5 Things You Need To Know Before Applying Sunblock To Your Child

Summer is here! Time for the beach, pool, and outdoor fun. This is the time of year for sun, fun, and relaxation.  Unfortunately with the sun comes responsibility. There is so much research about the dangers that exist in the ingredients of sunblock. The sunblock industry is moving towards utilizing more natural ingredients. However, it is equally dangerous when you do not provide enough protection against the dangerous UV rays, which can result in horrible sunburns and higher risk for skin cancer.  We need to provide our children with adequate protection against the sun, while avoiding the harsh chemicals from sunblocks. Today we are going to dissect the ingredients in sunblock and go over important tips on purchasing the right sunblock and applying it appropriately.

What is the appropriate age to begin applying sunblock to an infant?  Practicing medicine in south Florida, I frequently get asked this question. In the past, we recommend that no sunblock be applied to an infant before the age of 6 months. An infant’s skin is much thinner than that of an adult, making it much more vulnerable to chemicals that exist in sunscreen. A baby’s skin is at risk for contact dermatitis, inflammation, and allergies. In addition, babies have a higher surface area to body weight ratio, which basically means the chemicals in the sunblock are able to be absorbed systemically (by the bloodstream) in an infant much easier than an older child. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently changed the recommendations to advise that even if your child is under six months old, if appropriate shade or clothing are not available, small amounts of sunblock should be applied to areas of skin that are exposed to the sun. Apply the sunblock to a small patch of skin first to ensure there is no reaction before applying to the entire body.

They only way to ensure that a small infant doesn’t suffer from heat related illness is to provide complete shade during the hours of 10am to 4pm when the sun’s UV radiation is the most intense. Use sun umbrellas and fold up tents. The pool is a much better option than the beach given that shade is available through trees and covered pavilions. Make sure to dress your child in breathable clothes that cover as much of their body as possible. Do not forget a large brim hat to protect the face and head.

What should I look for in a sunblock? First and foremost, make sure that the sunblock you are purchasing has broad spectrum coverage. This means it will protect against both types of the sun’s rays: UVA and UVB. Next make sure that the SPF is over 15. In my opinion, there is no reason to apply a sunblock that has an SPF of less than 30 in a child that is going to spend the day in the sun. In saying that, be aware that SPF 70 is a marketing tool, and there is no research that indicates that anything over SPF 50 has more protection. Choose a sunscreen that has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are physical compounds that reflect sun rays and prevent absorption. These mineral sunscreen agents are also less likely to irritate the skin. Lastly, make sure is it water resistant, especially if you are planning a day at the pool or beach. However, even if the sunblock has a water resistant component, I highly suggest reapplying after your child comes out of the water.

What ingredients do I want to avoid when purchasing sunblock? There are two types of ingredients in sunblock, mineral and chemical filters. Mineral filters include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and tend to have a thicker white consistency.  Chemical filters provide a smoother application and are found in nearly 70% of non-mineral sunscreens. Although they make application a lot easier, chemical filters can be an irritant to the skin and even dangerous if absorbed in large amounts. Try to avoid chemical filters that contain PABA or oxybenzone, as they are associated with skin reactions. Vitamin A, also known as retinyl palmitate, is found in 16% of beach and sport sunscreens. Although not properly studied, there is a suggestion that Vitamin A, when exposed to sunlight, can lead to cell overgrowth and skin damage. The EWG is an important resource to use when purchasing sunblock. This website rates the sunblocks according to the safety profile of the chemical ingredients. It is important to understand that just because a sunblock is organic, does not mean it is safe for your child.

How often should I apply?-  It is imperative that you apply sunblock at least 15 to 30 minutes before taking your child into the sun. The sunblock needs time to absorb into the skin and even 15 minutes in the direct sunlight without efficient sunblock can lead to burns. Make sure that you reapply sunblock every hour to hour and a half while in direct sunlight, and after getting out of the water or sweating. The most common reason for sunburn is the failure to reapply throughout the day in the sun. A great tip is to put a timer on your phone or watch so that you have a reminder of when it is time to reapply. It seems simple but we all lose sight of time when we’re having a good time.

Sunblock is not enough.  Although sunblocks and sticks are imperative, physical barriers such as SPF clothing, umbrellas, and shade are equally as important. There are so many adorable bikinis in the store for little girls this summer. Close your eyes and walk away. They are an absolute no no when it comes to sun protection.  Rash guards, hats and sunglasses are imperative to sun protection.  Make sure to take frequent breaks from the sun and to stay hydrated.

Hope this helps you with your journey!

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