We are all aware of the damage that the suns UV rays can do to our skin. For many years we’ve been educated to Slip, Slop & Slap. Now the advice has been expanded to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek & Slide;
- Slip on protective clothing
- Slop on sunscreen
- Slap on a hat
- Seek shade
- Slide on UV protective sunglasses
We know to do this for ourselves and for our kids, but what about babies? When is it safe to use sunscreen on a baby?
It’s important to note that an infant’s skin is different from an adult’s. Our bodies produce a pigment called melanin that protects our skin from ultraviolet damage but an infant produces less melanin than an adult which means that their skin will burn more quickly.
Also an infant’s skin is thinner than an adult and the top layer, called the epidermis, doesn’t bond as tightly to the layer below called the dermis. So unlike adult skin that has a tight seal between these layers, an infant’s skin is easier to pass. This is significant when also coupled with the fact that infants lack fully developed detoxification systems.
There are conflicting opinions among experts on what age a baby should be before using sunscreen. The Australasian College of Dermatologists says that because a young baby's skin tends to absorb more of any chemical applied compared to the skin of an older child, the use of sunscreen on young babies under the age of six months is not recommended.
Australian standards for sunscreen
The Australian standard for sunscreen allows a maximum sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 50. While this sounds like a significantly higher level of protection compared to an SPF30, the difference is less than you might think. An SPF 50 sunscreen will filter 98% of UV radiation while an SPF30 product filters 96.7%. That’s only a 1.3% difference between SPF 30 & 50.
All sunscreens with an SPF-claim above 15 must be registered and licenced by the TGA. This involves a series of stringent tests to prove the product’s efficacy and stability.
There have been many stories over the last 12 months of babies suffering inflamed red skin when exposed to the sun, despite the use of a high factor SPF sunscreen. Doctors believe that this may be due to these babies having an allergic reaction to one or more of the chemicals in the sunscreen used eg preservative, perfume or other fillers.
This highlights the issue that sunscreens in Australia do not have to list all of their ingredients on the packaging. In contrast, other body lotions, not listed with the TGA, e.g. after sun lotions must legally list all ingredients used.
Unlike many therapeutic lotions listed with the TGA, sunscreens are frequently used by most Australians. In fact most children of pre-school age will wear sunscreen on a daily basis. We believe that the TGA regulations should be updated to bring sunscreens in line with other body lotions, requiring all ingredients to be disclosed. This is the only way to ensure that parents know exactly what they are putting on their and their baby’s skin.
Consensus amongst experts
As Australians we are lucky to live in a country where the weather regularly invites us outdoors. Many Australians have a lifestyle that means sunscreen is a requirement even for the smallest member of the family.
Experts all agree that babies under 6 months should be kept out of the sun, especially during the hottest parts of the day, 10am – 2pm. However if sun exposure for a baby cannot be avoided use protective clothing and a sun hat, seek shade and choose a low irritant sunscreen, ideally with a physical active like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Physical actives provide protection from the sun by reflecting harmful rays away from the skin while chemical UV actives absorb these rays, converting them into heat. Chose Wotnot Naturals Baby Sunscreen for a soothing, 100% natural and toxin free solution to protect your baby from 3 months.
Avoid spray on sunscreen. Choose a lotion based sunscreen instead. Chemicals used in spray on sunscreen are not meant to be inhaled. Whilst an adult can understand this and not inhale while spraying, this may be more difficult for a child and certainly not practical for a baby.
Regardless of age or SPF used, expert all agree that sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours as it will will sweat and rub off over time.