Looking for the best sunscreen for your baby? Check out our complete guide on different kinds of sunscreens and how to choose the Best Sunscreen For Kids.
[UPDATE] This post was updated on 31 March 2019.
Children’s skin is more susceptible to sunburn than adults and using sunscreen is an absolute necessity for them. Especially when you consider how hot Indian summers can get, with temperatures going up to 40 degrees Celsius. Exposure to such extreme heat can cause sunburn, which makes the skin red and angry, or even causing fever and headache in severe cases. Applying a sunscreen with adequate SPF helps combat this to a great extent.
Can I use sunscreen for my Baby?
Sunscreen a must have during summer, but the requirements are different for infants under 6 months as well as babies over 6 months and kids.
For Babies under 6 Months:
Up until a few years ago, sunscreen was not recommended for babies under 6 months and parents were advised to cover the infant to keep away the sun. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a recent recommendation which mentions that when adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 on small areas, such as the infant’s face and the back of the hands.
For Babies over 6 Months:
Babies over 6 months can use sunscreen more liberally, and it can be applied over all exposed parts of the body. For babies over 6 months, it’s better to be safe than sorry – so it’s better to apply a little more than you think is needed.
There is some concern that sunscreens can reduce levels of Vitamin D in the skin. 90-95% of our Vitamin D is produced in the skin on exposure to sunlight and only a small amount is from food. A Vitamin D deficiency can cause weak bones and fatigue, and even rickets in severe cases. To avoid this, it’s recommended to get some amount of sun exposure during early mornings before 9:00 AM and during late evenings, after 4:00 PM.
What is SPF?
SPF refers to Sun Protection Factor and is a term that’s tossed around a lot when it comes to sunscreens. It can take anything between 5-30 minutes of sun exposure to get sunburnt without sunscreen. In extreme heat, we are exposed to both UV A and UV B rays, and SPF is a measure of how much protection the sunscreen offers against UV B rays.
More specifically, SPF tells us how long it’ll take for UV B rays to penetrate through the sunscreen and cause sunburn, compared to if there is no sunscreen. This means that if it takes 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to get sunburn, a sunscreen of SPF 30 will extend this time to 30 times more, i.e. 300 minutes or 5 hours.
SPF ranges from 1-90, dividing sunscreens into four levels:
- SPF 4, 6, 8, 10 – Low
- SPF 15, 20, 25 – Medium (Blocks 93% UV B rays)
- SPF 30, 40, 50 – High (Blocks 97% UV B rays)
- SPF 50+ – Very High (Blocks 98% UV B rays)
An SPF of 15-50 is ideal. An SPF over 50 is less effective and one less than 15 does not offer broad spectrum protection.
Myths about Sunscreens
1. A smaller quantity of a higher SPF product is enough.
Most people tend to use only half or quarter of the required amount of sunscreen. To ensure adequate protection, it’s better to go for a little extra sunscreen. An ounce of sunscreen is recommended for the average adult, regardless of SPF.
2. Applying sunscreen in the morning offers day long protection.
Whatever the SPF of your sunscreen is, the fact is that it loses its effectiveness after two hours. This is why experts recommend reapplying sunscreen every two hours or sooner if swimming or sweating a lot.
3. Sunscreen offers complete protection from sunburn.
While sunscreen certainly offers a degree of protection, it is by no means complete. In fact, other measures like staying in the shade and covering exposed skin may be more important in protecting skin from sunburn.
4. A higher SPF means more time in the sun.
While higher SPF sunscreens do offer more protection, it does not enable a person to spend more time in the sun. In any case, it is best to minimize sun exposure, especially between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
Types of Sunscreens
Physical sunscreens are also referred to as barrier creams, sunblocks or mineral sunscreens. The reason is that they sit on top of the skin as a layer, blocking the sun’s rays without penetrating into the skin and blood stream. They contain minerals like zinc oxide or titanium oxide as active ingredients and these reflect the sun’s rays from the surface of the skin.
If properly applied, physical sunscreens last longer than chemical sunscreens. Since they aren’t absorbed by the skin, they are a better choice for babies, young children and those with sensitive skin. Due to their barrier nature, physical sunscreens are usually thicker, and have to be applied carefully to ensure every inch of exposed skin is covered.
Chemical sunscreens or non-mineral sunscreens are absorbed into the skin. On encountering the sun’s rays, the compounds in the sunscreen convert it to heat and release it from the skin. Active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.
Due to their being absorbed into the skin, chemical sunscreens are not advised for infants. Besides, they can clog pores and irritate sensitive skin. Chemical sunscreens lose their effectiveness faster and need more frequent reapplication.
How to Choose the Best Sunscreen for Kids
1. Get the right SPF. SPF refers to Sun Protection Factor, and this number indicates the level of protection the sunscreen offers. A sunscreen with SPF 15 can block about 93% of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%. Sunscreens with SPF over 50 are less effective, providing only slightly better protection with an unbalanced protection against UV B and UV A ray. SPF 15 is ideal for babies and young kids.
2. Go Broad. A broad spectrum sunscreen is one that protects the skin from both UV A and UV B rays. These sunscreens offer all round protection in intense heat and are the ideal option for complete sun cover.
3. Skip the sprays. Sunscreen sprays or aerosols are best avoided since they may pose inhalation risks. Besides, sprays don’t offer a thick and even enough coating to protect against the sun’s rays and over-spraying can lead to unnecessary wastage.
4. Choose mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens are also known as barrier sunscreens and are recommended since they do not penetrate skin. Babies and young children have thinner skin, which means any product that is applied can get absorbed into the body very quickly. Get a sunscreen with active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide. In case you have to get a non mineral or chemical sunscreen, choose one with Avobenzone as the active ingredient, since it reduces UV A damage that can lead to skin cancer.
5. Check the ingredients. Read the ingredient list carefully. Avoid any product with Oxybenzone in the active ingredients, as well as anything with Retinyl palmitate, retinol or vitamin A. Also make sure the sunscreen does not contain any fragrance, usually listed at the bottom of the ingredient list.
6. Skip the repellent. Some sunscreens come with in built insect repellents and while they may seem like an optimum solution, they tend to decrease the effectiveness of the SPF. If you need protection from bugs, apply a separate insect repellent or go for a kind that can be rolled or sprayed on clothes instead of skin.
Since there are so many brands of sunscreen out there, it can get confusing to know which one’s the right pick for your child. As with everything else, the best thing to do here is to read the label in detail and make an informed decision. Check out our post on the best sunscreens for babies and kids to help you choose the right one for your child.