Ok so before we jump right in, let’s talk about why everyone needs some sun exposure. When our skin is exposed to the sun, our bodies make vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium for stronger, healthier bones. It only takes a little time in the sun for most people to get the vitamin D they need (and most vitamin D needs should be met with a healthy diet.) Too much unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer.
YES. Your baby/toddler can get burned on cloudy and cool days. Why, because it's not the heat of the sun that burns the skin but the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays can damage the skin at all times of day, all year round, even in the middle of winter. And a baby's thinner, more delicate skin is especially vulnerable. You can't feel these when they hit your skin, but you'll see the effects later. See what happens is the UV rays react with a chemical called melanin that's found in skin. It's then that a sunburn develops when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what can be protected against by the skin's melanin.
Up until 2018, medical knowledge was that babies should not wear sunscreen before six months of age. We were advised to just cover the little bundles up and keep them out of the sun – which is still good guidance! Easier said than done because some baby parts will get exposed to everyday rays, in some way. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics said when adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF on infants under six months to small areas, such as the infant's face and the back of the hands.
The FDA hasn't caught up with this new recommendation and still requires all sunscreen labels to state that it is only safe for babies over six months. So, you’ll notice that warning on all sunscreen labels.
You should also be aware of the distinction between chemical and mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens use minerals like zinc oxide as their active protective ingredient and it just sits on the skin deflecting UV rays while chemical formulations use a chemical called Oxybenzone (ranked as a high health concern hazard by EWG) and it penetrates the skin offering protection by dissipating UV rays. Always go for a mineral based sunscreen. There are some amazing mineral sunscreen brands on the market and a safe way to navigate the waters is to use the EWG healthy living app. All you need to do is go online to EWG and search kids sunscreen and they will give you a list of safe sunscreens and a safety score (1 being the safest and 10 being the worst)
- Plan your day around the sun. The golden rule is avoid the sun between 10am and 4pm so when you can, time your stroll or outside play with your baby earlier than 10 or later than 4. When you do go out, keep in mind that the sun's rays bounce off surfaces like water, snow, cement, and sand.
- Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible. Make sure your baby/toddler wears clothing, sunglasses and a that covers and protects sensitive skin. Toddlers are difficult to catch and hold still, so you may need to be creative with your sunscreen routine. Sunscreen in stick form works well for the face and hands, as toddlers are less likely to rub the product into their eyes.
- Choose a mineral sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Look for the words "broad spectrum" on the label. "Broad spectrum" means the product protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are more likely to cause sunburn and wrinkling, while UVA rays cause damage deeper in the skin.
- Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors, and reapply it every two hours. Make sure you cover all exposed areas of your baby's skin, including the tips of the ears, the back of the neck, and the tops of the feet
- And for the parents, make sure you always wear sunscreen!