t leave a greasy residue behind. If you want something paraben-free instead, you could try Vaincream Sunscreen SPF 60 ($12.89), which sinks into the skin nicely and is suitable even for very sensitive skin. Other good options are Loving Naturals Clear Body Sunscreen SPF 30 Non Nano Zinc Oxide UVA/UV ($12.99) and Badger Chamomile and Calendula Broad Spectrum SPF 34 Baby Sunscreen ($13.60).
Infants under 6 months old should just be kept in the shade. Instead, you should start applying sunscreen on older babies. But make sure you use a physical sunscreen (ie one with only Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide, not micronized). Although chemical sunscreen ingredients are perfectly safe for adults they could cause allergic reactions and irritations on infants, who have much thinner skin.
Do you apply sunscreen on your baby?