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Did you know you should consult a doctor before using sunscreen on your infant?

CHOICE conducted a quick poll of parents and found a variety of opinions when it comes to using sunscreen on very young babies.

According to CHOICE some parents had been told never to use it on babies under six months, others had been told it was OK in small doses, while others still had not been told anything at all and were under the impression it was fine to use early on.

So CHOICE went and dug a bit deeper by asking the experts.

The Australasian College of Dermatologists says that the use of sunscreen on young babies under the age of six months is not recommended. The college website says the reason for this is that a young baby’s skin tends to absorb more of any chemical applied than would the skin of an older child or adult.

The Cancer Council’s position differs from this slightly. It says that if infants are kept out of the sun or well protected from UV radiation by clothing, hats and shade, then sunscreen can be used occasionally on very small areas of the skin.

Dr David Orchard, director of the dermatology department at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne says there’s no evidence to suggest that sunscreen is unsafe for babies under six months. “Once a baby is a week old their skin is no different to an older baby or a child.” However, he does say that it’s better to keep babies out of the sun in the first place.

“Young babies don’t move much so it’s pretty easy to keep them shaded anyway, but if you are taking them for a quick dip in the ocean, for example, you can use sunscreen on any small areas that can’t be covered up with clothing and hats.”

Cancer Council CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda says that the Cancer Council’s official position is similar to the Australasian College of Dermatologists’ but that it’s more “realistic”. “Some people have a lifestyle where sunscreen is going to be a requirement for even infants occasionally.”

Aranda says that shade and clothing should always be the first line of defence but sunscreen is suitable for small areas you may not be able to cover up completely. “Say if they’re in the pram for a short period of time and the tops of their feet can’t be covered.”

What should you use?

If you are going to use sunscreen on a young baby, choose one labelled as being for sensitive skin or suitable for children. According to Dr Orchard these products will have fewer chemicals that could cause irritation. The alternative, he says, is to choose a zinc-based (physical) sunscreen.

Sydney-based doctor Brad McKay says that mineral-based sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are considered to be the safest option for babies under six months, as they offer protection from UV light but very little is absorbed through the surface of the skin. “Mineral-based sunscreen tends to leave a white residue on the skin, but this is easily washed off.”

Recommendation for babies:

Don’t keep babies in the sun. Keep them in the shade when you can.
If it’s impossible to avoid the sun, make sure they are only exposed for a few minutes.
If you can’t cover your baby with clothing when they are in the sun, use sunscreen designed for sensitive skin or for children, and only apply it to small areas that aren’t covered. Be sure to do a patch test first if it’s a brand you haven’t used before.
Be prepared when you go out – carry suitable clothing, hats and sunscreen so you aren’t caught out.
Role-model the behaviour – kids and even babies are more likely to be happy to wear sun-safe clothing and hats if you do.

For all of us:

Put on sunscreen 15–20 minutes before going outside.
Make sure you use enough sunscreen – you need at least a teaspoon (5mL) for each leg, arm, your back etc. and more if you’re bigger.
If you’re sweating heavily or rubbing your face, you’ll need to reapply every two hours. And reapply if you’ve been in the water.

Share your comments below.

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  • wow i never really knew this or took notice. good to know this information though

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  • Thanks for posting. It’s great to have some clarification.

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  • Well poo, I wasn’t aware of any of this and my kids are now 4 and 19 months. I’ve used sunscreen on both of them and miraculously they have managed to survive their childhood thus far. I do live in Queensland and we do go out of the house in summer so I think I would rather have my kids protected than be burnt to a crisp.

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  • An interesting article, thanks for sharing.

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  • I guess this is a lesson for everyone – keep babies covered up until they’re 6 months. We all try to do our best and conflicting advice does not help. I imagine many parents would cover up their babies, but in addition, would think the highest protection sunscreen would be okay. It takes a serious incident for the rules to be reviewed and new guidelines set. They just need to be clear.

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  • Trying to do the right thing is hard in the face of conflicting advice.

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  • My policy was to keep them out of the sun. Even at 10 I try to minimize the time in the sun between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm.

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  • Didn’t realise you should ask a doctor about sunscreen for use on a baby. Never had problems when my boys were little.

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  • wow i didnt know that. I would never have gone to a doctor to discuss the use of suncream on my babies. mind you, i didnt have the need for it until they were about that age anyway as they were tiny through winter so we were inside mostly.

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  • I never used store bought sunscreen on my kids when they were very young babies (below 6 months old).
    I have had severely allergic reactions on store bought sunscreen myself. Clearly the chemical ingredients aren’t innocent !
    Since some years I have been making sunscreen myself.
    I kept my youngest when she was 1 year old on a sunny day all the time in the shade and she burned totally (probably by sun reflection). Me and my friends were shocked that it was possible to burn to such extend in this way. She was red all over on the next day and blisters appeared on her face which started to bleed and developed into thick crusts. It took ages until it cleared.

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  • Always kept my youngest under shade and out of the sun until he was running around when I could no longer keep him in the shade – then just a dusting of sunscreen as we are all allergic to it. Mainly covered him up when he got out of the water and found something interesting for him to do inside the house.

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  • My friend’s son had a reaction to Banana Boat Kids. It was only put on exposed skin and ear lobes in case his hat fell off. Change of plans – they decided against going out and the kids played under the back verandah in the shade for an hour of so instead. They didn’t wash it off in case the kids ventured outside again. Within a few hours his skin was “brick red”. They weren’t sure what it was but suspected the sunscreen as they had never used that brand before. It was a new bottle only bought the day before. They took him to the Dr. who gave him a checkup and asked them what had been used on his skin. That was when they told him. With Dr’s recommended treatment it cleared in a couple of days. They took photos for the school as a record why she ws absent.

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  • It is better to see a doctor and get advice just to be on the safe side!

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  • I always knew this since my eldest was a baby 15 years ago! I always read the fine print on all products and so should everyone so you know exactly what’s in it and the precautions. Young babies under 6 months shouldn’t be in the sun long enough to need sunscreen. They should be in the shade or covered up so the sun can’t get to their delicate skin.

    Reply

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