We all need time in the sunshine to help our bodies make vitamin D so we can absorb calcium for stronger, healthier bones. But babies are particularly vulnerable to too much sun exposure. Just like you’d take steps to protect your baby from other obvious dangers, there are plenty of ways to help keep them safe from the sun.
Why is sun exposure dangerous for babies?
Too much sun exposure can be dangerous for everyone. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause damage to skin and eyes and increase the risk of getting skin cancer. People of all skin colors can be affected by skin cancer. It’s true that people with darker skin have more melanin in their skin to help protect their skin from damage. But if your skin gets exposed to more UV than your natural melanin can absorb, then your skin can burn and your risk of skin cancer can increase no matter what color your skin is. 3.5 million cases of skin cancer in over 2 million people are diagnosed in the US each year. In the UK, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer.
Your baby’s skin is less developed than yours, so it’s not as good as doing its job yet. It has less natural protection against UV rays and any damage caused is likely to be more severe. Experts advise that if a child suffers severe sunburn, then their skin will be permanently weakened and their risk of developing skin cancer will increase.
Babies are also less able than adults to regulate their temperature. This means that in addition to skin damage, over exposure to the sun can lead more easily to dehydration, high fever, infection and heatstroke.
How to keep your baby safe in the sun
This can all seem a bit overwhelming, on top of all the other things you’re doing to look after your precious newborn. But the good news is, there are lots of ways you can protect your little ones and encourage a lifetime of staying safe in the sun.
- Stay in the shade
The advice from The Skin Cancer Foundation in the US and the NHS in the UK is to keep babies under six months old out of direct strong sunlight. Use a shade on their stroller and on the windows when you’re travelling by car, as some UV rays can get through glass. The sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm, so be extra careful between these times.
- Cover up with loose clothing
The British Skin Foundation says, “clothing should always be your first line of defense against sun damage.” There are so many cute summer baby clothes available, but a lot don’t cover their arms and legs. If you can find lightweight cotton tops with long sleeves and long pants, they’ll really help protect your baby’s skin.
- Hold on to your hat
Go for a style that shades your baby’s head, face, ears and neck. Hats with a wide brim all the way round or legionnaire styles (like a baseball cap with a flap of fabric at the back) are great. Normal baseball caps don’t provide enough cover.
- Pop on some sunglasses
Look for sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection for your baby’s sensitive eyes. In the UK, suitable sunglasses will carry the CE Mark and be labelled British Standard (BSEN 1836:2005). There are specialist baby wrap-around styles with a soft, stretchy strap to help keep them on.
- Find a sunscreen that suits your baby
There is differing advice about whether or not to use sunscreen on babies under six months old. This is because lots of sunscreens have chemicals in them that may be more harmful to babies than adults because of their delicate, immature skin. Some experts just advise keeping babies out of the sun, period. Others say if you can’t avoid small areas of your baby’s skin being exposed to the sun, you can use a very small amount of specialist baby sunscreen on those areas.
Once babies reach six months old, the advice is for all children, no matter what their skin tone, to use a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and protects against UVA and UVB. Try to put the sunscreen on 15 minutes before they’ll be out in the sun. If you’re taking them in the pool or playing with water in the garden, use water resistant sunscreen and reapply regularly.
Before you slather your baby with sunscreen, test a little bit first. If the area goes red or a rash develops, try one made specifically for sensitive skin.
Do you have any tips for persuading a reluctant baby to keep their hat on? Have you found a good sensitive sunscreen? Share your experiences with us, we’d love to hear them.