life of
dr. mom

Sun Safety for Babies

Can babies wear sunscreen? How old do they have to be to wear sunscreen? Can you even take a baby into the sun? Surprisingly, thus far in my career no one yet has asked me about baby sunscreen and sun safety. When I had Madi, I had no idea how to protect her! I knew the importance of sun safety – sun burns early in life can increase risk of skin cancer later, but I did not know the details.

Here are some sun safety facts that I learned through the Canadian Pediatric Society.

Some of the stuff seems obvious, but the Canadian Pediatric Society provides a good reminder.

  1. Avoid being in the sun for prolonged periods of time.
  2. Prevent sunburn by: covering your baby in loose clothing, finding shaded areas (strollers, shaded play areas, sun umbrellas), putting a hat on your baby.
  3. Maintain hydration by encouraging your baby/child to drink fluids frequently (especially water) to prevent dehydration.
  4. Be aware of heat illness! Symptoms include thirst, fatigue, muscle cramps, sweating and irritability. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, bring the child into a cool shaded area and offer small frequent sips of water while removing excess clothing to help the child cool down.

Whether sunscreen should be applied to babies under 6 months of age remains controversial.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends NOT putting sunscreen on a child under 6 months of age while the American Paediatric Association says yes to sunscreen, but sparingly. The rationale is that baby skin is thinner and less developed than adult skin, making it easier for the chemicals from sunscreen to penetrate the skin. In addition, babies have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio which makes them more susceptible to greater proportions of chemicals for sunscreen. This is discussed by the US Food and Drug Administration. Interestingly, the American Academy of Paediatricians suggests applying minimal amounts of sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to infants less than 6 months of age to areas that cannot be covered by clothing.

After reading both guidelines, I tried to avoid sunscreen as long as I could. At 5 months I applied minimal amounts of sunscreen to Madi when we were in sunny Las Vegas. What I took from this research is that for infants under 6 months, covering up and remaining in the shade is the best approach and only apply sunscreen when absolutely necessary and in very small quantities.

This post was co-authored by Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP .

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