Sunscreens – Should You Use Them, Which Ones Are Safe, Which Ones Are Best?

sunshine2Babies are particularly vulnerable to sunburn (thin delicate skin) and the best advice supported by the Academy of Pediatrics, is to avoid all sun exposure if possible under 6 months of age. Using an umbrella, or hat or thin long sleeves etc. may help.  If extensive sun exposure is going to happen, then you may want to protect the most exposed areas like the face with a small amount of a kid-friendly sunscreen.  Avoid putting it on hands, arms, feet, and legs, all body parts that can find their way into the child’s mouth. 

The CDC page for children on “protecting children from the sun” carries some good advice along with the warning “even a few serious sun burns can increase your child’s risk of getting skin cancer”.  It is this point I wish to emphasize.  Do whatever it takes to avoid a serious sunburn, and if that means using a less than perfect sunscreen, then do it.  Serious sunburns have immediate dangers of pain and infection and the long-term risk of cancers.

Pick a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30.  This means that if you would burn in 20 minutes of full sun then 20 X 30 minutes is 10 hours of protection.

The actual protection is typically less than this, as most people don’t put enough sunscreen on, and if you get in the water, typically much of the protection washes off.

Consumer Report’s study of sunscreens for children was not conclusive in it’s findings or recommendations:

Remember to check the ingredients list.  Oxybenezone interferes with hormones in the body (an endocrine disrupter) and is present in at least 65 different sunscreens.  Avoid using these with children.  Nanoscale zinc and titanium oxides have also been linked to developmental problems and should be avoided.  If pregnant, you should avoid retinyl palmitate as this can convert easily to retinoids and they are associated with birth defects.  

You can search your sunscreen for safety at the Environmental Working Group web site:

While certainly not the only safe sunscreen, I found that Eco All Natural Sunscreen baby SPF 30+ has a perfect score with EWG and a top rating with consumer reports.

You can get an idea of how severe the UV index is for your location by plugging in the zip code at this web site:

Dr. Paul


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