Slathering on the sunscreen for lazy days at the pool or beach are warm-weather rituals for many families. But if you're tempted to let your child play outdoors for even a few minutes without the proper sun protection, you’re taking an unhealthy risk. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime risk for melanoma by 80 percent.
A baby’s skin is especially delicate and burns more easily. Their sensitive skin contains less melanin, the pigment that gives our hair and eyes their color and offers some sun protection.
Follow these simple tips all year round to help protect you child from the sun’s harmful rays.
Infants Under 6 Months
- The use of sunscreen in infants younger than 6 months old is an often-debated topic. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The Skin Cancer Foundation recommend using sunscreen only on children older than 6 months; the American Academy of Pediatrics, on the other hand, states that using sunscreen on infants younger than 6 months of age is safe. Because of these conflicting recommendations, you should always check with your pediatrician before using sunscreen on babies under 6 months old.
- Seek shade whenever possible under a tree, umbrella or stroller canopy. Dress your baby in long sleeves and pants in a light fabric and always use a hat. There are also UV sunglasses made just for babies now that will protect those little eyes.
Children Older than 6 Months
- Sunscreen can be applied to all areas of the body, but be especially careful when applying sunscreen to a child’s face as you don’t want to get it in their eyes and cause stinging. Don’t forget the scalp, ears and neck.
- Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, as it will screen out both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) rays.
- Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, although SPF 30 is the most recommended by dermatologists. Anything over SPF 30 is no longer recommended by dermatologists as the extra protection is negligible and the additional chemicals may cause skin reactions in some kids.
- Make sure to use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet and hands. Rub it in well.
- Older children should learn to apply sunscreen themselves, and make it a routine habit.
- If you chose to use a spray sunscreen, never spray the product directly on a child’s face. Spray in your hands first then apply to the child’s face. Since the safety of spray sunscreens is debatable and the FDA has issued concerns with inhaling their fumes, lotions are recommended by dermatologists for children for safer and more effective application.
- Sunscreen needs time to absorb into the skin, so apply sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.
- Anytime your child goes outdoors they need to wear sunscreen, not just when they are at the beach or the pool. Make it a habit to apply sunscreen before your child goes to school in the morning so they are covered during recess. All schools have different rules for bringing and applying sunscreen at school. Some, for example, require a doctor’s prescription, so be sure you know your school’s rules.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel. Even sunscreens that are water-resistant still need to be reapplied at least every two hours.
Keep in mind that sunscreen should be used for sun protection, not as a reason to stay in the sun longer. Adults should also model what we want our children to do and wear sunscreen as well. You’ll not only set a good example, but you’ll reduce your risk of skin cancer, sun damage and skin aging.