You probably know you need to protect your baby’s sensitive skin from the sun (especially if you’re living somewhere with a thinning ozone layer – we’re looking at you, Australia). But, especially if you’re new to mom-life, you might not know where to begin. Like, when can babies wear sunscreen?!
Let’s unpack how to protect your baby from the sun this summer, including why you need to and the different ways of doing so.
Baby skin and the sun: a 101
You know you need to safeguard your baby’s skin from the sun. But why, exactly?
Your baby’s skin is sensitive AF, and it can easily burn or become damaged by the sun, which can, in turn, increase their risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Yikes!
How to protect your baby’s skin
Surely, you just pop some sunscreen on, and you’re set, right? Sort of. There are two things you need to know:
- Experts recommend babies steer clear of the ‘screen until at least six months of age. Thanks to their sensitive skin, they’re at greater risk of experiencing sunscreen side effects, like rashes. So you’ll need to consider alternative methods of sun protection for babies under 6 months (more on this in a ‘mo).
- Even if your baby can wear sunscreen, it’s not 100 per cent effective on its own. Sunscreen filters the sun’s UV rays (more on these below) but doesn’t completely block them. So, it’s recommended you take multiple steps to look after your little one’s skin.
With this in mind, let’s delve deeper into the different methods of sun protection.
1. Be sun smart
Avoiding the sun is the best form of sun protection for babies (and for you, for that matter), particularly if your little one is under six months of age. So, let’s brush up on some sun smarts.
- Stay out of the sun when it’s at its strongest. This will help your baby to avoid skin damage and sunburn. Generally, the sun is at its peak between about 9 am and 4 pm, though the specific times might vary thanks to daylight savings, your location, or the season. Make your outdoor plans for before or after this time, if you can.
- Check the UV forecast if heading outdoors to know what kind of day it is. UV rays are a form of energy produced by the sun, and they are the leading cause of skin cancer. To help us know when it’s UV central outside, meteorologists created something called the UV index, which communicates the levels of UV and the risk to us. A UV forecast is reported for your area each day – this could be via an app like Weatherzone (which displays weather globally) or a weather service like the Bureau of Meteorology (or the EPA, if in the US). It’s wise to check the UV forecast before heading outdoors to know what you’re working with, sun-wise. If it’s a particularly UV-heavy day, you and your babe might choose to stay in.
- A cloudy day doesn’t mean the sun and its UV rays are away. No, ma’am. Your little one can still be exposed to those rays even if it’s not sunny outside, meaning – yes – they can get burnt if it’s cloudy, or even if the sun reflects onto their skin from a building, the water, sand, or even snow. So sun protection is a must year-round and in any weather, mama.
2. Apply sunscreen
If your babe is six months or over, it’s sunscreen time, mama. Here are some sunscreen basics:
- Apply sunscreen to any part of the body that’s going to see the sun. Especially parts that won’t be covered by a hat or clothes, like your little one’s hands, feet, legs, arms, neck, and face.
- Apply sunscreen liberally. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to themselves to actually provide protection. So you need to be mindful of this when putting sunscreen on your baby. There’s no specific guide we’ve found as to how much sunscreen you need to use on a baby, but as an idea, you need to use about a shot glass worth of it on yourself. Go figure.
- Use a sunscreen that’s SPF30 or higher, broad-spectrum (which means it’ll protect against UVA and UVB rays – yep, there are two types of UV rays), and water-resistant. To make sure you’re covering all your bases.
- Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you head outdoors. So it’s got time to absorb.
- Reapply sunscreen. Think every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming. Sunscreen can come off.
- Check if the sunscreen has an expiry date. The expiry date indicates when the sunscreen is no longer effective. If it’s out of date, be sure to pick up a new one.
And what is the best sunscreen for babies? A sunscreen that’s labeled as a baby sunscreen, as appropriate for sensitive skin, or that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide is the safest sunscreen for a baby and is less likely to irritate your little one’s skin. Happy Hours’ Protect Natural Sunscreen, which is reef, kid, and pregnancy-friendly, SPF50, broad-spectrum, and four hours water-resistant, is one of the best baby sunscreen products. Pro tip: keep a sunscreen at home and one in your diaper bag so you’re never caught out.
3. Wear sun-protective clothing
Making sure your little one is dressed appropriately is another way of preventing sunburn and skin damage at any age, particularly if under six months old when they’re not yet ready for sunscreen. The aim of the game is to cover up as much of their skin as you can while still keeping them temperate. So examples of baby sun protection clothing include:
- Longer sleeve pants and shirts, made from cotton and looser in fit. Think breathable fabrics, mama.
- A wide-brim hat. These are the best type of sun protection hat, and you can buy some really adorable ones for babies.
- Sunglasses. We know these are f*cking hard to keep on a baby, but if your little one will wear ‘em, pop ‘em on.
- A surf shirt or surf suit. These are an easy way to protect your baby when swimming, and many are UPF rated.
UPF stands for ‘ultraviolet protection factor’, and it refers to how much UV radiation a fabric allows to reach the skin. Tightly woven, darker, and loose-fitting fabrics offer more protection from the sun and have a higher UPF rating than loosely woven, light, and tight-fitting fabrics. Some clothing brands offer a selection of UPF-rated clothing; others, like Solbari (AU) and Mott50 (US), sell only UPF-rated clothing (and it’s all stylish AF).
4. Seek shade
If you are heading outdoors, keeping your babe in the shade can drastically reduce their UV exposure at any age, especially if they’re under six months of age and unable to wear sunscreen. But what’s a mama to do if there’s no shade where you’re heading? Well, you make your own. Here are three ideas for baby sun protection gear:
- A tent, shelter, or umbrella. If heading to the park or the beach (like, for a mom-group catch up). There are options that are UPF-rated.
- A pram canopy or shade cloth. If you’re out and about. You can readily buy these at baby stores and online, and for a wide range of prams. And yes, there are UPF-rated options.
- Window shades. If in the car – yes, UV rays can filter through car windows, too. Installing sunshades over the windows can help shelter your little one when on the move. And – you guessed it – there are options that are UPF-rated.
One last thing: while keeping your babe safe from the sun is paramount, they do actually need a little (emphasis on little!) sun to help their ‘bod make vitamin D, which is vital for strong bones and muscles. But, this only needs to be a few minutes a day, always with sun protection, and out of direct sunlight.
Safeguarding your baby’s skin while still ensuring they get the sun they need seems like a mammoth task (on top of, oh, trying to figure out your baby’s sleep, what to feed them, and so much more). We get it. But the above tips will have you set – and they’re good practice for looking after your own skin, too.