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Babies And Sunscreen, Who Knew?

By Monica Bielanko |

Dad and Hank, catching some rays.

Raise your hand if you knew you shouldn’t apply sunscreen to a baby under six months!

Well.  You’re a better parent than I.

Until I read this mom’s Stupid Parenting Archives, I was apparently slathering poison all over my child:

While slathering my 4-month old baby in sunscreen, another mom at the daycare gasps, “You NEVER put sunscreen on a baby younger than 6 months! Don’t you know that?” “But I don’t want him to get sunburned!” I explained. “THEN PUT A HAT ON HIM AND KEEP HIM OUT OF THE SUN.” Good to know.

Right.  Here I was thinking I’m an excellent mother, because, of course, not only have I put sunscreen on little Hank’s nose, I regularly gooped sunscreen on my daughter before she was 6-months-old as well.  But apparently some of the most widely-used chemicals in sunblock could be harmful to, not only our babies’ but our own health.

As Babble’s Heather Turgeon reports, “one of the chemicals under closest scrutiny is oxybenzone, used in over half the sunscreens on the market. It is absorbed through the skin, and is thought to disrupt hormone function and cause allergic reactions. In particular, scientists suggest we keep it away from kids and pregnant women.

Well hell. Here I thought I was doing my momly duty and protecting my sweet baby from harmful rays, when I was slowly poisoning him to death? And maybe my 2-year-old daughter as well?

So the next time my husband was perusing the sunscreens at Walmart in search of the right one for Henry I said no! Don’t you know that babies under 6 months aren’t supposed to wear sunscreen? He didn’t believe me so we looked at all the labels and, sure enough, it’s right there on every bottle.

But it seems to me that a little sunscreen has to be better than risking the sun burning those tender newborn skins. And there’s got to be a better way than covering your baby in clothes in the middle of July or hiding out in the house with the shades drawn during daylight hours. Sure enough, I found this on the Fisher-Price website:

Since babies under 6 months of age have thinner skin, they may absorb more of the sunscreen, and the long-term effects of sunscreen were unknown. The old recommendation was only to use sunscreen on babies over 6 months of age; but to keep babies under 6 months out of direct sun and covered by protective clothing, and not to use sunscreen. However, in the past two years, the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Pediatrics have stated that since no evidence of harm was found from small amounts of sunscreen on babies’ skin, it is considered safe to use sunscreen on infants younger than 6 months of age when they can’t be completely protected by shade and clothing.

Okay. Yes. That makes more sense to me then not using sunscreen at all when we’re going to be outside for, say, a 4th of July party or a family hike with Henry in the Bjorn, and can’t entirely avoid the sun’s harmful rays on little noses and toeses.  I found other places on the internet where experts recommend the same thing:  a little sunscreen is better than a sunburn.

Babble has compiled a list of the best/safest sunscreens for kids that I am currently checking out.  You may want to have a gander. It’s detailed and super helpful. Also, check out this article I wrote for Strollerderby today. The FDA has issued new sunscreen labeling rules. Words like “sunblock” and “waterproof” are now banned. Gone forever! Because they’re aren’t true!

There are a lot of other big changes coming to sunscreen labels that you’ll want to check outl

So what about you? Are you a No-Sunscreen-Under-6-Months kind of mama? Or are you dabbing a little here and there if it’s chemical-free?

More on Babble

About Monica Bielanko


Monica Bielanko

Monica Bielanko was raised on the wild frontier of late 1970's Utah. She is a recovering Mormon who married the guitar player of an unknown band. She's been married to her Babble Voices writing partner, Serge Bielanko, for the past nine years. Her personal blog, The Girl Who was in the top ten of last year's Top 50 list. Read bio and latest posts → Read Monica's latest posts →

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15 thoughts on “Babies And Sunscreen, Who Knew?

  1. The Gentle Mom says:

    I took my son for walks every day last summer, when he was well under six months old. I applied sunscreen every time, with my pediatrician’s blessing. I just couldn’t see dressing him in in long pants in the middle of July!

  2. Kristin says:

    When we talked to our doctor about it, he said he only recommends it to stop parents from using it as a false sense of security. That people are not good about reapplying it after a short time. We made sure to always keep baby covered and with a hat on. Used sunscreen when at a festival or other activity like that.

  3. Catherine says:

    We’re visiting the grandparents this summer and they have a pool that my 3-month-old is going to LOVE. They live in the south and it’s obscenely hot and humid. After a chat with our pediatrician about these circumstances he said, without hesitation, go for the sunscreen. The risk of a sunburn (or heat stroke, for that matter) is far more concerning than some as-yet-unproven risk from sunscreen exposure. His common sense advice was to try it on a tiny spot on her arm first and see if she has a reaction. If not, she’s good to go. Makes sense to me!

  4. Lauren says:

    I’m just going the natural sunscreen route. If the natural ones are just as good at protecting skin, and don’t have the harmful chemicals, why risk it? Also, you just know some of that sunscreen’s going to end up in baby’s mouth.

  5. Katy E says:

    I use the natural sunscreens(versus the chemical sunscreens) on my boys (age 20 months and 1 month) all while shading the youngest with a hat/ extra shade etc (the oldest one won’t wear a hat ever!). We’ve used a couple of different ones and they all leave greasy handprints on everything ( like car doors and their handles) but work really well none the less.

  6. Jessica says:

    My pediatrician told me to put sunscreen on my 4 month old daughter. She is very fair skinned, as am I, and I have had early stage melanoma. My doctor said that sunscreen risks were over stated, and she would rather have me protect my daughter from sunburn and possible skin cancer. I think you are smart for using sunscreen on your kids!

  7. Sara says:

    Finding sunblock without the chemical sunscreens that disrupt hormone functions (pretty much all the chemicals are suspect, not only oxybenzone) is a HUGE challenge.

    I spent almost a full day searching online and then reading and re-reading labels in the stores as I was looking at all of them. I wanted a “mineral sunblock” – one that is a physical sunblock instead of chemical. Physical sunblocks contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. But finding something that contained ONLY those minerals without avobenzone and oxybenzone was really difficult.

    I finally had to go to Whole Foods and was able to find a couple of different products there. They go on like paste, and mineral sunblocks don’t come in the convenient sprays, but I’m not willing to expose my kids to more chemicals than they are already exposed to in day-to-day life.

  8. Nasrin says:

    We took my 4-month old daughter with us to Acapulco for a week in January. I did know that sunscreen for under six month olds was not recommended. So I kept her covered up as much as possible and only let her out in direct sun after 4pm. But still, the sun there is very strong, and everyone in my husband’s family burns quite easily. So I talked to my pediatrician, and he said to use sunscreen. I picked ones that the Environmental Working Group listed highly (by the way, their view of the best/safest suncreens is very very different from the babble list). Some medical experts think that babies under 6 months should get zero sun exposure and take vitamin D supplements instead! That strikes me as ridiculous, and my pediatrician said a little sun exposure was fine. Everything we do is competing risks. Either you put your kid on his tummy to sleep and you possibly increase the risk of SIDS, or you put him on his back, and you flatten his head and risk delays in motor coordination. That’s life.

  9. Andrea says:

    I have been putting sunscreen on my kids since they were a month old both born in the summer time we were outside a lot I always kept them out of direct sunlight untill they were older but I would rather not risk a sunburn and till this day my five year old has never burned we’ve been to the beach to lakes out fishing and Ive always used the JASON brand kids block and yes it has oxybenzone but Im trusting my mommy instincts and gonna keep using it.

  10. Colleen says:

    My eldest child is virtually transparent because she is so pale. Sunscreen before she was six months old? Oh yeah. Wouldn’t want her to lose that “fish belly white” complexion she is sporting.

  11. therobynnest says:

    With my first child’s first summer I didn’t use sunscreen because I learned from my sister– she put it on her baby and his skin turned into a lizard for weeks. By the time his second summer came around, the EWG was breaking news about the harmful chemicals in sunscreen and that, for the most part, you need to use the ones with zinc (called “mineral sunblock”) as the blocking ingredient if you want a sunscreen that isn’t poisonous. At the time their 2011 list had not yet been compiled, but the easiest one to find from their preliminary chart at Whole Foods would have been California Baby, and the easiest one to find at Walgreens was (shockingly) a Johnson and Johnson product (they are notorious for putting dangerous ingredients in their baby products). The J&J is called Baby Daily Face and Body lotion SPF 40 for $10.
    Now the EWG 2011 list is out. Here it is:
    But we don’t use sunscreen daily. If it’s after 5pm we’ll let him run around naked in the sun to soak up some vitamin D.

  12. LK says:

    California Baby fragrance free sensitive sunscreen – awesome stuff and none of those nasty chemicals (and not as white/chalky as some of the other natural ones). It’s all I will use for both my kid and myself now. You can also get clothing that blocks UV rays.

  13. Tamara - Natural e GREEN says:

    I only use Badger Sunscreen on my kids. My store brings in only non-toxic products and Badger was one of the safest ones out there that my customers wanted. As a mom, I tried it for my kids and they never burned and the Badger is super moisturizing too so it’s great for their skin!

    I get many people asking if this stuff will “turn their skin white” and the answer is “Yes, of course it will!” That’s how you know it works. It prevents the sun from penetrating the skin and keeps the rays out – which is what you want! It isn’t totally thick white but you can see it but what would you rather – a sunscreen that works and is visible or a fake sunscreen that says it works, isn’t visible and allows the harmful UV rays to penetrate your child’s skin?

    Oxybenzone and other ingredients are not intended to use “over a large portion” of your body and therefore is required to have the following warning” Use sparingly” or “Apply Liberally”! You have to watch for those warnings, they aren’t there because the manufactures care – they are there because they have to be there!

    Sunblocks must keep the sun out to work and should never contain propylene glycol (which increases absorption rates) or other toxic chemicals. Less is best (Zinc & Titanium Dioxide.) and of course, a bit of sun is good too but watch your child’s skin and limit duration in sun. When skin turns color it means the body has enough Vit D for now.

  14. Dani says:

    I didn’t sun screen my little guy before 6 months, but it just wasn’t difficult for me to stick to the shade with him. He was a first and his daddy and I are lazy, so outside activities were usually a picnic in the shade type deal.

  15. Kerry says:

    I’ve heard from a friends ped. that it’s okay to put sunscreen on babies <6 mo old, just wash it off after two hours. Her Ped. said that many parents think it's okay to lather their babies in sunscreen and then keep them in the sun all day…some of the age deterrent is for the lazy parent type….

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