Protecting your child from the sun-Ask Dr. Paul Library

DEAR DR.PAUL: I have an eight-month-old baby and am wondering if I can use sunscreen on him or is he too young? Thanks.

PEDIATRICIAN DR.PAUL Answers: Protecting a baby from the sun is very important, and your question is a common one. Indeed, it's young babies that are more prone to the effects of the sun because they have thinner skin than adults. As well, babies (when less than six months old) cannot move themselves out of the sun without a parent's help.

Even babies with darker skin are prone to damage from the sun. When I say damage, I mean a sunburn which is painful and uncomfortable, but I also mean long-term problems. Research now suggests that the more a child is exposed to sun early in life the higher the chances are that skin cancer develops at an older age. Indeed, the UV-A and UV-B rays of light are known to cause skin damage which, in the long term, can become cancerous. So, the best way to prevent this long-term potential sun-induced consequence is to learn to protect children and get used to having fun in the sun, but with sun precautions at all times.

It is important to know that the sun's rays can go through clouds and can cause damage even on cloudy days. In the shade, the sun's rays can bounce from sand, concrete or snow, so keep that in mind as well. In addition, sunglasses with UVA/B protection are also recommended.

What can you do to protect your babies and young children? Well, sunscreens are designed to basically block the sun's rays. The "Sun Protection Factor" (SPF) is a measure of how much protection the sunscreen offers. For example, an SPF of 30 means that a child can stay out in the sun 30 times longer than without the sunscreen. We usually recommend, at the very least, a SPF of 15 and a broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that protect against both UV-A and UV-B rays).

To answer your question, in general, most sunscreens can be used on babies less than six months old, but only on small areas of the body.

Parents should avoid sunscreens that contains PABA. Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure because it takes some time for them to work on the skin. Remember that even "waterproof" sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours. While putting sunscreen on the face, avoid the eyes. If the screen burns the eyes, try a new type or one that can be applied with a stick applicator. Make sure that all potentially exposed areas are covered including the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears and the shoulders. Also, never use suntan oil, as it offers no protection and causes the skin to burn quicker.

Finally, here are some other tips on how to protect your child from the sun:

  • Babies less than six months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight. Put them in the shade, under a tree, stroller canopy etc.
     
  • Baby should be dressed in clothing that covers all of the body (long sleeves, long leg pants etc.).
     
  • A cap with a bill is helpful. The bill should be facing forward (not like a catcher in baseball) in order to protect the face.
     
  • Also, tightly woven clothes offer better protection, than clothes with a wider weave.
     
  • And, if your child gets a sunburn, keep her completely out of the sun until the burn is fully healed.

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