Sun safety for infants, babies and toddlers

By on August 8, 2009

Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. According to one US study, 54 percent of children become sunburned or tanned in their second summer, versus 22 percent in their first.

“Children should not be getting sunburned at any age, especially since there are a range of very effective sun protection methods that can used,” said Perry Robins, MD, President, The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Parents need to be extra vigilant about sun protection all the time.”

Many parents don’t know the best ways to protect their young children.

“With a little effort and planning, it’s easy for young children to enjoy the outdoors safely,” Robins said. “Parents need to make it a priority and to also lead by example.”

Now celebrating its 30th year, The Skin Cancer Foundation is committed to educating the public and medical professionals about sun safety. As leaders in the fight against skin cancer, the foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of the world’s most common cancer. The mission of the foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. To learn more about the foundation and its programs, visit www.skincancer.org.

Recommendations for protecting young ones
Infants (0-6 months)—Infants under 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun. Their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen.

An infant’s skin possesses little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes and provides some sun protection. Therefore, babies are especially susceptible to the sun’s damaging effects.

• Use removable mesh window shields to keep direct sunlight from coming in through the windows of your car or invest in UV window film, which can screen almost 100 percent of ultraviolet radiation without reducing visibility.

• Take walks early in the morning before 10 a.m. or late afternoon after 4 p.m. and use a stroller with a sun-protective cover.

• Dress baby in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs.

• Choose a wide-brimmed hat or bonnet that protects the baby’s face, neck, and ears. A baby who wears a hat during the first few months will get used to having it on.

Babies (6-12 months)—It’s now safe to use sunscreen on babies.

• All the protection methods explained above still apply, however now sunscreen use should be incorporated.

• Apply a broad-spectrum, SPF 15+ sunscreen to areas left uncovered such as baby’s hands. Many companies have tear free formulas that won’t sting baby’s eyes.

• Most importantly, sunscreen must be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.

Toddlers / Pre-School Age—Protecting toddlers from the sun requires a little more thought and effort. It is important to educate your child and caregivers.

• Make sure your child seeks the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Check the outdoor area where your child plays to make sure there is adequate shade.

• Make sure toddlers are covered. Long-sleeved, unbleached cotton clothing is cool and comfortable, while also highly protective. Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) listing on the label offers extra security. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothing with a UPF of 30 or higher.

• Don’t forget hats and sunglasses. Choose a wide-brimmed hat that protects face, neck and ears.

• Water-resistant, spray-on sunscreens are a good choice for toddlers who won’t sit still. Look for sunscreens with an SPF 15 or higher with some combination of the following UVA ingredients: avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.