Safe Sunscreen Tips for Babies

I thought was doing the right thing when I slathered Water Babies on my nine month old before buckling up her life jacket to go for a ride in her grandpa’s boat.

Everything seemed fine until the spray hit her face and made the sunscreen run into her eyes. Then the screaming ensued. At first I was completely baffled. Suspecting the sunscreen was the last thing on my mind. It’s made for babies, right? It comes highly recommended by many parents, and even this daycare owner swears by it. But after washing her face off completely, calming everyone down and doing some research later on my own, I did find that Water Babies has been known to be an irritant, especially if it gets in the eyes.

As a very fair skinned person with two extremely fair skinned children, I’m a strong proponent of sunscreen and always have been. But the little bit of research I did that day has helped me be even more aware of what steps I need to protect my children.

Getting the Right Product
Even though Water Babies did sting in the eyes, it’s a good brand from a long-standing sunscreen company, Coppertone. And I believe you can’t go wrong if you stick with a well-known brand. Now I just use a sunscreen made specifically for faces for all of us around our eyes.

But whatever sunscreen you decide to buy, there will be plenty of initials on it: SPF, UVA, UVB and maybe even PABA. Here’s a quick and dirty rundown of the basics you should look for.

SPF: The letters stand for “sunscreen protection factor” and it rates how efficient a sunscreen is in preventing a sunburn from UVB rays. For example, if you normally would burn in 10 minutes, but apply a sunscreen of SPF 15, you multiply 10 by 15 and you can go 150 minutes before burning.

UVA and UVB: These are two forms of ultra violet rays from the sun. UVB was also called the tanning ray because for years it was thought it was the only one that caused a reaction in the skin. These rays are strongest in the summer when the sun is closer to the earth. UVA rays also can cause damage to the skin, and they are the same strength year-round.

PABA: para-amino benzoic acid. This used to be a common ingredient in sunscreens because it helped with water resistance, but it is left out now after being found to cause skin allergies.

Since the SPF factor only rates how well a product protects against UVB rays, the key to getting protection from UVA as well is to look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that contains either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The other plus to these two ingredients is that they sit on top of the skin, rather than getting absorbed into the skin where they could cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Luckily there are plenty of good products on the market to choose from. Click here for the recommended list from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Proper Protection
Once you’ve purchased your sunscreen, following a few safety tips is the best way to ensure everyone has fun in the sun without getting burned.

* Put it on thick. Whether you use a lotion or a spray-on sunscreen, be sure to apply plenty of it all over your child’s body. This can be hard to do on a squirmy kid ready to hop in the pool. So kill two birds with one stone and put the sunscreen on at the house before you leave for the water or park. This way you’re not only able to get it on good, you’re also putting it on a half hour to an hour before the activity, as recommended.

* Reapply often. Even sunscreens that boast the water proof claim don’t stay effective forever. If you’re out in the sun for an extended period of time be sure to lather some more lotion on your family, about every two hours.

* Check the expiration dates. Just like medicine, the effectiveness of sunscreen can decrease over time. Toss out those half-used bottles from last year and buy some more, it’s worth the money.

* Cover up. There are some great new products out there for kids, clothing with sun protection built in. This helps solve the problem of application, as well as the sunscreen’s effectiveness in water. But don’t be fooled into thinking your kids are safe if you just throw a t-shirt on them. They average cotton t-shirt only has an SPF of 4. Most of the sun protective clothing for kids will have a UVP (ultraviolet protection) rating on the label.

* Avoid the peak sun times. The sun’s rays are their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so let your kids enjoy a cool indoor lunch, a nice nap, and some early-evening pool time. This way you avoid the camp kids, and added bonus at an already crowded pool.

* Infants: Kids’ skin is sensitive, but babies even more so. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping babies under six months old out of the sun. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to stay home. Invest in a sturdy stroller with a good shade, or stake out your place at the pool under one of those big umbrellas.

Arm yourself with some bottles of sunscreen, slather it on those little bodies, and get out and have some fun in our Carolina sun!

Karen M. Alley is web editor for Piedmont Parent magazine.