How to choose and use sunscreen for your child
Created by Ankita A Talwar Updated on Jun 06, 2020
If you thought the debate about the daycare versus nanny was enough to confuse you, wait till you hear the fellow mommies discuss out using sunscreen on children. What to use, when to use? Whether to use it in winter also? Will it interfere with the absorption of Vitamin D are some issues parents will keep discussing on and on? These are some questions that we attempt to answer through this blog.
Will my baby’s skin still be exposed to the damaging rays of the sun on cooler winter days?
During the summer the sun’s rays reach us through a more direct angle with less atmospheric layers to filter through than in winter. These atmospheric layers, thicker in winter, absorb quite a bit of the sun’s radiation including the Ultraviolet rays—both the UVA and UVB rays. This brings us to the crucial point, that though the sun feels comparatively less warmer in winter, it does not mean it is devoid of the ultraviolet rays. They are very much there even in winter, even on foggy days.
What causes more damage? UVA or UVB?
Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer wave UV ray that causes lasting skin damage, skin aging, and can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the shorter wave UV ray that causes sunburns, skin damage, and can cause skin cancer.
But our skin makes Vitamin D from the sun?
Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with a certain element in the skin. However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many," says a study done at the New York University Medical Center. After reaching the production limit, further exposure exposes your skin to more damage than good.
Also, given the high levels of air pollution, it is really debatable whether the UVB rays are infact reaching us or not and how much can our skin synthesize. Infact, the Skin Cancer Foundation says that on cloudy and polluted days, it is the UVB penetration that gets limited.
What about using a sunscreen to protect the skin?
As specified earlier, even a few minutes of mid-day sun ideally should be enough for the body to make Vitamin D, but given all the limiting factors, eventually starting on supplements should be a good idea (consult your doctor on this). But what is also essential is protecting your skin from short-term damages—sunburn, heat rashes etc—and long-term damages such as pre-mature aging.
Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB. The SPF – or Sun Protection Factor – of a sunscreen is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here's how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer – about five hours. And therefore, if you plan to stay out in the sun longer, you will need to reapply the sunscreen.
But now more advanced versions of sunscreens have come out—the broad spectrum sunscreen that prevent both the UVA and the UVB rays from damaging the skin. These are the ones recommended by most dermatologists too.
Is sunscreen good for my baby?
Though it is now recommended that you can start using sunscreen on a baby after 6 months, the jury is still out on this one! Sunscreen is a cocktail of chemicals that exposes the young skin to rashes and skin allergies. Children’s skin is thinner than ours and absorbs chemicals much more.
Therefore it is suggested that for very young children, physical barriers such as scarves, umbrellas, broad rimmed hats, gloves, hoods of prams etc be used to keep the sun out. Also, avoid taking the baby out during the peak noon hours when the sun is at its peak.
But once children get older, spend more time outdoors, play sports outdoors etc., they can do with a sunscreen to protect their gentle skins from getting burnt, red and painful. A sunburnt skin turns red and gradually scaly and peels off painfully. If you notice this on your toddlers skin, it is time to use a sunscreen.
Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure. So, if your child’s skin looks “a little pink” today, it may be burned tomorrow morning.
What sunscreen should I pick for my child?
1) For sensitive children skin, instead of picking a commercial beauty cream, pick up a specialized product from the chemists shop.
2) Choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are safe on sensitive skins. Most zinc oxide based sunscreen will be pasty in their texture and will not glide over the skin as smoothly as a commercial beauty sunscreen would.
3) Avoid the sunscreen with ingredient para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and oxybenzone because of concerns about mild hormonal properties
4) Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 (up to SPF 50). An SPF of 15 or 30 should be fine for most people.
5) Pick a sunscreen that is hypoallergenic (meaning non-allergic), free of any colour or perfume.
Lastly, ask your paediatrician or a dermatologist to recommend a good sunscreen for your baby is you notice redness of skin after being outdoors or you anticipate long outdoor hours for your child.
How to use a sunscreen?
1) Put sunscreen on 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. It needs time to absorb into the skin.
2) Use sunscreen any time you or your child spend time outdoors. Remember that you can get sunburn even on cloudy days
3) Reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel.
4) Avoid contact with eyes and lips to protect the child from licking it.
5) Do a patch test on the child first
Lastly, do remember
1) Over-doing anything is not good. Though sunscreens are recommended extensively, over using, can cause damage too. So sporadic episodes of unprotected exposure to the sun should be okay.
2) Always check with your dermatologist or a doctor to get an opinion before starting your child on anything new
3) Sunscreen can only protect the skin but that should not mean that if you have applied sunscreen, you can let the child be outdoors for long hours in the sun. Sun can cause many other damages to the child too such as heatstroke, fainting etc.
4) Physical barriers such as clothing, hats, umbrellas, etc are the safest way to protect your baby from sun. Use them. Also, keep the child indoors during peak sun hours.
5) Keeping the child outdoors or indoors is no indicator of how much Vitamin D the skin is processing. Ideally, get your child tested for Vitamin D deficiency and if deficient, start on supplements or food sources.
A well balanced approach to any child related product is the key to happy parenting!