Ask the expert: Do babies and toddlers need to use a sunscreen every day?

Ask the expert: Do babies and toddlers need to use a sunscreen every day?

Read on to know what Dr Sravya C Tipirneni, Consultant Dermatologist & Cosmetologist, at the Columbia Asia Hospital in Whitefield, Bangalore has to say about sun safety for kids.

All of us mothers make sure that we choose the right sunscreen for ourselves, one that contains the recommended SPF factor and the right ingredients. And we make sure that we do not step out of the house without wearing it, especially during the hot summer months.

But we often forget that our kids also need the same protection from the sun as we do. What's more, their skin is even more sensitive and more prone to sunburn than an adult skin.

"Children should not be getting sunburned at any age, especially since there are a range of very effective sun protection methods that can used, "says Dr Sravya C Tipirneni, Consultant Dermatologist & Cosmetologist, at the Columbia Asia Hospital in Whitefield, Bangalore.

In an effort to understand the basics of sun protection for kids and babies, theindusparent caught with Dr Tipirneni and asked him the many questions that most mums have on their minds. Here's what he had to say:

1. When is the right age for a baby to start using a sunscreen?

There are different precautions to be taken for infants, babies, toddlers and kids as a child's skin sensitivity differs.

Infants under 6 months: Infants under 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun. Their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen. An infant's skin possesses little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes and provides some sun protection. Therefore, babies are especially susceptible to the sun's damaging effects.

The following tips can be useful for infants under 6 months:

  • Use removable mesh window shields to keep direct sunlight from coming in through the windows of your car or invest in UV window film, which can screen almost 100 percent of ultraviolet radiation without reducing visibility.
  • Take walks early in the morning before 10am or after 4pm and use a stroller with a sun-protective cover.
  • Dress baby in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs.
  • Choose a wide-brimmed hat or bonnet that protects the baby's face, neck, and ears. A baby who wears a hat during the first few months will get used to having it on.

Ask the expert: Do babies and toddlers need to use a sunscreen every day?

Babies between 6-12 months:  Babies of this age group can safely use a sunscreen. However, it is important to understand which is the right brand for your child.

Apply broad-spectrum, SPF 15+ sunscreen to areas left uncovered such as baby's hands. Many companies have tear-free formulas that won't sting baby's eyes. He also recommends the following:

  • To avoid irritating your baby's skin and eyes, use a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Avoid using products that combine sunscreen and the insect repellent DEET, since sunscreen must be regularly reapplied and insect repellent typically doesn't need to be reapplied.
  • If you are using a spray sunscreen, it should not be applied directly to the face; sprays should be misted into the hands, and then spread on the face.

Toddlers/Pre-School Age: Protecting toddlers from the sun requires a little more thought and effort, which is why it is important to educate your child and caregivers.

Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF 15 or higher. Water-resistant, spray-on sunscreens are a good choice for toddlers who won't sit still. Here are a couple of other things that need to be kept in mind:

  • Spray sunscreens should not be applied directly to the face; sprays should be misted into the hands, then spread on the face.
  • Be especially careful to protect your child's shoulders and the back of their neck when they're playing, as these are the most common areas for sunburn.
  • Make sure your child seeks the shade between 10am and 4pm. Check the outdoor area where your child plays to make sure there is adequate shade.
  • Make sure toddlers are covered. Long-sleeved, unbleached cotton clothing is cool and comfortable, while also highly protective.
  • Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) listing on the label ( Some clothing Brands offer these; Relatively new in India) offers extra security.
  • Don't forget hats and sunglasses. Choose a wide-brimmed hat that protects face, neck, and ears.
  • With a little effort and planning, it's easy for young children to enjoy the outdoors safely, Parents need to make it a priority and to also lead by example.

2. What should parents be looking out for when buying a sunscreen for their child?

When choosing a sunscreen for your child, look for a product that has an SPF of at least 30 (preferably 40-50 for days at the beach, pool, or when your child will be outside for long periods of time).  If your child will be in water, make sure to choose a sunscreen that is labelled as "water resistant". Finally, look for a product that is labelled as "broad-spectrum", which means that it offers protection from a broader portion of the UVA/UVB spectrum.

To find a sunscreen that protects well from longer UVA rays, check the label for the presence of avobenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) or zinc oxide. Products marketed as "natural" are often mineral sunscreens, which use only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as their active ingredients.  These ingredients are known as physical filters; inert metals that sit on the skin and absorb, scatter or reflect light (in contrast to chemical filters such as avobenzone or octocrylene that absorb ultraviolet light and convert it to heat).

Ask the expert: Do babies and toddlers need to use a sunscreen every day?

While chemical filters can sometimes irritate sensitive skin and can rarely cause allergic reactions, physical filters have the advantage of being gentle, stable (meaning that they are not degraded by sunlight) and non-allergenic. They can be a good choice for young children (older than 6 months), and for those with eczema or sensitive skin. Their disadvantage lies with the fact that zinc oxide is a less efficient ingredient.

Continue reading on the next page to read about the foods that offer sun protection!

In general, a well-formulated "chemical" sunscreen will provide a higher degree of protection than most mineral sunscreens.

3. Any home-made alternatives that work like a sunscreen?

Dermatologists are issuing harsh warnings against making your own sunblock, as hundreds of DIY formulas make their way around the internet. Many bloggers who post the recipes claim that store-bought sunscreens contain harsh chemicals that could be as bad - if not worse - for you than the sun.

But there's no way to guarantee homemade concoctions offer broadband protection (that is, shield against wrinkle-inducing UVA rays as well as cancer-causing UVB-rays), or ensure that the SPF is high enough. Your own sunscreen is 'effectively putting your skin at risk .'

choosing the best sunscreen

Sunscreen companies formulate, test sunscreens to make sure they are stable and effective. Tests are conducted in the lab and on humans to ensure they provide broad-spectrum protection and that the ingredients remain stable and active when mixed together and exposed to heat and sun.

A quick Google or Pinterest search shows that many of the recipes call for various oils - like coconut, almond, rosehip and carrot seed oils - which can actually promote sunburns.  Oils 'can actually absorb light, making UV rays penetrate the skin more. That has the same effect as greasing up with baby lotion when you go to the beach.

4. How often should I use a sunscreen on my child?

Sunscreen must be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.

5. Besides a sunscreen, how can I protect my child from the harmful sun rays?

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about when and where you are at risk for harmful sun exposure. You don’t have to be at the beach under sunny skies to be exposed to those harmful UV raysYou are still exposed to dangerous UV rays when it’s overcast or cloudy. Just because it’s cold outside, you are still exposed to the sun

If you are around snow and/or water, your exposure may be even higher as the UV rays can reflect off these surfaces and onto your skin (think under your chin).

If you insist on not wearing sunscreen or protective clothing, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of skin damage and cancer:

  • Make sure you protect your lips by wearing a UVA-protective lip balm.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your most sensitive body part from exposure (your face).
  • Avoid the high UV hours of the day, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible. You can still enjoy the outdoors but do it under a covered area.
  • Eat more foods that provide sun protection.

Foods that offer sun protection

Yep, that’s right. The foods we eat can actually help to protect our skin from sun damage. It’s the antioxidants found in these specific foods that help fight the free radicals that build up from sun exposure. Free radicals can lead to wrinkles and premature aging, but more importantly, can lead to the formation of cancer cells.

Free radicals can lead to wrinkles and premature aging, but more importantly, can lead to the formation of cancer cells.

Ask the expert: Do babies and toddlers need to use a sunscreen every day?

The antioxidants found in certain foods can help to protect against free radical formation. Eat more of these 10 antioxidant rich foods for added skin protection:

  1. Tomatoes: Contain an antioxidant called lycopene which can provide protection against UV radiation.
  2. Watermelon: Also contains lycopene antioxidant protection.
  3. Fish: Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, and trout have anti-inflammatory compounds that have been shown to reduce free radical damage and even prevent some skin cancer.
  4. Dark chocolate: Yes!! The antioxidants called flavanoids in dark chocolate can help to protect the skin against sun damage and even prevent sunburns. Chocoholics rejoice!
  5. Leafy herbs and vegetables: Fresh herbs like basil, parsley, sage, and rosemary are jam packed with free radical fighting antioxidants. Leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, contain polyphenols and carotenoids which can protect the skin from the sun.
  6. Green tea: The fact that green teas start as leafy herbs means they are packed with antioxidants called polyphenols that have been shown to stop the progression of cancer by limiting the blood supply to the cancer cells.
  7. Red and orange vegetables: Colored vegetables such as carrots, squash, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene which has been linked to reduced reactions to sunburns.
  8. Berries: Blackberries, rasberries, black rasberries, strawberries, and blueberries all contain cancer-fighting antioxidants called anthocyanins which can slow down the growth of cancerous cells.
  9. Broccoli: Broccoli contains a high level of sulforaphane which boosts the body’s protective mechanisms and flush out cancer-causing chemicals. Sulforaphane can also be found in lower levels in cauliflower and cabbage
  10. Almonds: Almonds and sunflower seeds contain a lot of Vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant that can protect against sun damage. Add them to your salads or eat them as a snack.

Also read: 7 things to remember when choosing a sunscreen

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