Sun Safety for Kids, Part 1: Sunscreen

I recently did a post on swimming lessons for kids, so I figured why not continue on the topic of summer (can you tell I’m excited?) by covering sun safety for kids! This post will cover sunscreen, but I’ll talk about other sun protection mechanisms in the second part of this post.

Please remember this is not medical advice. If you have specific health questions, ask your trusted care provider. This blog is for informational purposes only.

Sunscreen is a must – not just for your little ones, but also for you!! All the older people I talk to always say one thing to me – wear your sunscreen. Or “I wish I had worn my sunscreen”. So I highly recommend taking their advice for the sake of your skin, but in the very least definitely put sunscreen on your kids.

A common question or concern I see is – what sunscreen is safe for my ____ old child?

So – if your child is under 6 months of age, the recommendation in Canada (and the US) is no sunscreen preferably. The concern is with them rubbing it around on their face, eating it, etc.

The American Academy of Pediatrics however, states that if you cannot avoid the sun, small amounts of sunscreen can be used on exposed parts of an infant <6 months old skin (this is also the recommendation in Canada). In another article on the FDA website, the recommendation was to follow up with your paediatrician regarding this. That is certainly what I would say is the best option if you have concerns, but you find you’re going to be in situations where you cannot avoid the sun.

Personal experience: we did apply some sunscreen to Maggie but she was about 5 months old by the time she needed it (Winter baby problems). I used other physical barriers to block the sun primarily & as much as possible but the pool we swam in often is directly in the sun at certain points in the day, so I had to apply it to areas where her suit did not cover her. We never had any issues – I cannot even recall what brand we used but it was a “baby” sunscreen for 6+ months.

If you can’t use sunscreen (following the recommendation) or you don’t want to before 6 months – that means that you should be making an effort to use other protective mechanisms against the sun for your infant. Please see part two of this post – coming soon. Feel free to click through to any of the links provided as they all contain other recommendations in the mean time.

One recommendation by the AAP for sunscreen in children under 6 months – if it must be used – is to use a “physical blocker” type sunscreen. This is also the recommendation for ages 6 months to 2 years. Zinc is often the active ingredient with these. It is noted that the protection of physical vs chemical sunscreens is not the same. Chemical sunscreens provide more protection (UVA & UVB rays), so if you’re using a physical blocker sunscreen, again – please also try to use other mechanisms to block the sun.

Learn more about physical vs chemical blockers here.

Physical blocker sunscreens would be the option for those who are concerned about ~toxicity~, probably. Just as an FYI: chemical sunscreens have NOT been shown to be harmful to us (see this 2011 review paper and here is also the Canadian Cancer Society busting the myth that the ingredients in chemical sunscreens cause cancer). Just because they use the word chemical, people associate this with “bad” – not just with sunscreen but literally with everything. A PSA for y’all: everything is made out of chemicals. Ok. Moving on.

If you want to read more, this J&J article myth-busting sun screen is actually super informative and includes links to relevant studies.

Are there recommended brands for sun blocks?

Not particularly – just like any skincare product, you’re going to have brands you trust and prefer.

But there are criteria you should look for when buying sunscreen. I already went over infants under 6 months above (physical blockers preferred if you want to have some on hand for situations where you cannot avoid the sun – this means they will have “zinc” or “titanium” listed as active ingredients; talk to your paediatrician or provider to address any concerns/questions). This continues to be the recommended type of sunscreen for ages 6 months to 2 years per the AAP as I also mentioned above. After that, chemical blockers can be used or combination sunscreens which are a mix between physical & chemical. The AAP also recommends the continued use of physical blockers for sensitive areas like the face in children (or those with sensitive skin) and to avoid oxybenzone as an ingredient in children’s sunscreens as some data has suggested it may have some hormonal attributes. Note: other sources (Harvard Health, Canadian Cancer Society) suggest that this is not well supported. If you have concerns about this ingredient I would 1) ask your provider about it; and 2) avoid it if you’re worried/it’s going to cause you unnecessary anxiety.

Key words to look for on sunscreen you buy for your kiddos (per the AAP and the Government of Canada):

How do I apply sunscreen effectively?

You should put sunscreen on your child on any areas that cannot be covered by clothing. This includes the face, ears (often forgotten), back of the neck, top of their hands/feet, backs of knees, etc. You can use an SPF lip balm as mentioned above as well – we tend to forget about our lips!

Sunscreen should be applied at least 15-30 minutes prior to being in the sun, if possible (but that doesn’t mean you should not do it if you’re already outside – still do it, please!). Apply the sunscreen and rub well. Allow time for it to absorb into the skin if and when possible. With physical blockers – you may notice a residue on the skin (normal).

Reapply every 2 hours. As I mentioned, if swimming, reapply after exiting the water even with “water resistant” brands. If your child is playing a sport and sweating you should also reapply.

Put sunscreen on your child when they’re going outside. Check the UV rating for the day – but remember that it can still be high even when it’s cloudy outside.

Want to read more?

American Academy of Pediatrics

Canadian Paediatric Society

The College of Family Physicians of Canada

McGill University Health Centre

I’ll talk more about other sun safety tips in part 2 of this post!

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