Summer sun protection: a guide for kids and babies

July 24, 2019

Summer sun protection: a guide for kids and babies - Today's Parent

Summer's finally here-which means it's time to think about sun safety. Here's everything you need to know about mineral and chemical sunscreens, sprays vs. lotions, UV-protective rash guards and how to keep your baby cool.

Sun-protective clothing

Sunscreen isn't enough, we're sorry to say. Kids big and small can benefit from sun-protective tops and bottoms. All exposed skin, including the arms, legs, torso and head, should be covered as much as possible with a hat, sunglasses and rash guards. You don't need to apply sunscreen under their gear, but be sure to extend your application to spots that might peek out, like under sleeve cuffs and around leg openings. If they're in a two-piece, cover their belly, since their clothing is bound to move as they play.

Avoid peak sun hours

Planning family outings is hard enough when you're trying to sync up nap schedules, pool hours and mealtimes, especially if you have multiple kids. But experts say most of your fun-in-the-sun activities should occur during off-peak hours, before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m., when the sun isn't at its strongest. "Especially for children, the most important strategies for protection are behavioral modifications related to sun exposure," says Beecker. "If you want to go to the park, get up early and do that first." While you're at the playground, stick to the shade to keep kids cool and out of the glare of the sun, but don't be fooled into thinking you're completely safe from those rays under a tree. "It's better than being out in full sun, but it's not enough on its own," says Beecker. Kids still need to be covered to protect from the UV rays scattering and reflecting all around-even in the shade, and even in the morning hours.

Mineral or chemical sunscreen? And which ingredients are safest for babies and toddlers?

If you're confused about what type of sunblock you should be buying, you're not alone. They basically fall into two camps. Mineral, or physical, sunscreens contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide to scatter and reflect UV rays. Mineral sunscreens tend to look slightly chalky because they sit on top of the skin instead of being absorbed. For a time, some brands were trying to make the mineral particles smaller so that products would have a completely sheer finish, but in recent years a concern about the environmental effects of nanoparticles has pretty much put a stop to those formulations. As a result, many mineral brands are now boasting "non-nano" on their packaging.

Sunscreen's many forms: sprays, sticks and lotions

Sunscreen sprays are convenient but they're not ideal for little ones, because the particles floating in the air can be inhaled and they don't provide reliable coverage. (When you're spraying, it's hard to tell exactly how much is going where.) However, many parents swear by these products because they say spraying is the only way they can get sunblock on squirmy, uncooperative kids. Beecker recommends doing a solid base layer with lotion 30 minutes before you hit the beach or pool and then reapplying with the spray later, when you're mid-outing and it's harder to get them to stay still for a cream or lotion. Spritz the product into your hands instead of directly on their skin, and be sure your kids are upwind when you're spraying, so it's not blowing into their face.

Weighing the risks of using sunscreen on babies under six months

If you've got a little one under six months of age, the sun-protection rules are a little different. Infants are too young for sunscreen, and they can overheat easily-which can make sunny outings challenging. Here's how to keep them safe.

A sunburn is worse than a little sunscreen

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Canadian Dermatology Association, babies under six months shouldn't wear any sunscreen because their delicate skin barrier is vulnerable to everything you put on it-including the ingredients in sunblock. In the case of unavoidable or unforeseen sun exposure (like if you find yourself sitting outside during a wedding ceremony, for example), Ottawa dermatologist Jennifer Beecker does recommend applying either a chemical or physical sunscreen to any exposed skin and then washing it off once you're out of the sun. "Ultimately, we think the risks of sun exposure-and potentially a sunburn-at that age outweigh the risk of using a limited amount of sunscreen," she says.

Try a floatie

Without sunscreen, infants need complete sun cover, which means you'll need an umbrella, a shade tent or a baby float with an overhead attachment. But these products don't provide full UV protection, says Victoria Taraska, a dermatologist at the Derm Centre in Winnipeg, especially if you're using them in or near water. "For little babies in floaties, it's important to remember that the sun can penetrate up to a metre into the water, and there's a reflection off the surface as well," says Taraska. "Parents should not use these as the sole sun protection measure." A hat, sunglasses, a full-coverage swimsuit or rash guard and limited pool time are still necessary to avoid sunburns, she says. (Always stay by your baby's side in the water, of course.)

Stroller safety

Stroller canopies and muslin blankets only provide partial sun protection, and they should be used with caution. The temperatures inside an enclosed stroller can skyrocket within minutes on a blistering summer day. If you're draping a light blanket over the stroller or using a car seat cover, never close your baby in completely. Put your hand inside frequently to keep tabs on the temperature. Placing a damp cloth over their bare feet can help keep them cool while you stroll. "If you think they're getting too hot, use a water-misting spray bottle," says Beecker. She also suggests dressing your baby in a rash guard, even if they're not going swimming. "Because it's bathing suit material, you can just wet them down for more temperature control."


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