Sun Protection Basics For Baby & Tips for Choosing the Safest Sunscreen

Some of the questions I am asked most often, especially living in sunny southern California, are about safe sunscreen for babies. As the warmer spring and summer weather approaches, it is important to remember some sun protection basics for your baby.

How can you best protect your baby from the sun? Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight when outdoors, especially during peak hours (10am-4pm). Whenever possible, move your baby to the shade under a tree, umbrella or stroller canopy with plenty of air flow. Dress baby in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs and use brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn. (AAP)

When can your baby wear sunscreen? Until a few years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised against the use of sunblock for babies under 6 months old. However, the AAP's new sun protection guidelines say that if adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of baby-safe sunscreen to small areas of an infant's body, such as the face, the back of the hands and the tops of the feet, starting when your baby is a newborn. Living in southern California (or other hot, sunny climates), escaping the sun is not always possible so it is important that you know about the safest sunscreen options!

What makes a sunscreen "safe"? Sunscreens generally fall into one of two categories, chemical or mineral. The main difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens can be found in their ingredient s and the way they protect from the sun. A chemical sunscreen contains one or more active ingredients that are non-natural, chemical compounds.

Here are a few examples of chemical ingredients commonly found in sunscreen.

  • Oxybenzone

  • Avobenzone

  • Octinoxate

  • Homosalate

  • Octisalate

  • Octocrylene

Despite the fact that these ingredients have all been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), research shows potential risks for several of them, specifically Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, and Padimate O. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens, like the ones listed above, are effective because they absorb the sun’s UV rays. Then, through a chemical reaction, the sunscreen dissipates the UV rays. (3)

The risk is found when trace amounts of the chemicals found in chemical sunscreens can trickle into your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, they can filter into other bodily fluids, such as breastmilk. A study published by a team of scientists, led by Dr. Margret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich (4), found trace amounts of at least one sunscreen chemical in the breast milk of 76.5 percent of the women they tested. This raises serious questions about breastfeeding safety. Since these chemical ingredients can enter the bloodstream of an adult, chemical sunscreens on the delicate skin of a child can also quickly enter the body. Studies show that chemical ingredients in sunscreens can increase the risk of endometriosis in women, decrease sperm concentration in men, and lower testosterone levels in adolescent males among other potentially dangerous effects. (5)

"A mineral sunscreen is just what it sounds like—a sunscreen that uses minerals as its active ingredients. The minerals most often used are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Both of these ingredients occur naturally, although they can also be created synthetically.

Mineral sunscreens work in a completely different way than chemical sunscreens. Remember, chemical sunscreens penetrate your skin and offer protection by dissipating UV rays. By contrast, mineral sunscreens simply sit on top of your skin and reflect UV rays away from your body. Mineral sunscreens are sometimes called physical sunscreens because they provide a physical barrier between your skin and the sun’s rays." (3)