Exposure to the sun can put people at risk for a number of problems, ranging from sunburn to melanoma. This is particularly true when it comes to newborns and babies, as sun exposure can cause lasting damage and may leave them susceptible to greater sun-related problems later in life. Yet every time parents step outdoors with their baby in tow, they are exposing them to the sun to some degree.
While keeping infants indoors would certainly protect them, it isn't a realistic option. Instead, parents must learn to make smart choices and take steps to protect their babies from the rays of the sun and the damage they can cause. To accomplish this, parents must first understand the danger that the sun represents in terms of their infant's skin and what the best methods and tools are when it comes to protection.
Why It's Important
Regardless of skin color, all babies must receive protection from the sun. When in direct sunlight, they are more susceptible to sun damage and can burn quickly, particularly babies that are 6 months old or younger. This is because of the thinness and sensitivity of a baby's skin at this age. When babies are subject to just a few severe sunburns at such a young age, they are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life. In fact, just a single case of what is referred to as a blistering sunburn during infancy can mean that the child will be twice as likely to develop skin cancer as an adult than if the sunburn had not occurred.
How to Protect Babies' Skin From the Sun
The most effective way of protecting a baby who is younger than 6 months old is to avoid direct sunlight completely. If parents must take their baby outdoors, they should refrain from doing so when the sun is at its highest and its rays are at their strongest, which is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When outside, they should stay within the shade as much as possible and use a stroller or carrier that is made with a protective cover or canopy. For strollers without this type of covering, parents can create their own canopy by using a light blanket over the open part of the carrier or stroller. A baby's head should always be protected by a hat with a brim that will cover not only the head and scalp but also the baby's ears and neck. Clothing should be lightweight and cover the baby's arms and legs. Babies who are older than 6 months may use sunscreen protection and also wear a hat for face and neck protection. When using sunscreen, it should be applied at least 15 minutes prior to going outdoors, although 30 minutes is often preferable. For all children, regardless of age, a sun-protective screen should be placed in car windows to prevent damaging sun rays from coming into contact with babies while they are inside of the vehicle.
Sunscreen by Age
Sunscreen usage changes depending on the age of the baby in question. If babies are younger than 6 months old, for example, sunscreen should be avoided, as their skin is sensitive to the chemicals in the product and they may experience side effects from its use. Babies who are older than 6 months may have sunscreen applied to their exposed skin; however, it is still advisable to keep them indoors when the sun is at its peak. Sunscreen should be reapplied regularly, as often as every two hours, due to sweating or exposure to water.
What Type of Sun Protection is Best
Parents may use either sunscreen lotion or a spray. When using spray, care must be taken during the application process to ensure that it does not get into the baby's eyes. When applied, spray generally provides less skin coverage than lotion and tends to wash off more easily than lotion-based sunscreens. Sunscreen should also be broad-spectrum and have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of no less than 15. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are sunscreens that protect the baby's skin from both UVA and UVB rays. If the sunscreen is a combination of sun protection and insect repellant using the chemical DEET, parents should avoid its use. Sunscreens that are specifically designed for children are also available.