After a spate of recent incidents where babies have been badly sunburned or had nasty reactions after using sunscreen, some sunscreen brands have suffered a backlash from worried parents on social media. But the Cancer Council say that confusion on how to effectively apply sunscreen is the real problem here. So how do you know whether you are applying it properly and ensuring good sun protection for your baby?
Tip #1 – Do a proper patch test
For any new sunscreen, the first step is always to test it out on your baby’s delicate skin. Baby skin is much more vulnerable to skin reactions and many of the sunscreens out there (even those which are marketed as being for infants) are a real cocktail of ingredients, including irritating fragrances and preservatives. The best way to test it is to apply some sunscreen on your baby’s upper arm and wait for at least 20 minutes (although waiting for a full 24 hours is best). If there is any redness or reaction, then this could mean your baby skin cannot tolerate that sunscreen and you should choose a different one.
Tip #2 – Apply enough of it
Sunscreen for babies under 6 months’ old should only be used “occasionally” and on “very small areas” according to the Cancer Council, Australia. Does this mean a smear of cream will do?
Not at all. In the first instance, closely-woven fabrics and shade (or “barrier protection”) is how you protect your newborn outdoors. On the occasions when there is not adequate shade or clothing available, or if there are small areas of exposed skin (such as the backs of the hands or the nose) then you can be quite generous with the sunscreen, to properly coat your baby’s skin. And what about older babies?
At this age barrier protection is still the main and best form of protection.
For babies over six months’ old, you can start to use sunscreen as part of on a daily basis, if necessary. At this age barrier protection is still the main and best form of protection because you can see at a glance whether your baby’s skin is properly covered. But if you do need to apply sunscreen to larger areas of your baby’s skin, then rub a dollar-sized amount between your palms and start applying it thickly and evenly, starting from the feet and working upwards. Don't rub it in excessively. Add more sunscreen as necessary and don’t forget to get into the creases (such as in between their toes and fingers) and the areas where their clothes end.
Tip #3 - Make it fun
Some babies hate the fuss of having creams rubbed into their skin. You can try singing songs when you are doing it, do some silly voices or perhaps using a funny puppet bath mitt to apply the cream. Any distraction technique is worth trying!
Do their face last of all as this is the area that babies tend to get irritable about.
Did you know that after apply the first coat of sunscreen, you should go back over and apply a second coat? Why is this?
Tip #4 - Apply two coats
This is perhaps the most surprising of this tips (and the one where nearly everyone falls down). Did you know that after apply the first coat of sunscreen, you should go back over and apply a second coat? Why is this?
Putting sunscreen on skin is a like painting a wall. That first coat is always a little patchy because the skin’s surface is not even. Applying a second coat means that you can cover those patches you missed the first time around.
Our tip is to apply the first coat about 20 minutes before you are due to leave, and then once again just before you leave.
Tip#5 – Reapply every two hours
Reapplying every two hours is the rule that everyone knows about, but not many follow. Is there an easy way to remember?
If you are going to be out all morning, take your baby’s sunscreen with you in your day bag, but don't leave it in the car or in the sun as it may become too warm and lose its effectiveness. You can then set a timer on your smartphone to go off every couple hours as a reminder to reapply. Of course, if you are at the beach or at the pool for your baby’s swim lesson, don’t wait for two hours. You’ll need to towel dry your baby and reapply as soon as they are out of the water.
Even during winter days, the UV can reach levels where sun protection is needed.
Bonus tip – Use it all year round
There’s a tendency to think of summer when we talk about sunscreen use. But the truth is that our Australian climate can be harsh on our skin in any season, and it often feels like we have a perpetual summer. Even during winter days, the UV can reach levels where sun protection is needed, so for babies, it’s important to think about sun protection whatever time of year they are born.
Of course the type of baby sunscreen you choose also plays a big part in avoiding skin reactions, and we will cover this in our next blog post. In the meantime, do you have any clever tips for applying sunscreen? Let us know in the comments.