Q: Help! I'm so confused about what sunscreen to use on my baby. Got any tips on how to choose one?
A: Sure, but firstly, how old is your baby? Because if he’s younger than 6 months, sunscreen shouldn’t be your first line of defense. For babies this young, other means of protection is key — like clothing that covers his whole body, a big canopy on his stroller, a nice big sun hat, or all of the above. Then, minimal amounts of sunscreen can be used on the uncovered parts, like the backs of his hands.
If he’s older than 6 months, then there are oodles of choices, but the jury is still out on which one is really the best. There are two basic kinds of sunscreen — ones with chemical ingredients (like oxybenzone) and ones with mineral ingredients (like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide). In the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 sunscreen guide, all of their most recommended sunscreens are the mineral kind, because of potential “hormone disruptors” in the chemical kind.
My favorite on their list is California Baby, which doesn’t feel too greasy going on and doesn’t cause my son’s sensitive skin to break out in a rash.
My dermatologist recommends Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby for my son’s sensitive skin, and that’s one of the ones to avoid on the Environmental Working Group’s list. See, as much positive press as the EWG’s study is getting, there are those who say the study is unreliable.
My take? There are a few tried-and-true tips that you should keep in mind to help protect your baby’s skin no matter what sunscreen you choose.
If you’re taking your baby to the beach or going swimming, put your child in a rash guard. A rash guard is almost like a wetsuit, but lighter and with built-in protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Some uber-cute ones to try are the sunsuits from iPlay, which will keep your child looking fashionable and keep you looking smart.
For the uncovered areas, make sure to keep reapplying sunscreen every couple of hours when you’re outside, even if you’re using a sunscreen with a high SPF. High SPF numbers, which only protect against the sun’s UVB rays, can be misleading and cause people to use less sunscreen less often.
Also, look for sunscreen that also protects against the sun’s UVA rays, which can be even more dangerous than UVB. The FDA is working on new guidelines that would require all sunscreens to have a UVA rating (one to four stars) next to the SPF rating so that you would know exactly what kind of protection you’re getting. Unfortunately, those guidelines haven’t taken effect. For this summer season, you just have to rely on the words on the bottle, which usually say something like “broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection.”
Finally, there is no better sun protection for your baby than simply staying in the shade, covering up, and keeping him inside during the hottest hours of the day. And remember this: Your baby may grimace and squirm while you slather on the sunscreen now, but he’ll thank you later when he understands just what a wonderful thing you’re doing for him.
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