When it comes to babies and sun safety, conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply. Find out how to keep your beach babe sun-safe year round – so sun days can still be fun days with your littlest one in tow.
Avoid Sunscreen Before 6 Months Old
Babies’ skin is most sensitive and vulnerable during the first six months of life. Your instincts may tell you to slather on the sunscreen, but it’s best to shield infants from the sun entirely for the first half of their first year. Some parents purposely expose newborns to the sun, thinking that it may increase vitamin D levels or their child’s sun tolerance. But even in small doses, the risks far outweigh any potential (and largely unsupported) benefits. When is it safe to start using sunscreen? Once baby has hit the 6-month mark.
Choose Mineral-Based Sunscreen
For older babies and toddlers, sunscreen is nonnegotiable. Be vigilant and liberal with your application, and look for broad spectrum coverage with an SPF of least 30, which protects against 97% of UVB rays (SPF 50 protects against 98%, in comparison). Not all sunscreens are created equally, so it’s best to research and try a few different brands to find the right one for your baby. Environmental Working Group’s EWG Sunscreen Guide is a great resource for exploring product ingredients and is updated every year. Look for baby sunscreens with non-irritating zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients — these minerals aren’t easily absorbed into the skin, as evidenced by the thick white film they tend to leave behind. Avoid fragrances whenever possible, and try to stay away from sprays, which can be accidentally inhaled. Mineral-based sticks and lotions are your best bet.
Once you’ve found the one that works for your family, the most important rule is to reapply on baby’s exposed skin every two hours when outside. Yes, even when it’s gloomy and gray! The bottles from an Australian sunscreen company called Blue Lizard change color in the presence of harmful UVB and UVA rays, and guess what? Mine always do, even in overcast weather. In other words, don’t let clouds cloud your judgment.
Build a Sun-Smart Wardrobe
Sun protective clothing is especially important for newborns and infants younger than six months old. While it may seem counterintuitive, for sun protection purposes it’s best to keep them in breathable, lightweight clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Think long sleeves, pants, and protective sun hats with UPF 50+ that cover the back of the neck, if possible. When swimming, consider long sleeved rash guards which have built-in sun protection up to UPF 50, yet still feel cool against the skin. Doctors also recommend protecting tiny eyes with baby sunglasses, many of which come with attachments to keep them securely in place.
Seek Shade — Even in the Car
Shade is your friend when it comes to effectively protecting your baby from the sun. Rays are strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm, so try to avoid direct sunlight during those times. If that’s outside the realm of possibility, seek shade whenever and wherever you can, and be sure to dress appropriately to filter out harmful rays.
Car rides can also be a culprit in sneaky sun exposure. Contrary to popular belief, windshields and windows do not block out all dangerous rays. While glass does a decent job of keeping UVB rays out, UVA rays can still pass through, so you need an added layer of protection while driving. Reusable sun safety car shades are simple to install and do a great job of blocking damaging rays without compromising visibility. They cling to windows with ease, and some even alert you when the car is too hot. Choose from a variety of car baby shades to keep high temperatures and hazardous rays at bay.
These guidelines — and the level of effort required to implement them — may seem a little extreme, but vigilance is the only way to keep infants safe from the sun. With these baby sun safety tips, you can mitigate the risks and savor what’s left of summer as safely as possible.