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|Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually|
June 25, 2012
You're at the beach, slathered in sunscreen. Your 5-month-old baby is there, too. Should you put sunscreen on her? Not usually, according to Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D., a pediatrician at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun," Sachs says, "and to avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet (UV) rays are most intense."
Sunscreens are recommended for children and adults. What makes babies so different?
For one thing, babies' skin is much thinner than that of adults, and it absorbs the active, chemical ingredients in sunscreen more easily, explains Sachs. For another, infants have a high surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults. Both these factors mean that an infant's exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens is much greater, increasing the risk of allergic reaction or inflammation.
The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible, Sachs says. If there's no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller.
If there's no way to keep an infant out of the sun, you can apply a small amount of sunscreen—with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15—to small areas such as the cheeks and back of the hands. Sachs suggests testing your baby's sensitivity to sunscreen by first trying a small amount on the inner wrist.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests dressing infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn. Tight weaves are better than loose. Keep in mind that while baseball caps are cute, they don't shade the neck and ears, sensitive areas for a baby.
Summer's heat presents other challenges for babies.
Younger infants also don't sweat like we do, Sachs says. Sweat naturally cools the rest of us down when we're hot, but babies haven't yet fully developed that built-in heating-and-cooling system. So you want to make sure your baby doesn't get overheated.
In the heat, babies are also at greater risk of becoming dehydrated. To make sure they're adequately hydrated, offer them their usual feeding of breast milk or formula, says Sachs. The water content in both will help keep them well hydrated. A small of amount water in between these feedings is also okay.
Here are some things to keep in mind this summer when outside with infants:
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
June 20, 2012
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