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Sunscreen Safety for Babies: What You Need to Know

by Vannessa Rhoades 23 May 2024
Sunscreen safety for babies

If you're heading outdoors to the park or beach with your infant, it’s important to protect their sensitive skin from the bright rays of the sun. Infants are especially vulnerable to severe burns so it’s wise to take extra precautions to shield them from direct sunlight. But is it safe to apply sunscreen to your baby? It depends.

Is Sunscreen Safe for Babies? 

If you’ve got a newborn, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Food and Drug Administration both recommend avoiding the use of sunscreen until they’re at least 6 months old.  Avoiding sun exposure altogether is a safer alternative. If you feel you need to apply sunscreen to your infant earlier than this, speak with your pediatrician for recommendations on which brand to use.

Why Can't Babies Under 6 Months Use Sunscreen?

Babies younger than 6 months old have extremely sensitive skin that's especially vulnerable to burning. However, using sunscreen isn't the best way to protect them, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This is because infants are at a higher risk than adults of sunscreen side effects, such as a rash.

At What Age Can You Put Sunscreen on a Baby?

Infant skin contains very little melanin, the pigment that colors the skin, hair, and eyes and offers some sun protection. Though you may be tempted to apply to go ahead and apply sunscreen, The Skin Cancer Foundation advises waiting until your infant is 6 months old before introducing sunscreen. Until then, keep them covered and out of the sun!

Tips for Keeping Babies Safe from the Sun

Babies and children of all ages benefit from avoiding sun exposure. Here’s how to limit your risk:

  1. Opt for shade: Take advantage of the shade. This is one of the most effective preventative measures, particularly for infants not wearing sunscreen. Sit under a tree or a canopy when possible.
  2. Limit exposure: Try to head out before 10:00 am or after 4:00 pm. Avoid mid-day activities when ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the strongest. Many parents mistakenly believe that the sun is only harmful on a bright, cloudless day. The truth is that it's not the sunlight you can see that’s the problem – it’s the UV rays that are dangerous. Your baby could be at a greater risk for sunburn on cloudy or misty days because it will feel cooler, and consequently you’ll stay outside longer. Sun exposure is also greater at high altitudes. And while a wide-brimmed hat or a sun umbrella is helpful, neither provide 100% protection because ultraviolet rays reflect off sand, water, snow, concrete, and many other surfaces.
  3. Choose protective clothing: Protect your baby’s head, neck, and ears with a soft, wide-brimmed hat. Tight weave fabrics are superior to loose ones when it comes to sun protection. Unsure how tight a fabric's weave is? Hold it up to see how much light shines through. The less light, the better. Very young babies are still developing and unable to sweat like adults. That means they can easily overheat and dehydrate. Try to keep clothing lightweight, breathable, and loose, yet long enough to cover the skin.
sunscreen safety for babies

For older babies, you'll want to balance protecting their skin from sunburn with decreasing the risk of irritation from the sunscreen. Here are a few tips to consider from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to 30 on your baby. More research is needed to determine if anything higher than SPF 50 actually offers additional protection.
  • Opt for mineral-based sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide when possible. These are great for sensitive areas of the body, like the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears, and shoulders. This type of sunscreen won’t rub completely into the skin, but it is available in fun colors that children enjoy.
  • Avoid products with oxybenzone (chemical-based sunscreen) when possible due to concerns about mild hormonal properties. That said, it's more important to prevent sunburn from ever occurring, so using any sunscreen is better than not using it at all.
  • Choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that will protect your baby from both UVA and UVB rays. 
  • Opt for lotions over sprays for a thicker more even coating of protection. 
  • Avoid sunscreens with fragrances, dyes, or parabens as these ingredients can further irritate sensitive skin.
Zoeys Sunscreen

Applying Sunscreen to Babies

Begin by spreading an even coating of sunscreen on your baby at least a half-hour prior to sun exposure. Make sure to cover all areas that may receive direct hits of sunlight, including their nose, behind the ears, their scalp, and the tops of their hands and feet. For continued protection, reapply at least every two hours. Apply more frequently if they’re playing in the water or sweating.

    Sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months

    Apply sunscreen minimally and in specific, limited areas (like the face) when shade or protective clothing isn’t accessible. 

      Sunscreen on babies older than 6 months

      Apply to all parts of the body, using caution around the eyes. Wipe hands and eyes with a clean damp cloth if your baby rubs sunscreen into their eyes. 

        Soothing the Soreness: What Happens If My Baby Gets Sunburn?

        If your child has a sunburn, it will appear within 24 hours of exposure. That’s also when it may be the most painful. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying cool compresses or bathing your child in cool water. Acetaminophen may also help relieve any discomfort. Continue to monitor your baby’s symptoms to make sure they’re not becoming more severe.

        Earth Mama Organics Organic Skin and Scar Balm

        Earth Mama Organics Organic Skin and Scar Balm

        Consult your pediatrician as soon as possible if your baby seems ill, is crying a lot or unusually fussy, or develops a fever or blisters. Sunburned babies are also at an increased risk for dehydration or heat stroke so make sure to continue to give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. 

        Your child doesn't actually have to be burned in order to be harmed by the sun. The effects of sun exposure build over time so that even a moderate amount of exposure during childhood can lead to skin damage or cancer in later years. In addition, certain medications and medical conditions may make some babies more sensitive to the sun. This is why sunscreen, sunburn prevention, and regular sun safety measures are key to your baby’s long-term health.

        The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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