Oh Baby! is a monthly series where an expert shares the scoop on all you need to know for the littlest members in your family. Check out our first installment on baby skin care and second installment on breastfeeding must-haves!
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It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that a baby’s skin is different than an adult’s. Aside from being silky and smooth, studies show that an infant’s skin contains less melanin, which is one of the body’s natural ways to protect itself from the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to increase a person’s chance of melanoma later in life.
Like many parents, I find myself constantly slathering my son with sunscreen every time he’s outside, yet SPF alone is not the best way to protect against damage. The next time your little one goes out in the sun (regardless of the season), take these precautions to protect their delicate skin!
Stay in the shade
The best line of defense against ultraviolet light is to stay out of the sun completely —but that’s not fun for anyone, especially for those of us who endure long winters. The next best thing you can do to protect your children is to keep them in the shade, preferably using a UV tent or UV protected stroller.
Also note, UVA rays can penetrate windows, so it’s a good idea to use a sun shield on your car windows while on the road.
Covering up with hats and long-sleeved clothing is a great way to protect skin from the sun, but UV rays can still penetrate typical cotton or synthetic fibers. As a solution, dress your little one in sun-safe protective clothing, like a UPF 50+ sunhat and UV-Tee – especially while in the water where sunscreen can wear off.
Sunglasses are also a good idea to protect children’s eyes. Unfortunately, not all little ones like to keep sunglasses on (mine included), in which case it’s important to put them in a wide-brimmed hat that will shades their eyes.
You may have seen an “UPF” indication on sun protective clothing (vs. the usual SPF on sunscreen). UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and is a sun safety standard that measures how well a piece of clothing shields against the sun. UPF ratings indicate how much UV radiation can penetrate fabric and reach the skin. In order to get the most benefit of sun protective clothing, choose articles with a high UPF – for context, a UPF 50 is a good rating as it allows only 1/50th of the sun’s radiation to penetrate the fabric’s fibers.
Always apply sunscreen
Sunscreen is not recommended for children under the age of 6 months old, so use the tips outlined above for small infants. For children 6+ months, apply a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 on the entire body.
What to look for:
- Mineral-based: When looking for the right sunscreen, I recommend choosing one that’s mineral-based, which can be less irritating for delicate skin than a product containing chemicals filters like avobenzone and oxybenzone. Perform a spot test before trying any new product to first see if your child’s skin reacts.
- Natural: It’s also a good idea to choose formulas containing natural plant-based ingredients that will be gentle and nourishing on your child’s skin. It’s common to see reactions from fragrance and additives, in addition to active ingredients. Try ThinkBaby Safe Sunscreen, or for little ones with very sensitive skin, try using Badger SPF 40 Kids Clear Zinc Sunscreen.
How to apply:
Adults normally use 1-2 ounces (or a shot glass worth) of sunscreen to cover their body. Obviously, this is too much for infants but err on the side of caution by applying a generous amount to cover all areas.
Don’t forget to reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or excessive sweating. There’s no such thing as ‘waterproof’ sunscreen. Formulas must adhere to label regulations by using ‘water resistant’ and outline the estimated time of effectiveness, either 40 or 80 minutes. This means that the sunscreen will protect reasonably well for the duration of that period but it’s not 100% fail-safe. For quick and easy touch-ups, try the Baby Bum Mineral Sunscreen Face Stick.
Lastly, before you use that old sunscreen, make sure it’s not expired which can compromise the product’s protection factor.
Baby vs. adult-branded sunscreen
By the way, you might be wondering if there’s a difference between baby and adult sunscreens. Traditionally, baby and kid’s sunscreen formulas often contained less chemical filters than adult sunscreen, and used minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead. But now that mineral sunscreens are more popular for all ages, the main difference is the look and feel of the product:
- Baby sunscreens often contain emollient ingredients to soothe delicate skin but can make them feel greasier. They also often contain larger mineral particles that make them look chalkier.
- Adult formulas, on the other hand, are often developed with “nano-particles” to look less chalky, absorb more readily, and sit well under makeup.
The next time you’re out in the sun with your little one, stick with these guidelines and you’re sure to stay well protected from the sun’s rays!
Seanna Cohen is a certified skin care therapist and founder of the Clean Beauty School, an online destination to learn skin care tips & tricks and get personalized advice. As a trusted skin care expert, she inspires others to take a holistic approach to beauty and find sustainable practices through her skin care coaching, webinars, and classes.