Sunscreen Use in Babies Under 6 Months

Balancing sun exposure with sun protection in your little one
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One of the most common questions I get from parents this time of year is, “What do I do to protect my baby from the sun?” While you may be tempted to go straight for sunscreen labelled as being specifically formulated for babies, there are some facts about sun exposure, sunscreen, and sun protection that will serve you well in your quest to support baby's skin and overall health.

The sun is good for you!

First, it is important to understand that there are many benefits to sun exposure, for both adults and babies. One of the most well-known benefits of the sun is that it helps to substantially increase the levels of vitamin D in the body. In northern regions, due to the angle of the sun, we are only able to adequately produce vitamin D via our skin from May to October. Twenty minutes of sun exposure is thought to be enough to prevent vitamin D deficiency which has been linked to many conditions including asthma, diabetes, and even multiple sclerosis.

Newer research is indicating that the benefits received from the sun may not only be associated with vitamin D. In a recent study in the Journal of Internal Medicine, it was determined that “women who sunbathe are likely to live longer than those who avoid the sun, even though the sunbathers are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer” and furthermore that "avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking." The study found that the participants were "mainly at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and noncancer/non-CVD death as compared to those who avoided sun exposure."

Finding the sun exposure "sweet spot"

With these facts in mind, parents need to find a balance between providing babies that much-needed sunlight exposure and protecting their tender skin from too much of a good thing.

Give them enough sun...

  1. Keep direct sunlight exposure to 10-20 minutes.
  2. Expose the skin at off-peak hours: early morning or late afternoon.
  3. Consider sunglasses, as their eyes are especially sensitive.

...but don't let them burn!

The FDA does not recommend conventional sunscreens for babies under 6 months of age due to the potentially harmful chemicals that is more readily absorbed by their skin. Zinc oxide-based sunscreens can be used in babies under 6 months of age, as zinc is a physical, not chemical barrier. Zinc oxide is the main ingredient in many natural diaper creams. 

  1. Keep sun exposure to under 20 minutes per day.
  2. Avoid exposure between 11am and 3pm, the hours when the sun is the strongest.
  3. Dress them in lightweight clothing that covers most of their skin and use a wide-brimmed hat.
  4. Choose better sunscreens, especially those with a natural, non-nanoparticle zinc oxide base.

Now get out there and have some good and safe fun in the sun with your baby this summer!