Keeping Your Baby Sun-Safe

Summer is almost here, and you and your baby want to take in all the fun that the season has to offer. But don’t let that good time involve damaging your baby’s skin now and in the future. Exposure to the sun is not a good thing for your baby.

Your baby’s skin is delicate. It can burn far more rapidly than the skin of an adult. A bad burn can occur in a baby in as little as 20 minutes.

Sunburn is inflammation to the skin caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.  In a mild, the skin may become red, feel hot, and can be painful. This is actually a first-degree burn. A more severe sunburn can cause blisters to form, which is a second-degree burn.

Any form of sunburn means that there is some damage to the skin, but a blistering sunburn has long-term consequences. A bad sunburn during childhood can double your child’s risk of developing melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90% of all skin cancer is due to exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

The best protection against your baby getting a sunburn is to prevent the burn from happening. The sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so keep your baby inside then. If you and your baby must be out during those hours, try to stay in the shade as much as possible.

You can also protect your baby in other ways. In Australia, where the sun is strong, they have a saying: Slip, Slop, Slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat.

The shirt and the hat help keep your baby covered. Your baby’s clothing should be kept loose to help prevent overheating. The fabric should have a tight weave to it. If you can see through the fabric, it isn’t giving enough protection to your baby’s skin. There are now shirts and other baby clothes that have an SPF rating and bathing suits for babies and small children that have long sleeves and knee length pants. Your baby should have a hat with a wide brim. Admittedly, keeping a hat on a baby is not easy, but try.

If you are on the beach or at the pool, bring an umbrella or a tent or canopy for shade and keep your baby under that as much as possible.

Even if you are keeping your baby in the shade, apply sunscreen on him or her early and often. Apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, but SF 50 is better. You have to put the sunscreen on your child (and you) 15 to 30 minutes before you go out. It takes that long for the sunscreen to become effective. Make sure that you don’t miss spots like ears and use a lip balm with a high SPF on your baby’s lips.

Choose a sunscreen that is labeled as being safe for babies and children. For babies under age 6 months, choose a water-resistant sunscreen that has titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, since these are less likely to irritate a baby’s skin. Reapply it every two hours. If you have never used the sunscreen product on your child before, you might want to test it to check for any reaction on a small patch of your baby’s skin a day or so before your plan to go out.

All of these tips apply to people of color too. Skin cancer does not discriminate, nor does sunburn. A survey published in 2018 found that 13% of Black people and 30% of Hispanic people said they had gotten a sunburn in the previous year.

If your baby does get sunburned and is under the age of one, call your pediatrician or healthcare provider to see what they advise you should do. At any age, if your child gets a severe sunburn, or develops blisters, has a fever, or is in a great deal of pain, call your healthcare provider. If your child is sunburned and is vomiting, he or she may have heatstroke. Call your healthcare provider and take the child to the emergency room.

For milder cases of sunburn, put cool compresses on the reddened skin. Use a skin product with aloe vera to soothe the skin.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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