With the summer season fast approaching and parents wondering if they need sunscreen for their babies and children, we’ve put together a simple sun care guide. You’ll find answers to the top questions parents are asking and our recommendations for the safest and most effective sunscreens.

Strike a Balance: Sunbathe for Vitamin D but Prioritize Avoiding Sunburn 

We are all aware that too much sun exposure, leading to repeated sunburns, can be harmful and may increase the risk of skin cancer in some people. However we also have to keep in mind the importance of sunshine: sunshine is life giving, stimulates all sorts of metabolic processes within the human body, including the all important synthesis of Vitamin D3 which is only possible via regular and sensible sun exposure. Unfortunately, millions of U.S. children are low in Vitamin D.

Consider building up your child’s tolerance to the sun to avoid sunburn. Start with sensible sun exposure in the Spring or if it’s already Summer, start with short exposures and slowly increase the time they spend in the sun. If you don’t have a chance to slowly build up their tolerance before a full beach or pool day is upon you, you can always let them play in the sun for 15-20 minutes and then have them cover up or apply sunblock. Of course, specific recommendations for how long or how often depend on many factors one of which is a child’s skin color and characteristics. Are they fair-skinned and tend to burn? Or brunette and rarely burn? The Vitamin D Council is a great resource for more information on this topic.

If you are concerned that your child isn’t getting enough Vitamin D, as it is not easily found in food, a wise choice would be to supplement. You can read more about why it’s so critical for children in SafBaby Expert Dr. Murray Clarke’s article “Vitamin D: Essential To A Child’s Health.” Our Safbaby Shop carries Dr. Clarke’s award-winning line of children’s supplements, ChildLife Essentials which includes a liquid Vitamin D3 supplement for children ages 1-12 and an organic liquid Vitamin D3 from birth to age 12.

Just like most aspects of life, balance is the key word with sunshine – the right amount to receive all the life giving benefits without overdoing it and risking sunburn. The following suggestions and recommendations are made based on this understanding.

Think Coverage Before Sunscreen

Does sunscreen alone provide enough protection from UV rays? No. In fact, sunscreens are shown to only be able to provide partial protection. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “limiting sun exposure and wearing protective clothing are more important.”

What are the best ways to protect babies under 6 months from sun damage?

  • Sun avoidance.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible. If you are planning to be outside with your baby, make sure to put a wide brim hat on their head, clothing that covers all of their skin and sunglasses.  

Our SafBaby Shop carries a GOTS-certified, organic cotton wide-brimmed sun hat shown here that is perfect for the sun (ages newborn to 24 months).

  • If there are areas of skin that are going to be exposed to the sun and you have no other way of covering it, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that a sunscreen should be applied. But, choose a safe sunscreen.

What are the best ways to protect babies over 6 months of age and children?

  • Keep babies and children in the shade as much as possible.
  • Put tightly woven clothing on your baby or child to provide protection.
  • Make sure they wear a hat with a wide brim (at least 3 inches). To keep hats on, choose one with a chin strap. Older children may want to wear baseball style hats, but the back of their necks will need to be covered or sunscreen applied.
  • Use a safe sunscreen and apply to all exposed skin. Reapply as needed.
  • Be aware that surfaces can reflect UV rays and cause sunburn. These surfaces can include sand, cement sidewalks, snow, lightly-colored outside walls and being near or in water.
  • Avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm. (Although some doctors advise that the best time to optimize vitamin D levels via sun exposure is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. from March through October.)
  • If your child is in daycare, check if personnel apply sunscreen. Request that they use the one you provide to make sure it is safe and effective.

Opt For Sun Protection Swimwear

One of the best ways to provide coverage at the beach or pool is with sun protection swimwear. Sun protection swimwear with UVA and UVB coverage is available, but many companies add chemicals to the clothing. The EWG recommends rash guards (sun protection shirts) because of research findings that a water resistant sunscreen will not provide enough coverage.

Snapper Rock makes fun sun protection swimwear for babies, toddlers, children and adults. They advertise that “all Snapper Rock swimwear has a UPF rating of 50+,  blocking 98% of all harmful rays. No chemicals or treatments are added to the fabric to provide the rating.” Lightweight and breathable, Snapper Rock makes a variety of swim suits and sun protection wear in colorful and fun styles. Check out their hats for even better coverage.

Ecostinger makes sun protection swimwear for toddlers, children and adults. According to their site, they do not apply chemicals to the fabric to block the sun. Instead it is the quality of the polyester/PBT fabric and the way it is produced and knitted that blocks >97.5% of the sun UVA and UVB radiation. Lightweight, breathable, chlorine resistant and made in Italy, sizes start at Size 2.

What is the safest and most effective sunscreen?

We recommend only using a “physical” block sunscreen – one that doesn’t allow UV rays to penetrate the skin. In this category, the choice is between zinc oxide and titanium oxide. However, the safest and most effective physical block sunscreen is zinc oxide because it provides better UVA protection than titanium oxide.

If you choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide, you are on the way to avoiding all the other chemicals and ingredients that can cause harm rather than protect. This includes chemical sunscreens using oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and all spray sunscreens.

Never use spray sunscreens even if they have zinc oxide. There are inhalation risks, concerns about their coverage and the FDA has yet to make a determination about their safety.

SafBaby’s Recommended Sunscreen

Keys Solar Rx – This sunscreen has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports and offers UVA and UVB protection with 20.5% uncoated nano zinc oxide as its active ingredient (~25 nm). (See information on nanoparticles below). It is vegan, gluten-free, chemical-free, not tested on animals and made in the USA. This is not a product for extreme hot weather, sports or swimming but daily use.

Other Ingredients: organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, organic jojoba oil and sunflower vitamin E, shea butter, avocado fruit oil, black seed oil, carrot seed oil, vegetable glycerin USP, red palm vegetable wax, aloe vera, blood orange essential oil, clary sage essential oil, rosemary essential oil.

The EWG rates products from 1 to 10 with 1 being the best score and 10 the worst. Keys Solar Rx has a 1 rating.

SafBaby favicon 32Recommended by Mary Cordaro, SafBaby’s Healthy Building, Indoor Environmental and Product Expert and Certified Baubiologist.

I’ve read that Nanoparticles are not safe.  Is that true?

There is a lot of misinformation about nanoparticles. First, it is important to understand that all nanoparticles are not alike. For example, nano zinc oxide is a very different material than nano silica. We’re limiting the research referenced here to nano zinc oxide and nano titanium oxide.

There are now over 500 research studies that have not been able to produce any evidence that zinc oxide or titanium oxide nanoparticles are being absorbed. (SCCS 2013) (Nanoderm 2013) (Sadrieh 2010).

In 2012, Europe’s SCCS (European Committee on Consumer Safety) approved the use of nano zinc in European suncreens.  Note that they do not allow its use in sprays or powders. The Australian Government Department of Health also approved its use. (TGA 2013).

After reviewing all of the research, the EWG states that “at present, all available evidence suggests that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be safely used in sunscreen lotions applied to healthy skin. Unlike other consumer products with nanomaterials, sunscreens play an important role in cancer prevention.”

What about high SPF’s?  Don’t sunscreens with the highest SPF provide the best and longest protection?

This is the most misunderstood issue about sunscreens. Unfortunately, it leads people to believe that they are protected. In fact, it led the FDA to create new regulations for sunscreens and they are considering ending the marketing claims of SPF’s above 50+.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and only relates to UVB radiation which causes the top layers of the skin to get burned. Of greater concern are UVA rays which penetrate much deeper, are known to compromise the immune system and linked to serious skin cancers.

Choose a sunscreen with broad spectrum coverage that will protects against both UVA and UVB. Those with SPF factors above 50 are not recommended.

See For Yourself

Watch this surprising video as an ultraviolet camera reveals sun-damaged skin and how sunscreens create a barrier to the sun.