by Amanda Black | staff writer and editor for The Snap Mom
The AAP, FDA, and other organizations recommend that the first line of defense against harmful rays for infants under 6 months (but really for everyone) is protective clothing and limiting time in the sun between 10am – 3pm. They say that you can use minimal sunscreen on small infants if you absolutely need to… but I never felt comfortable with that because of the amount of harsh ingredients found in sunscreen! Many of these ingredients (oxybenzone, octinoxate, Padimate O/PABA) are absorbed through the skin, accumulate in the body, and may disrupt hormone activity. I avoid these for myself too, especially when pregnant and breastfeeding (really, who needs more potential hormone complications?!).
There is some debate as to whether or not sunscreen can actually prevent skin cancer, and that it may also be heavily influenced by genetics, diet (including vitamin d), and sunburns (not just sun exposure). Some studies have suggested that key sunscreen ingredients may actually break down into free radicals when the sun penetrates and hits them. Free radicals cause damage to cells in the body and may lead to cancer! You can fight them with antioxidants (both topical and dietary).
The flip side of this is that the sun is one of the best and easiest ways to get vitamin D (an essential nutrient!). The UVB rays that burn you are the same ones that cue the production of vitamin D. If you can’t get burned, you can’t make vitamin D. Windows, sunscreen, and clouds (to some percent) all block UVB rays. However, you can avoid being burned and still make vitamin D. Vitamin D primarily regulates calcium and immune function.
The bottom line is that there are better ways for *all* of us, but especially 0-6 month old infants, to protect from harmful sun rays (between 10am – 3 pm) AND …
- The basics: http://thesnapmom.com/
- Get time in the sun a few times each week *with* bare skin and no sunscreen. If you’re in a higher latitude, you should aim for each day during summer.
- Know your personal (and your kids) individual “sun limit.” Infants have more sensitive skin, so account for that, but each person will have an amount of time that it takes them to burn (genetics, skin type, latitude). I have a fair complexion and it takes me about 30-45 minutes to burn in the middle of the day. Therefore, I know that if I’ll be out in those hours for more than about 20 minutes, I need to take other precautions. I assumed my daughter was half of mine when she was little, so I did about 10 minutes a day without worry. Now that I know she has my husband’s darker skin type, she can actually stay out longer than me without burning.
- Plan to be outside around those key times! Before 10 am and after 3 pm leaves a lot of daylight hours (roughly 8 hours in the summer!) to plan fun events. If you aren’t going out during key hours, you really don’t need to take many precautions as the UV index is low.
- Check your UV index: The Weather Channel app (or others) will give you a current estimate of the UV index (see picture). The scale is 1- 11+. I don’t burn from 1-4 no matter how long I’ve been out. Learn your limits. UV rays are stronger in the summer than the winter. During the heart of winter, my “shade hours” shrink to 11 am – 1pm, and I’m in Florida.
Choosing a Sunscreen: Zinc Oxide
You have so many options for sun protection (see above!), but if you need to choose a sunscreen for minimal use, choose one that uses Zinc Oxide. Zinc oxide, though notoriously harder to rub in, gives the widest range of UV protection and mostly *does not absorb* into the skin. If you DIY, there is some risk to inhaling it, but otherwise, it is a fairly safe protectant with a long history of safety! There are low-risk sunscreens with Titanium Oxide and Avobenzone, but I feel the research supports Zinc Oxide as the best option of these. I would feel comfortable with a low-risk sunscreen from probably 3 months and on if needed (though I think it’s likely safe for under 3 months, I just tend toward extreme caution on *anything* for that newborn age).
Being in the sun lifts spirits (may help protect against mild depression) and provides vitamin D. The biological norm would be to get vitamin D from the sun, but we must also be balanced in our approach. As usual, the answer is in moderation!
Easy to find Store Brands (please still check ingredients and EWG ratings): Badger, California Baby, Earth’s Best, Honest Company, Babyganics Mineral-Based.
DIY option: http://thesnapmom.com/
EWG Sunscreen Report: http://www.ewg.org/
About the author
Amanda is a SAHM and teacher who loves The Snap Mom mission, National Parks, and outdoor living.