Protecting your children is a natural instinct, born in that first moment of touching their baby-soft skin. One of the simplest ways to protect your children’s skin is by using sunscreen as part of a sun smart approach to reduce exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. With so many choices available, it can be difficult to know which products are child-friendly. Here, we discuss what to look out for – and what to avoid – when you are choosing a sunscreen for your little ones over 6 months of age.
When you think about the creams or lotions that you put on your child’s skin, the words gentle and mild no doubt spring to mind. But do you know why we are so careful about the type of products that we use on our children’s skin?
Quite simply, it’s because the skin of babies and young children is different to the skin of adults – in both its structure and its function. In children under 2 years of age, the skin’s outer layers (the epidermis as a whole and its stratum corneum) are thinner with smaller but more numerous cells and contain lower amounts of lipids, natural moisturising factors, and melanin (a natural skin pigment). These structural differences affect how infants’ skin functions, most notably how it stays hydrated and acts as a protective barrier.
When it comes to sunscreen, these special properties of children’s skin are vitally important. Because their skin is thinner and more sensitive, babies and young children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation and are also more likely to be irritated by or absorb products that are applied to their skin. So this means that not only is protecting your children’s skin from the sun crucial, but also ensuring that you choose a sunscreen that is appropriate for their delicate skin.
For babies under 12 months of age, the best sun protection is to avoid exposing them to direct sunlight, particularly during times of day when UV radiation is at high levels. When it is necessary to take your babies out into the sun in the middle of the day, it’s important to practice sun-safe behaviours by staying in the shade as much as possible, keeping their skin covered with protective clothing, popping a broad-brimmed hat on their head, and wearing sunglasses.
The final pillar of sun-safe behaviour is to apply sunscreen. While the widespread use of sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age, occasional use on small areas of skin may be considered when other sun protection measures may not be sufficient. For these situations – and for children of all ages – it’s important to choose a child-friendly sunscreen. So let’s review some factors that can make sunscreen appropriate for babies and young children.
Look for formulations designed specifically for children or for sensitive skin, often described using terms such as low irritant or hypoallergenic, as these products should be gentler on their delicate skin. Avoid ingredients such as fragrances and preservatives that may irritate children’s skin. Before you apply any new sunscreen on your child, you should consider performing a patch test on a small area of your child’s skin to see if the product causes any irritation or reaction.
While these considerations are definitely important when choosing a sunscreen for your little ones, you should also make sure you are choosing a product that offers high levels of sun protection. This means you should look for a sensitive or children’s sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher rating and broad spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB radiation.
Another key point to remember is that the effectiveness of any sunscreen depends on correct application. Many parents or carers do not apply enough sunscreen to their children’s skin or achieve complete coverage on all exposed areas of skin. While quick and easy application of aerosol sunscreens is very appealing when you have little ones who never sit still for long, it can be tricky to ensure full coverage is achieved. This is because it is difficult to know how much aerosol sunscreen you need to apply to achieve sufficient SPF coverage.
Mineral sunscreens are sunscreens that protect against UV radiation using mineral-based physical (inorganic) UV filters, either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These UV filters are commonly used in sunscreens formulated specifically for children or sensitive skin – for a couple of very good reasons.
In sunscreen, these mineral UV filters work by forming a protective layer on your children’s skin that both absorbs UV radiation and reflects and scatters UV radiation. This protective layer provides broad spectrum coverage, with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide UV filters effectively protecting against UVA and UVB radiation.
Because these mineral sunscreens form a physical barrier on the surface of your children’s skin, very little of the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide penetrates through the outermost layer (the stratum corneum). This means that these UV filters are less likely to be absorbed into the living cells in the deeper layers of skin underneath the surface, reducing the risks of skin sensitivity and irritation.
Together, these properties make mineral sunscreen an effective and appropriate option for the sensitive and delicate skin of babies and young children.
Looking for an appropriate and effective mineral sunscreen for kids and babies? Try INVISIBLE ZINC Junior Mineral Sunscreen. It provides high SPF 50 broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection in a 2-hour water resistant formulation suitable for sensitive and delicate skin. It comes with a handy carabiner clip – perfect for attaching to school bags, backpacks, and strollers.
Sunscreen plays an important role in sun protection for babies over 6 months of age. In addition to ensuring your baby wears protective clothing and a broad-brimmed hat and stays in the shade as much as possible, apply a high SPF (30 or higher) broad spectrum sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin 20 minutes before heading outside and remember to reapply at least every 2 hours.
Adult sunscreen can be used on children. However, because your children’s skin is more delicate than yours, consider choosing a low irritant formulation that’s suitable for their sensitive skin and is less likely to irritate their eyes when they rub their face.
The best sunscreen for babies and kids offers high SPF (30 or higher) broad spectrum UVA and UVB coverage that is formulated for sensitive skin and free from ingredients that may cause irritation or sensitivity. Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide are a great option!