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Sunbathing Babes: Selecting Sunblock for your Infant

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for infants (especially those under 6 months of age) the best way to protect their skin is to keep them out of direct sunlight.  And certainly, light weight blanketshats, and protective clothing can be hugely helpful for keeping them covered.  But, realistically, exposure to the sun is difficult to avoid entirely during our North Carolina summers.  So here are my tips for protecting your babies from the sun (including those under 6 months of age).  

Tip 1:  Look for SunBLOCK rather than SunSCREENS:  The distinction here is that you're after a "physical" sunblock rather than a "chemical" sunscreen. Sunblocks use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide which sit on top of the skin and work by reflecting the UV rays away from your child's skin.  Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain UVA absorbing avobenzene and/or a benzophenone (such as dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone), in addition to UVB-absorbing chemical ingredients.  And while there's currently no evidence that chemical sunscreens are dangerous or toxic, unfortunately, we just don't know enough yet about how young children react to these ingredients.  Here are a few additional reasons we prefer Sunblock to Sunscreen:

-  Physical Sunblocks are automatically broad spectrum (which means they work against both UVA and UVB rays).

- Physical Sunblocks work immediately after application.  Chemical products, on the other hand, need to be slathered on 15 to 30 minutes before heading out into the sun (so that they have time to be absorbed). 

- Physical Sunblcoks are less irritating and cause fewer allergic reactions than chemical sunscreens.

Tip 2: Look for SPF of 30-50.  Most experts agree that SPF sunscreens above 50 don't provide that much extra protection. Some experts even recommend that the SPF rating should be capped at SPF 30 or SPF 50, which provides protection against 97 to 98 percent of UVB rays.  See my earlier post with more explanation about sunscreens (including information about what SPF really means and why broad spectrum protection is necessary).

Tip 3: Try a Test Patch: Whenever you purchase a new sunblock or sunscreen, apply to a small patch on the inside of your child's arm or on the top of your child's foot first and then wash off several hours later.  If they develop skin irritation, it would be best to avoid slathering your child all over with that product.  This is especially a good precaution if you're using a chemical sunscreen (since these creams are absorbed into the skin and are more likely to cause irritation or a allergic reaction).

Tip 4: Use the correct amount!  Lay the sunscreen on thickly (around 1 ounce - enough to fill a shotglass -is needed to adequately cover tweens and teens and slightly less for youngsters), making sure every part of your child's body gets a good coating. Pay special attention to burn-prone areas like the ears, nose, back of the neck, and shoulders.


Tip 5: REAPPLY!  This is the most frequent mistake resulting in sunburn for kiddos.  Most parents are very conscientous about applying before heading out to the beach or pool, but forget to reapply (or don't do it frequenlty enough).  Even for products that are labeled "water resistant" you'll need to grab hold of junior to reslather them after an hour or two.  According to the FDA, “water resistant” sunscreens must maintain their SPF after 40 minutes of water immersion, while “very water resistant” sunscreens must maintain their SPF after 80 minutes of water immersion. Either type of water-resistant sunscreen must be reapplied (every 40-60 minutes is the safest since heavy perspiration and towel drying remove the sunscreen too).

Finally, here is a list of several commercially available sunblocks:

• Neutrogena Sensitive Skin® with PURESCREEN® SPF 60+ lotion
• Neutrogena Pure & Free® Baby with PURESCREEN® SPF 60+ lotion/stick
• Neutrogena Pure & Free® Liquid with PURESCREEN® SPF 50
• Aveeno® Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block® SPF 30 lotion/stick
• Blue Lizard Sensitive® SPF 30+ lotion
• Blue Lizard Baby® SPF 30+ lotion
• California Baby® Sunblock SPF 30 stick
• Mustela® High Protection Sun SPF 50 lotion
• Mustela® Suncream for sensitive areas SPF 50
• TruKid® Sunny Days® SPF 30+ lotion/stick
• The Honest Company - Honest Sunscreen SPF 30
• Badger® All Natural Sunblock SPF 30+ lotion


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