FDA: Avoid Putting Sunscreen on Infants If Possible, Instead Opt for Shade

Baby's skin is much thinner than that of older children and adults, and it absorbs the chemical ingredients in sunscreen more easily

FDA: Avoid Putting Sunscreen on Infants If Possible, Instead Opt for Shade
Image: Pixabay
May 14, 2018

You're at the beach or pool, 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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun," Dr. 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 typically recommended for children and adults. So what makes babies so different?

Chemicals Pose Greater Risk to Infants

According to the FDA, a baby's skin is much thinner than that of older children and adults, and it absorbs the active chemical ingredients in sunscreen more easily. Infants also have a high surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults.

Both of these factors mean that an infant's exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens is much greater, increasing the risk of an allergic reaction or inflammation.

Always Opt for Shade when possible

The best protection, says Dr. Sachs, is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible. 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, the FDA recommends applying a small amount of sunscreen, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, to small areas such as the baby's cheeks and back of the hands. Before you do so, test your baby's sensitivity to sunscreen by first trying a small amount on the inner wrist.

Dress Appropriately

Before heading out into the sun, 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.

In addition to the risk of sunburn, the FDA points out that summer's heat also presents other challenges and potential dangers for babies. While sweat naturally cools the rest of us down when we're hot, 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.

Risk of Dehydration

In the summer heat, babies are also at greater risk of becoming dehydrated. To make sure they're adequately hydrated, the FDA recommends offering them their usual feeding of breast milk or formula. The water content in both will help to keep them well hydrated. A small of amount water between these feedings is also okay.

Sun Safety TIps for Infants

Here are some things to keep in mind this summer when outside with infants younger than 6 months:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Consult your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it's so sheer that you can see through it, it probably doesn't offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn't show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
  • Hydrate! Give your child formula or breast milk if you're out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don't forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.