It’s a little yucky to think of the human skin as an organ, but it’s true: our largest organ performs a ton of functions that are necessary for human health, forming our “first line of defense” against any outside force that might harm the body. It’s a protective barrier against bacteria and viruses; it regulates our body temperature; it helps us diagnose health issues; and of course, it protects us from UV radiation. But not completely – in addition to painful sunburns, too much sun exposure, even as a kid, can dramatically increase the risk of melanoma. So, good sun safety practices are a must from day one.
As we’ve written here before, baby skin is much more delicate than the skin of kids or adults, and it requires some vigilance to keep your child comfortable and healthy. Your baby’s skin is very thin (which is why you can see your baby’s blood vessels so clearly, and why her face might turn red when she cries), and it doesn’t produce oil or melanin the same way adult skin does. So babies will get sunburned much faster than older people, and serious sun protection is a must.
First things first: the Skin Cancer Foundation says no direct sun, period, for babies prior to six months of age. Obviously that doesn’t mean you’re stuck indoors; you just need to stick to shady areas, pop an adorable sun hat on your baby’s head, and make good use of your stroller’s sun canopy. The Bugaboo Breezy Sun Canopies provide UPF 50+ sun protection with full ventilation, making them a great sun safety tool for a toasty day outdoors.
Next: sunscreen. Can it be used safely on infants? The sun safety experts have not come to a formal consensus– the Skin Cancer Foundation says that at 0-6 months, baby skin is too delicate for any sunscreen, and the FDA agrees, saying that baby skin absorbs chemicals more easily than adult skin, and is more vulnerable to rashes, allergies, or inflammation. On the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that if you can’t provide adequate shade, a small amount of sunscreen on exposed areas may be ok. Since there’s no single expert opinion to refer to, I say, go to your own personal expert – your pediatrician. They’ll be able to help you weigh the info that’s available, and you’ll feel better about it one way or another.
After 6 months, though, sunscreen for babies is approved by all of the sun safety experts, and you should slather those kiddos thoroughly. We prefer the type of sunscreen known as “physical sunscreen,” which uses the minerals titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide to form a physical barrier protecting skin from the sun. The other type, “chemical sunscreen,” can take a while to activate and is more likely to irritate delicate skin, so our sunscreen selection leans more heavily on the physical stuff.
Modern parents have much better options for applying sunscreen than our parents did: instead of filling your hands with greasy lotion and then trying to apply it thoroughly to an annoyed toddler who just desperately wants to get into the pool, you can opt for spray lotions, sunscreen sticks, and even sunscreen towelettes. I’m especially looking forward to personally trying out the MD Moms Babysafe Sunscreen Towelettes, which sound like a wonderful departure from your standard sunscreen. Cindy at Akron Ohio Moms tried them out on her kids and on herself, and said that she loved the way it felt on her skin, and her kids didn’t object at all to her putting it on, which is a rare thing indeed! Since I’m deathly pale and burn easily, I’m planning on road-testing a bunch of our sunscreens and reporting the results here at Spilling the Beans, so keep an eye out.
Also: don’t forget the sunglasses! Real Kids Shades makes a variety of cute and comfortable shades for the youngest members of your family, including the Explorer Sunglasses with Strap, which are designed to fit kids as young as 6 months old, are impossible to break, and are adjustable and contoured for comfort so your baby won’t object to wearing them.
Finally: don’t forget, when you’re going out in the sun with your baby, to HAVE FUN!