From what age is it OK to put sun cream on a baby? What’s the alternative before this age?
Sunscreen is OK to use on babies older than 6 months. Younger babies should use other forms of sun protection. The best way to protect babies from the sun is to keep them in the shade as much as possible. In addition, dress your baby in protective clothing, a hat with a brim and sunglasses. For newborns and babies under 6 months, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that is OK to apply a minimal amount of baby-safe sunscreen with an SPF of 30–50 to the face, back of the hands and tops of the feet. And for babies 6 months or older, you can apply a “baby safe” sunscreen with SPF 30–50 to all exposed areas of your little one's body.
Do I really need a suncream that’s especially formulated for babies?
It is especially important to make sure infants are protected, as 25 per cent of our lifetime sun exposure takes place before the age of 10, but there’s actually no big difference between baby formulations and adult formulations. When we see products labelled as such, this is more to do with the marketing strategy rather than the actual ingredients. Indeed, the market is flooded with sunscreens and, rather than helping the consumer, this can make choosing the right one quite confusing. Ultimately, all sunscreens are very similar when it comes to composition and there is very little difference between the various brands.
What is the minimum SPF I should use on my kids?
Infants shouldn’t be highly exposed to the sun, but for those who are spending extended time outdoors, a minimum of SPF15-30 is required.
Should I use a different formula for face and body?
There’s really no need – the same formulation can be used all over.
What’s the difference between a mineral and a chemical suncream?
Mineral sunscreens – also known as physical sunscreens – sit on the skin and reflect the sun’s rays. They typically contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and can be seen as white on the skin when applied. You should avoid using mineral sunscreens in spray form so as not to inhale them, although mineral creams and lotions are good for covering high points such as the tip of the nose and earlobes. This is especially effective when combined with a chemical sunscreen, which works by changing UV rays into heat and then releasing that heat from the skin. Apply this to the rest of the body for all-over protection.
What ingredients should I avoid on my child?
Oxybenzone is not a preferred ingredient, as it can cause a reaction. Parents should also be wary of formulations containing fragrances and perfumes, as these have a high probability of reacting on the skin once exposed to the sun. This is known as a photochemical reaction, which can happen when you have a chemical on your skin that is exposed to sunlight.
What are your top tips for applying suncream to young kids and how often should I reapply?
The rules of application should be tailored to each individual situation, such as how long you are going to be exposed for and if you’re taking part in any activities. If you are taking your child swimming, you should apply it before you head out and then once every two to three hours. You should apply the sunscreen to the whole body – even to covered up areas as some clothing may not fully protect the skin. It’s not uncommon for melanomas to be found areas that we think would be covered up at all times by clothing.
What are your rules for staying safe in the sun?
The Australian campaign message of ‘slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen and slap on a hat’ has been proven to help lower skin cancer so are golden rules to live by. Also, make sure you avoid the sun during peak hours between roughly 11am and 3pm when the rays are at their strongest.
It is also important that nannies or school and nursery teachers and assistants (once children are back in these environments) help enforce good sun sense. Human behaviours develop from two to nine years old, so if we drill good sun protection habits into our children during these formative years, it will stand them in good stead for life.
How much cream should I use per application?
There is no set quantity – simply use enough to provide adequate coverage for optimum absorption into the skin. Don’t be tempted to over apply as this won’t boost the level of protection. It’s best to apply a good amount and then reapply frequently.
My baby is under six months old, should I keep him out of the sun completely?
A short amount of sun exposure is fine as it encourages vitamin D production, which is useful for growing bones. Around 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient for pale skins, while around 15-20 is enough for darker skins. But bear in mind, that spending six hours on the beach at the weekend does not mean you can ‘load up’ on extra vitamin D. That’s not how it works! Keep sun exposure to a minimum to be safe.
What should I do if my baby gets a minor burn?
Although prevention is far better than cure, if your baby does suffer a mild to moderate burn, immediately apply cold water or an ice pack to the affected areas. See your family doctor who may recommend an anti-inflammatory cream or, depending on the age of the baby, a steroid cream with a mild concentration of hydrocortisone. Soothing lotions such as chamomile can provide symptomatic relief but can lead to more dryness so if the skin starts to peel, apply a water and oil based emollient frequently to keep skin well hydrated. Ultimately, you can’t be casual about sun exposure in young children. Just one severe burn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer by 15 per cent.
Dr Ikramullah Al Nasir is a Specialist Dermatologist, Medical Director and CEO of Dermacare Skin Centre at Dermacare Skin Centre.