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Sun Safety for Your Baby

June 20th, 2016

Summer is here.  It’s wonderful to spend time outside with your baby. Yet, a baby’s skin is more delicate and thinner than an adult’s and burns and irritates more easily. Even dark-skinned babies may be sunburned. Also, young babies don’t sweat like we do and are at risk for overheating.  Using these tips will help your baby stay happy, protected and safe.
  • Keep babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight. Find shade under a tree, an umbrella, or the stroller canopy.
  • When possible, dress yourself and your children in cool, comfortable clothing that covers the body, such as lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats.
  • Select clothes made with a tight weave; they protect better than clothes with a looser weave. If you're not sure how tight a fabric's weave is, hold it up to see how much light shines through. The less light, the better. Or you can look for protective clothing labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF).
  • Use a hat to shield your baby’s face, ears, and back of the neck. Baseball caps are cute, but they don’t provide the same coverage.
  • Limit your sun exposure between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm when UV rays are strongest.
  • Make sure everyone in your family knows how to protect his or her skin and eyes. Remember to set a good example by practicing sun safety yourself.

Sunscreen - Sunscreen can help protect the skin from sunburn and some skin cancers but only if used correctly. Keep in mind that sunscreen should be used for sun protection, not as a reason to stay in the sun longer.

For babies younger than six months  – According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sunscreen should be used for babies younger than six months if protective clothing and shade are not available. Use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face and back of hands.

For babies older than six months: Apply to all areas of the body, but be careful around the eyes. If your baby rubs sunscreen into her eyes, wipe her eyes and hands clean with a damp cloth. If the sunscreen irritates her skin, try a different brand or sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. If a rash develops, talk with your child's doctor.

How to Apply Sunscreen

  • Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands, and even backs of the knees. Rub it in well.
  • Put sunscreen on 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. It needs time to absorb into the skin.
  • Use sunscreen any time you or your child spend time outdoors. Remember that you can get sunburn even on cloudy days because up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can get through the clouds. Also, UV rays can bounce back from water, sand, snow, and concrete, so make sure you're protected.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Because most people use too little sunscreen, make sure to apply a generous amount.

Additional sunscreen tips:

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVB and UVA rays) with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 (up to SPF 50). An SPF of 15 or 30 should be fine for most people.
  • Avoid combination sunscreens containing insect repellants like DEET. Young children may lick their hands or put them in their mouths.  Additionally sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, but the insect repellent should not be reapplied.
  • The current AAP and CDC recommendation for children older than two months of age is to use 10% to 30% DEET. DEET should not be used on children younger than two months of age.
  • The effectiveness is similar for 10% to 30% DEET but the duration of effect varies. Ten percent DEET provides protection for about two hours, and 30% protects for about five hours. Choose the lowest concentration that will provide the required length of coverage.
  • As an alternative to DEET, picaridin has become available in the U.S. in concentrations of 5% to 10%.
  • If possible, avoid the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone because of concerns about mild hormonal properties. Remember, though, that it's important to take steps to prevent sunburn, so using any sunscreen is better than not using sunscreen at all.
  • For sensitive areas of the body, such as the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears, and shoulders, choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These products may stay visible on the skin even after you rub them in, and some come in fun colors that children enjoy.

Sunburns - If your baby is younger than one year and gets a sunburn, call your baby's doctor right away. For older children, call your child's doctor if there is blistering, pain, or fever.

Here are five ways to relieve discomfort from mild sunburn:

  • Use cool water or a cool compress to help your child's skin feel better.
  • Give your child pain medicine to relieve painful sunburns. (For a baby six months or younger, give acetaminophen. For a child older than six months, give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen.)  Check with your baby’s doctor first.
  • Keep your baby hydrated to replace lost fluids.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn't show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness and excessive crying.
  • Only use medicated lotions if your child's doctor says it is OK.
  • Keep your child out of the sun until the sunburn is fully healed.​

Overheating and dehydration

Summer's heat presents other challenges for babies. Younger infants don't sweat like we do.  Sweat naturally cools us down when we're hot, but babies haven't yet fully developed that built-in heating-and-cooling system. So you want to make sure your baby doesn't get overheated.  Also, babies lose a great deal of water due to their large skin surface area and are at greater risk of becoming dehydrated.

Hydrate—Give your baby formula or breast milk if you're out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don't forget to use a cooler to store the liquids. For older babies, talk to your pediatrician about giving water or fruit juice.  Take note of how much your baby is urinating. If it's less than usual, it may be a sign of dehydration and that more fluids are needed until the flow is back to normal.

Summertime is a fun and exciting time.  Following a few precautions can make it a safe time too.

Click here for a referral to a Good Samaritan pediatrician.