Safe Sunscreen for Babies: The Most Important Thing You Need to Know

mother and son in parkI just learned some very important information about babies and sunscreen and I need to share it with everyone ... especially my in-laws. We have a vacation planned with them this summer. I'm half excited, half fearing it.

They mean well, are very in love with "our twins" as they call them, but they aren't exactly up to date in the baby department. I'd bet they bring some DEET bug spray and chemical-filled sunscreen for the babies thinking they are helping out. And yes, this is the same step-mother-in-law who dumped my breast milk when they visited earlier in the year. I already had to get rid of the plastic BPA bottles they gave us.


So we plan on telling them how we like to do things this time. Nicely, of course. And the only reason we didn't the last time they came to town is because ... well, I was only four weeks postpartum and was still recovering and getting used to my new life. Now I'm armed with info and the one very important thing you need to know when using sunscreen on babies.

Dr. Dominika Wittek is one of the pediatricians at Tribeca Pediatrics, where I take my babies. She shared that there are two types of sunscreens: chemical and mineral ones.

"The mineral sunblocks are Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, which generally do not penetrate the skin and offer protection against UVA and UVB. The chemical sunscreens, like oxybenzone, penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. Oxybenzone has a questionable safety profile (possible interference with hormones and possibly causing allergies). The much safer ingredient is avobenzone or octisalate."

This is good information not just for babies -- but all of us. Dr. Wittek suggests checking out the Environmental Working Group's website (the one I use when looking up cosmetics) for more information about what products contain ingredients that are safe for baby and your family.

I personally wouldn't use sunscreen on my babies when they were under 6 months old -- actually for me, it's 7 months since they were born a month early and I adjust their age. I instead limit their sun exposure and keep them covered with an protective umbrella or canopy over the stroller. And cute wide brim hats.

The doctor also has a few other suggestions:

  • In infants less than 6 months, when adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF.
  • On both sunny and cloudy days use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater that protects against UVB and UVA rays.
  • Be sure to apply enough sunscreen -- about one ounce per sitting for a young adult.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Use extra caution near water and sand (and even snow) as they reflect UV rays and may result in sunburn more quickly.
  • SPF does not measure the protection against UVA, which causes skin aging and cell damage that can lead to skin cancer. So watch out for products with a good UVA protection in addition to a SPF of 15+.
  • And ... don't worry about vitamin D deficiency: 15 minutes of sun exposure per day without sunscreen is sufficient for the skin to produce the necessary amount of vitamin D.

Have you heard about the dangers of oxybenzone?


Image via Michele Zipp

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