SILVER SPRING, MD, March 15, 2012—With the arrival of longer days and warmer weather comes the desire to make up for all the time spent inside during the dreary days of winter. When you venture outside to soak up the sun, chances are you do not think about sun protection for your walk or picnic. But you should. And what about baby?
Babies’ skin is thinner and more sensitive than that of adults. Aside from wanting to protect your baby from the negative long term effects of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure such as skin cancer, you should also be concerned about sunburn. Just think about your last sunburn. You would not want your baby to deal with that pain, and you do not want to deal with a suffering baby. So what are your options? What are the best and safest ways to protect your baby?
While the weather is temperate and baby won’t overheat, keeping her in long pants and long sleeves is ideal. The longer clothes prevent the sun from getting to the skin. Don’t forget the hat. Babies typically have very little or very thin hair, and their scalps are just as sensitive as the rest of their skin. Optimal hats for outside have a wide brim. The brim helps shade the neck and face to prevent burning. Also try to have your baby wear sunglasses. These may take some getting used to, but sunglasses with UV protection help protect the eyes and the sensitive skin around the eyes.
If it’s too hot for long sleeves and pants, keep baby in the shade. If you are out for a walk, try using the cover on the stroller, or creating a canopy by draping a lightweight blanket or towel over the top of the stroller or between the handles.
This doesn’t just apply to being outside. Not all shade is created equal. For example, you will still have high sun exposure under an umbrella at the beach or under a pavilion on the lake shore, because sand and water reflect and scatter UV. Even though the reflected light is not as strong as direct sunlight, it’s still enough to burn.
The most intense sun during the summer months is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Try to plan short outings early in the day or in the late afternoon when the sun isn’t so powerful. This will also help to avoid the heat of the day.
Overcast days still pose a sunburn threat. Although the sun may be hiding behind clouds, the UV light is still getting through. Many people don’t consider this filtered light a problem. As a result, many people fail to take appropriate sun protection measures and end up with sunburn.
Use sunscreen correctly
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most sunscreens are safe for children over two months of age. For those under six months, it recommends applying the sunscreen to small areas of the body, such as the face, if shade is not available. For babies six months and older, the AAP says sunscreen is safe for all areas of the body. Be careful when applying it to the hands of your baby. Since babies tend to suck on their hands, they can ingest the lotions.
If it’s the first time you are using a particular brand of sunscreen, test the lotion on a small spot on your baby’s back before you have to apply it over a larger area. That way you have time to find out if she is sensitive to the chemicals in the brand you have chosen.
Look for sunscreens providing both UVA and UVB protection. UVB causes sunburn, but UVA causes skin damage that can lead to cancer. The Food and Drug Administration has changed the labeling on sunscreens, so starting summer of 2012 sunscreens that contain both UVA and UVB protection will be labeled as “broad-spectrum.” Further, research has shown that an SPF of 15 or higher will significantly reduce the risk of sunburn. So choose a higher SPF.
Sunscreen is only effective if used properly. Make sure you know the facts about sunscreen usage. Sunscreen is not all day protection. It must be reapplied every two hours to have full effectiveness. This is particularly important if the wearer is in water. No sunscreens are truly “waterproof,” so don’t let the labels fool you. Sunscreen needs to be absorbed into the skin before it can protect the skin. Therefore, you should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside and make sure you rub it in well.
Choose a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide lotion for the face and the ears. These tend to last longer and can be fun for kids since they are sometimes available in wacky application colors.
Don’t worry, your baby won’t stay blue. Sunscreens sticks are thicker than lotions and can be good options for use on the face since they are less likely to run with sweat into a child’s eyes.
Sunny weather is irresistible. Taking proper precaution against UV light means you and your baby will not come home with a painful reminder of your time outside. Once you are protected, get out and play!
Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates on when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.
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