Our families love fun in the summer sun.
But everyone – especially babies and young children – needs protection against harmful consequences of sun exposure like sunburn, skin damage and even skin cancer.
Dr. Laurie Campfield, DO, of Dalton, a general pediatrician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant, gave some helpful advice in this question-and-answer interview for the Suburban:
At what age can parents start applying sunscreen to babies?
You can start applying sunscreen to infants at six months of age. Prior to this, there are a couple of concerns. For one, a baby’s skin is not as mature or fully developed as an adult’s skin. Second, babies have a higher surface area to bodyweight ratio. For these reasons, the exposure and absorption of chemicals and additives that can be found in sunscreen is much higher.
How should you protect them from the sun before that age?
If the baby is younger than six months of age, there’s still plenty you can do to protect him or her from sun exposure. For starters, keeping him or her out of direct sunlight, ideally in shaded areas or under an umbrella, tent or stroller shade is helpful. Big floppy hats, long sleeved breathable shirts (ex: rash guards), and lightweight long pants are also helpful. Many sun hats marketed for babies carry an SPF rating.
What SPF number should be used for infants, toddlers and older children?
The safest SPF for children is between 30-50 (50 being more appropriate for fairer skin). Although there are some sunscreens on the market that advertise an SPF of 50-plus, studies have shown there does not appear to be a significant additional protective factor (SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of UVB rays when applied correctly, while an SPF 100 blocks 99 percent).
It is also not true that a higher SPF means you are protected from the sun’s rays longer.
How much sun is healthy or not healthy for babies and children in general?
It only takes a small amount of time for infants and children to get the vitamin D they need from the sun. If they have a healthy diet and take a multivitamin, they are already satisfying most of their vitamin D needs.
What are some general “dos” and “don’ts” for babies and children in the sun?
■ Wear sunscreen (or cover up as described above) and reapply at least every 90 minutes, and even sooner if sweating or going in and out of water (this also goes for water resistant sunscreen).
■ Avoid the hours of 10 a.m. through 2 p.m., as these are the hours of the day with the highest UV index (when the sun’s rays are most intense), and will lead to the highest potential for sunburn and dehydration.
■ Stay hydrated.
■ Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion (cool clammy skin, irritable, crying, weak/fatigued, dizzy, headache, nausea/vomiting, and/or acting confused).
■ Skimp on the sunscreen. It takes about an ounce of sunscreen to evenly cover a child from head to toe.
■ Forget to wear sunglasses that provide UV protection.
How important is it for children to stay hydrated in the sun?
A baby or child can become dehydrated quickly when out in the heat and sun. Encourage children to take a drink every 20-30 minutes. It is also important to note that infants under the age of six months should not drink water, as it can lead to seizures. If parents are concerned about an infant’s hydration status, they can simply offer extra breast milk or formula.
Teri Lyon is a mom, grandmom and freelance writer who lives in Glenburn Township with her cat.