The Effects Of Sunscreen On Babies
Babies under six months of age usually have beautiful skin, and pediatricians recommend that you keep babies under six months out of the sun. That’s for two reasons: their skin is brand new and delicate and the effects of sunscreen on babies less than six months old have not been studied enough to say for sure if they are safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that if you can’t keep your less than six-month-old baby in protective clothing or shade, it is OK to use it on small areas of skin that are not sufficiently shielded, such as the face and backs of hands.
Sunscreen for infants should be a physical barrier to UV rays rather than a chemical barrier. There are a number of reasons for this recommendation. For one thing, chemical sunscreens take a period of time to begin working after they are applied to the skin, so immediate sun exposure can still cause sunburn until the chemical reaction takes place that will protect the skin. Also, because babies have a lower ratio of body surface area to volume (in other words, they’re compact, with short limbs and neck), they will absorb a bigger dose of chemical sunscreen than an older child or an adult, and the effects of chemical sunscreen on babies are not well known.
The sunscreens and sunblocks that make a physical barrier between the skin and ultraviolet rays usually use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These physical particles are not absorbed into the skin, but sit on top of the skin. For this reason they are believed to be safe on infants over six months old. Though the effects of physical sun blockers on babies under that age are not yet quantified, pediatricians and dermatologists consider them less likely to be harmful than chemical sunscreen on babies. An additional reason for using physical sunblocks on babies is that they work as soon as they are applied, and they are easier to find in totally unscented form, which is less allergenic.
There is concern over physical sunblocks made with tinier zinc oxide or titanium dioxide particles. Since the properties of many materials change once they are made smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter, some scientists and physicians worry that a nano-particle of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in sunscreen on babies could be absorbed by the body. An Australian study in early 2009 reviewed the current scientific literature relating to nano-particle zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens and concluded that current evidence suggests that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nano-particles remain on the surface of the skin and are not absorbed into the body. The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration continues to monitor the emerging scientific data on this subject. In 15 studies, only one found that nano-particles were absorbed by the skins of rabbits, and none detected human skin penetration, even with the aid of an electron microscope.
So what can we take away from all this?
- First of all, babies should be shaded by means of hats, UV protective clothing and stroller shades.
- Babies younger than six months old should only have sunscreen applied to exposed areas if they cannot be kept adequately shaded.
- Sunscreen on babies over six months old is important in protecting their skin from sun damage.
- The best sunscreen for infants is a physical rather than a chemical sun blocker, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. So far there is not evidence that nanoparticles of these two substances are absorbed by the body, but research continues.
- While there are powder sunscreens available for adults, pediatricians recommend they not be used on infants because of the risks of inhaling the powder are not known.