With summer approaching, the sun's rays can be pretty dangerous, especially to soft new baby skin. As parents, our number one job is to protect our kids and keep them safe and that extends to sun safety. Sometimes it's impossible to avoid situations where they need to be in the sun. We know a baby's skin can be very sensitive and it's important to be careful about what types of creams and lotions you use in general, but on really sunny days, can babies wear sunscreen?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises you to generally keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun, especially during the hottest hours of the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You may have been told that babies under 6 months should never wear sunscreen, but the AAP notes that you can use dabs of it on the areas of the skin that might be exposed to the sun, like arms and legs. Don't forget the face, the back of their neck, tips of their ears, and the tops of their feet as well.
So can you just pull a container of Coppertone and slather it on your baby? Not so fast. Dr. Patrician Treadwell, a pediatric dermatologist at Riley Children's Hospital in Indiana, recommended on Baby Center that parents use what she calls a "physical" sunscreen. This is something with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Neither of these get absorbed by the skin, which could cause a bad reaction. They sit on top of the skin and form a barrier to prevent the ultraviolet rays from roasting your skin. "There's no evidence chemical sunscreens are dangerous or toxic," Dr. Treadwell wrote, "but we just don't know enough yet about how their ingredients affect babies."
But the reason why we err on the side of the caution has to do with a baby's skin to body-weight ratio. “Babies’ skin is less mature compared to adults, and infants have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults,” said Dr. Hari Cheryl Sachs, a pediatrician at the Food and Drug Administration. “Both these factors mean that an infant’s exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens may be much greater, increasing the risk of side effects from the sunscreen.”
"Even though it is likely safe to use sunscreen on kids less than six months old, it is safer to keep them out of the sun," Dr. Vincent Iannelli, a pediatrician in Texas, wrote on Very Well. Obvious, but that's not always possible, especially if your baby is a second or third child and you need to be outside with the bigger kids. We had a car seat and stroller cover we would use when we had to keep our baby shielded from the sun during our eldest child's t-ball games. It seemed like a great invention and we even felt emboldened to think we could take him to the pool as long as the seat cover was on. Here's a warning to you: it gets hot under there, particularly in direct sunlight, so you should never cover your baby fully. By the time we peeked to see how he was doing, we found him covered in sweat and pretty dehydrated. Needless to say, after that we were more careful and used the cover sparingly with proper ventilation.
There are more obvious (and safe!) ways of keeping your baby out of the sun while outdoors, like staying in the shade or toting around a beach umbrella or a stroller canopy. There are also a whole lot of other products that can also help you in this mission. From big floppy hats (which they may pull off their heads) to adorable sunglasses (which they will definitely pull off their faces) to clothing made with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) protection, there are so many different ways to keep your baby's skin from being exposed to the sun. In the event that your baby actually keeps the hat on, the AAP is really specific about them, recommending a three-inch brim on any baby hats you choose. They also advise clothing to have as tight a weave as possible: if you can see through it, the sun can get through, too.
If you are going the sunscreen route, What to Expect advises you to do a skin patch test 48 hours before you plan on applying the sunscreen. Take a dab of sunscreen and rub it onto a small area of your baby's skin. Keep an eye out for any reaction and if they have one, you'll need to find a different product or use the sun avoidance methods listed above.
All in all, don't let having a new baby deter you from outdoor fun. With a little preparation and maybe even a little sunscreen, you and your little one can fully enjoy summer.