4 January 2011
Natural Sun Protection for Babies
Australia is renowned for its long hot summers and our enviable outdoor lifestyle. What we’re not envied for is our skin cancer rates.
Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 701 and that over 1,850 Australians die from skin cancer each year.2
Current evidence suggests that overexposure to the sun during childhood is a key factor in the development of skin cancer in later life. Babies have delicate skin which can be very easily damaged by the sun’s ultra violet rays, even on cloudy days.
How Can I Best Protect my Baby from the Sun?
The Cancer Council Australia recommends keeping babies and children out of the sun as much as possible.3 When this is not possible, exposure to UV radiation should be minimised by:
- Reducing your baby’s exposure to the sun between 11am and 3pm
- Covering as much of the baby’s skin as possible with loose fitting clothes and wraps made from closely woven fabrics
- Choosing a hat that protects the child’s face, neck and ears
- Stay in the shade where possible
- Install a sunshade on your pram or stroller. The material used should cast a dark shadow.
- Apply sunscreen that is labelled broad spectrum, SPF30+ and water resistant on any exposed areas of skin at least 20 minutes before going outside. Note: Sunscreen should be regarded as the last line of defence and should not be used to extend the amount of time you would be in the sun.
Is Sunscreen Safe for Babies?
There is no evidence that sunscreen used on small areas of a baby’s skin has any harmful effects.3
When selecting a sunscreen for yourself and baby, opt for a physical sunscreen, rather than one whose active ingredients are entirely chemical absorbers.
What are the Differences between Physical and Chemical Sunscreens?
Chemical sunscreens act by absorbing ultraviolet light for a limited period (related to the Sun Protection Factor, SPF). These chemicals are able to reach the bloodstream and have been detected in the liver 72 hours after application!4 Furthermore, these chemicals are only able to absorb UVB rays (the rays responsible for sunburn) and not UVA rays (the dermally penetrating rays responsible for photoageing, collagen degradation and some forms of skin cancer).
Physical sunscreens act by adhering to the surface of the skin and physically reflecting all of the harmful rays (UVA and UVB). They do not penetrate the skin's surface and are therefore not absorbed into the bloodstream. Comprised primarily of inert minerals (such as Titanium Dioxide), physical sunscreens are significantly less allergenic or irritating and are therefore a safer choice for babies.
How do I Distinguish between Physical and Chemical Sunscreens?
Always check the ingredient list on the label.
- Physical sunscreens: Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Zirconium Oxide
- Chemical sunscreens: PABA, Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Oxygenzone, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Benzophenone.
Sustainababy recommends Little Innoscents Sun Lotion. Comprised of Zinc Oxide base with soothing Aloe Vera and Calendula it offers broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. RRP $19.95.
1. Staples M, Elwood M, Burton R, Williams J, Marks R, Giles G. Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia: the 2002 national survey and trends since 1985. Medical Journal of Australia 2006; 184: 6–10.
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of death 2008. 3303.0. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, Australia 2010. Available from www.abs.gov.au.
4. Cosmedix Cosmeceuticals,2010, Sunscreens – the Choices. Pamphlet available from Adelaide Acne Clinic.