*This is a guest post
Using sunscreen on a baby is an area of parenting that’s a little tricky to navigate. In the first place, is your baby old enough for sunscreen? Then there’s the issue of which sort of cream to choose. And how on earth do you get enough of it on a wriggling baby?
The general rule of thumb is that, for babies under the age of 6 months, sunscreen as a method of sun protection shouldn’t be relied upon. This is because the ingredients in some sunscreens can be harsh for their skin. The best types of sun protection for babies (and everyone else!) are those that provide “barrier” protection, such as using good quality sunhats, clothes and pram sun shade covers that will physically block the UV rays from reaching the skin.
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However, if you are caught out unprepared, and there’s no other way of shading their unclothed skin, then using sunscreen on a baby is a much better option than exposing them to UV. Whilst the jury is still out on whether sunscreen leads to harmful effects, there’s certainly lots and lots of evidence that UV exposure causes skin cell damage. There’s even some evidence that exposure to UV is worse for babies because their skin is young and still in the process of forming its own barrier against the sun. All this means that as a parent you should never be afraid of using sunscreen on a baby if needs be, even they are under 6 months’ old.
After your baby has reached 6 months’ old and their skin has begun to mature, you can choose to start using sunscreen as a routine back-up to the main types of sun protection. However, it’s still wise to pay attention to the type of sunscreen you apply. It’s a good idea to start familiarising yourself with ingredients listed on the back of the bottle, even though it may be confusing at first.
Sunscreen ingredients are split into two types – so called “chemical” and “physical” ones. Chemical ingredients are ones that absorb the UV whereas physical ingredients will block and deflect them. Generally speaking, babies react less to physical ingredients, such as zinc or titanium dioxide, so these are good ingredients to look out for. Try choosing sunscreens that don’t also contain a host of other ingredients such as fragrances and parabens. Other ingredients to avoid include oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, PEGS and SLS/SLES.
Applying the sunscreen on a baby can also take a little getting used to. Your aim is to get a good amount of coverage on the exposed bits of their skin, making sure you fully cover areas where clothing straps or hems can slip. If they are only wearing thin clothes, you should also consider applying sunscreen even on areas which will be clothed. If possible, the best practice is to apply sunscreen in two coats, around twenty minutes apart, because (like painting a wall) there’ll always be bits that are missed on the first coat. Make sure you don’t use a spray sunscreen as they rarely give a good amount of coverage (and you’ll risk your baby inhaling the spray, or it getting in their eyes). It’s always good to patch test any new sunscreen too, by simply applying a little to their inner arm and watching for any reactions over a 24 hour period.
One practical tip for applying sunscreen on a baby is to start at their feet, working upwards on the body. Like all of us, babies can be sensitive about their faces being touched, so do their neck and face last of all. Using a toy or a bath mitt puppet to distract your baby and keep the experience light and fun will also help fussiness.
Natasha Jacquot is the founder of Musluv which specialises in innovative baby sun care.