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Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually

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Photo of a toddler sitting on sand in the shade of a large beach umbrella wearing a broad brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants.

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When you go outdoors with your infant, whether for a quick stroll in the park or a day at the beach, it’s important to keep your little one out of the sun. But should you put sunscreen on your baby to protect them from the sun’s bright rays? Not usually.

Your infant’s sensitive skin is vulnerable to serious burns. But sunscreen isn’t the answer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That’s because infants are at greater risk than adults of sunscreen side effects, such as a rash.

The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend keeping newborns and babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight. The best sun protection for these infants is to stay in the shade. Look for natural shade, such as under a tree. Or create your own shade under a beach umbrella, a pop-up tent, or a stroller canopy.

It’s especially important to keep your baby out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is at its strongest and ultraviolet (UV) rays are most intense. If you do need to be outside in the sun during those times, be sure to take extra precautions. And check with your pediatrician before applying sunscreen to children younger than 6 months.

Dress Your Baby Properly: Cover Up

The AAP suggests dressing infants in lightweight clothing, such as long pants and long-sleeve shirts. Babies should wear a hat with a brim that shades the neck to prevent sunburn. Not baseball caps, which don’t shade the neck or ears, both of which are sensitive areas for a baby. And for fabrics, tight weaves are better than loose ones.

Summer’s heat presents other challenges for babies. Our sweat naturally cools us down when we’re hot. But younger babies don’t sweat like adults do. Their bodies haven’t fully developed that built-in heating-and-cooling system, so they can become easily overheated – and have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated.

Sun Safety Tips for Infants

Here are some things to keep in mind this summer when outside with infants younger than 6 months:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Talk to your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects his or her sensitive skin. If you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s sheer enough to see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides shade to the face, neck, and ears.
  • Watch your baby carefully for warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These signs include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas. Call your baby’s pediatrician right away.
  • Hydrate! Give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. 
  • Remember to pack a cooler to store the liquids.

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