Protect your baby from the sun's hot rays

By Erin Dym on June 13, 2013
We all know that keeping newborns out of the sun is a top priority. After all, they have sensitive skin that is thinner than an adult’s, and sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months in case it irritates that delicate skin. So just how do we make sure to get through a summer safely with a newborn?

It’s actually simple, says Dr. Danielle Marcoux, a clinical associate professor at Université de Montréal and a pediatric dermatologist at CHU Sainte-Justine. “Don’t place your baby in the sun, to start. Keep your baby in the shade, under a covered stroller or an umbrella. Make sure to outfit them in loose-fitting clothing and a large brimmed hat that covers not only their head but the back of their neck and ears.”

She recommends looking for clothing with UVA/UVB protection and says that sunglasses are neither necessary nor practical for newborns because their eyes should be shaded anyway.

“When it comes to babies, just be careful and use common sense,” says Dr. Marcoux. It’s also important to remember that UV rays can be reflected from surfaces like sand or concrete, making it possible to get burned even in a stroller or while swimming.

When your baby is older than six months, look for sunscreens made especially for babies. “These products tend to have simpler ingredients that are less irritating, unscented and above 30 SPF, which is ideal for little ones,” Dr. Marcoux says. If you’re concerned, you can test a small amount of sunscreen on your baby’s inner arm before using it all over their body. Check for a reaction up to 48 hours later.

For older children, look for sunscreens that are water resistant and reapply every three hours. Try to avoid the sun as much as possible between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest. “Remember, the goal of sunscreen is to protect the skin, not to allow you to increase sun exposure. Using it doesn’t mean that you should stay in the sun longer.”

Sun exposure increases the risk of developing moles, and sunburns are a major risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer is most often found on the neck and ears, body parts that might not have been properly covered with a hat or protected with sunscreen. Sunburns are painful and can cause skin damage as well as dehydration and fever. Even children with darker skin require maximum protection.

If your child does get a burn, use wet compresses, Vaseline or even yogurt to help cool the skin and alleviate discomfort. “The key is to be very careful in the first place,” says Dr. Marcoux.

Shedding some light on sun safety

  • Up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays can penetrate light clouds, mist and fog.
  • 85 percent of the sun’s harmful UVB rays can bounce back at you from sand, snow and concrete.
  • Children with fair skin or with blond or red hair, freckles or moles are at the greatest risk of sun damage.
  • Do not apply sunscreen around a child’s eyes in case it stings and burns; instead, sunglasses that offer 100 percent UV protection and wraparound bands are best.
  • Make sure to protect yourself from the sun and teach your kids sun safety by setting a good example.
  • Lips can burn easily. Don’t forget to apply an SPF 30 lip balm to your child’s ips.
  • As your children get older, teach them how to identify shade (under large trees, covered porches or in the shadows of buildings) and urge them to seek it out.
  • If your child is in daycare, work together to ensure ongoing sun protection throughout the day. Provide your daycare with sunscreen and written permission to apply it.

For more info, visit the Canadian Dermatology website and look for the special sun safety section geared toward parents.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2013.

By Erin Dym| June 13, 2013

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