If you’ve ever experienced the torture of a fresh, angry sunburn, you know just how painful it can be. If your beat-red skin so much as dusts the fabric of your clothing, it feels like a hot iron. And that’s just the sun’s effect on an unprotected adult or kid. Infants, on the other hand, are even more at risk.
“Babies, especially newborns and young infants, have very sensitive skin and burn much more easily than older children and adults,” Dr. Jessica Madden, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician, neonatologist, and international board-certified lactation consultant, tells Romper. “I have had a few of my baby patients get severe sunburns after only five to 10 minutes outside on sunny summer days without protection.” Naturally, you probably worry about your children's skin and lather them in sunscreen like a corndog being dipped in batter. But it’s not that simple with babies.
“As a dermatologist, I endorse the FDA guidelines to not apply sunscreen to a baby until after six months of age,” Dr. Loretta Ciraldo M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare, tells Romper. “This is because we know that SPF ingredients can get into the bloodstream. In babies, the surface area to body weight is very high, and the danger is that you may get unhealthy excessive absorption of chemicals into the baby's body when they are infants.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has slightly more lenient guidance. “The AAP advises that sunscreen may be applied to babies younger than six months to small areas of skin that are not covered by clothing and hats,” Dr. Sophie J. Balk, M.D., attending pediatrician, children’s hospital at Montefiore, and professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, previously told Romper. “This is because we don’t want babies to sunburn.” Still, the overwhelming advice from experts is to avoid sunblock until your baby is at least six months old. So, should newborns wear long sleeves in summer to protect them from the evil glowing orb in the sky?
Should newborns wear long sleeves in the summer?
The damage of being in the sun is cumulative. You might be wondering what the harm is in a little heat, or how bad it is to be burned once or twice during your childhood. You survived, right? It can't be that bad. Ciraldo disagrees. “We dermatologists believe that a single sunburn sustained in our youth can lead to skin cancer in adult life,” she tells Romper. The truth is that every sunburn you get increases your risk of skin cancer. “Practicing safe sun for your baby is really imperative for parents ... Sun protection needs to be a lifelong practice starting at babies' earliest infancy.” That's pretty scary stuff, and it's enough to make you reconsider every instance of burn you experienced as a kid.
As is the case in almost everything, when it comes to sun protection and your child, the number one thing you can do is avoid the sun entirely. “The best way to protect your baby is to not have them out in the sun at all,” Madden tells Romper. But let's be honest — it’s not always feasible to keep your baby shielded from the sun 24/7 . Chores need completing, older kids need supervision — the list of reasons is long. If you can’t avoid the sun entirely, Madden recommends dressing babies in protective clothing that covers their skin, like long sleeves, hats, and pants. “It’s really important that the sun-protective clothing is breathable and lightweight so that your baby does not overheat,” she adds.
Other ways to protect baby from UV rays
- Bring portable sun-shade pop-up tents to outings and beaches
- Keep your baby in shaded areas out of direct sunlight like under trees or awnings
- Put a small sun umbrella on their stroller
- Try to stay indoors during peak UV intensity, generally from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Use a wide-brimmed hat to shade their eyes and face
- Keep your baby shaded from sunlight through car windows
- Use a mineral baby sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on infants older than six months
Luckily, there are a ton of cute clothes on the market to keep your baby safe and cool. Most of them have zippers as well, so they're not only safe, but they're easy to change. Let's be honest, you don't need anything else to worry about when it's 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside and everything is burning.
Dr. Sophie J. Balk, M.D., attending pediatrician, children’s hospital at Montefiore; professor of pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY.
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