Until you baby is at least six months of age, you will need to take great care to ensure that she is not exposed to any more than a few minutes of sun each day. Her thin, delicate skin is extremely sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays, yet too fragile to handle the ingredients in sunscreen, even a nontoxic variety.
After six months, you can cautiously use sunscreen to protect her from the sun. Still, you may be surprised to learn that your favorite brand of sunscreen may not be as effective as you thought.
In fact, an extensive sunscreen survey, conducted by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, found that of the 1,026 sunscreen brands tested, 86 percent offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. Here's how to choose an effective, safe, sunscreen to protect your baby.
Friction between baby's clothing and skin, or where areas of skin rub together, may cause chafing. Chafed skin may be tender and look red and irritated. Remove clothing that is tight or rubs against your baby's skin. And be sure to keep spots that are prone to chafing, like under the chin and around the genitals, clean and dry.
Chemical versus Mineral
Chemical-based sunscreens are designed to absorb the sun's rays with compounds such as benzophenone, homosalate, padimate-0, parsol 1789 (avobenzone), and octyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate). Unfortunately, these chemicals are as bad as they sound.
For starters, they have been linked to health effects such as hormonal changes and DNA damage. In addition, most chemical sunscreens only protect against the sun's UVB rays (the cause of sunburns) not its UVA rays (those responsible for skin cancer and accelerated aging).
While sunscreen is a good way to protect your baby's skin, an even better bet is to avoid sun exposure whenever possible. Keep your baby out of direct sunlight when the sun's rays are strongest (between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.). When she is out in the sun, make sure she wears a hat at all times and protective clothing.
Mineral sunblocks that use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are a better choice for sun protection because they block both UVB and UVA rays. They are healthier than chemical formulas because they are designed to lay on top of the skin rather than being absorbed into it. But because of this, they leave a layer of white on the skin. (Ever see a lifeguard with a white nose? That's mineral sunblock.)
The Nano Effect
In an effort to minimize this white-nose effect, some mineral sunscreen manufacturers are using formulas containing nanometer-sized particles of their chemical components. This allows the product to be absorbed into the skin more readily (so that it becomes transparent); however, titanium and zinc oxide are two chemicals that you really don't want to absorb into your skin. For instance, unlike larger particles of titanium oxide, nanoparticles can enter the bloodstream and damage brain cells.
Choose Healthier Ingredients
There are lots of sunscreens out there that claim to be natural or to contain organic ingredients. But many still contain parabens, preservatives, and petroleum byproducts. Look for sunscreen products that are preservative-free or those with milder preservatives such as potassium sorbate. And choose products that use natural emollients such as olive oil, sunflower, jojoba, shea butter, or cocoa butter instead of petroleum.
The Bottom Line
Sun protection is not something you want to do without. Just keep it healthy by choosing a mineral-based sunblock that aims for transparency without nano-particles. Here are a few brands to try:
The important thing to remember is that these products won't do you any good at all if you leave them at home while you and your baby are out in the sun. Keep a spare bottle of sun block in your diaper bag so that you will actually have it ready when and where you need it!