Baby Staying Safe in the Summer Sun and Understanding SPF

SPF101

Do you miss the sun throughout the winter but in the summer months feel like you should live in a cave to protect your infant’s delicate skin from the sun? You are not alone in your frustration. A cave may not be necessary, but the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that sun protection should begin in infancy and continue throughout life.

However, the AAD warns, “It may only take 15 minutes of midday summer sun to burn a fair-skinned (child).” Dr. Aundria Speropoulos, a pediatrician at Child Care Limited in Kansas City, MO, also warns parents, “Infant skin is more likely to burn in a short time. I have seen infants with second-degree burns (blisters) to their faces because the parent thought the baby would be safe on a cloudy day at a sibling’s soccer game.”

Consider these American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Recommendations:

Younger than 6 months
Try to keep out of the sun. If complete shade is unavailable, use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face and back the hands. (Light colored clothing that is tightly woven, covered strollers and sun umbrellas are also recommended.)

Older than 6 months
Apply (sunscreen) to all areas of the body, but be careful around the eyes.

What is SPF?

Dr. Trisha Prossick, a Shawnee Mission, KS dermatologist with American Dermatology Associates, says, “Sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of protection against only UVB rays. It does not reflect protection against UVA; but both UVA and UVB are damaging to the skin.”

How Much Protection Is Enough?

“Most baby products on the market have an SPF greater than 30: The higher the SPF, the higher the UVB ray protection,” Speropoulos says. “Parents need to buy a product with ‘broad spectrum’ coverage, which means UVA and UVB ray protection. Products with a physical barrier such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide offer even greater safety from the sun.”

Five young friends in swimming pool smilingApply and Reapply Sunscreen

Prossick suggests, “Sunscreens should be applied 20 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and should be reapplied after 2 hours or after any swimming. Even water resistant sunscreens lose efficacy in the water after 40 minutes and should be reapplied.”

Treatment for Sunburn

“Once you get the sunburn, you have done the damage, and there is not much to do other than alleviate the symptoms,” Prossick says. “Therefore, prevention is the best medicine. Tylenol or ibuprofen can help with the pain or discomfort.”

NOTE: Make sure to check with your medical provider for correct dosing and use the appropriate measuring device (i.e. manufacturer’s provided measuring cup or a medication syringe from the pharmacy).

Prossick also says, “Cool water or whole milk compresses can be applied for 20 minutes at a time to provide a cooling and soothing effect. If you choose to do the milk compresses, please wash it off afterwards. Moisturizers with or without aloe and over the counter hydrocortisone can also provide some relief.”

Recommended Products for Sensitive Skin

Speropoulos tells parents to look for “hypo-allergenic, fragrance and dye-free sunscreen. There are so many good choices these days, but I like Neutrogena baby, California baby or Aveeno baby.”

Are Darker Skin Tones Safe?

According to Mayo Clinic, “You need to use sunscreen even if you have darker skin pigment, tan easily and can tolerate longer periods of sun exposure without burning. The sun’s energy damages DNA of skin cells.”

The hardest part of protecting your child is remembering to get the sunscreen on the child and then reapplying at the correct time. A sunburn can take up to 24 hours to fully develop, so don’t think if you don’t see a pink tinge on your child, she is safe.

Finally, before you leave for your sun outing, don’t forget to check expiration dates on your sunscreens. They lose potency after expiration and will be ineffective for proper sun protection.

(previously posted on NML on 6/16/10)

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