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May 25, 2024

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Sunscreen & Chemical Absorption

Hat? Check. Sunscreen? Oh, wait. Can your little one wear sunscreen yet?

In too much of a hurry for your baby’s sunscreen protection? Don’t be. Build a little extra time into your day to completely cover Baby before going out. His skin needs a solid 30 minutes for that protective film to develop, so you might put it on during his morning diaper change. Just be mindful when dressing so you don’t accidentally rub it off. Meanwhile, it’s confusing to know what’s best for his skin with the vast variety of products out there.

A recent study by the JAMA Network of four commercially available sunscreens shows the skin quickly absorbs the chemicals in them and exceed "the threshold established by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] FDA for potentially waiving some nonclinical toxicology studies for sunscreens." This is concerning as you start putting sunscreen on your children beginning at age 6 months. Over the years, that's a lot of chemicals being absorbed into your child's bloodstream. However, the study does not want to discourage the use of sunscreen as it is an effective way to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. The study simply shows the need for more studies on sunscreen.

First things first: The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes babies younger than 6 months stay out of direct sunlight. Instead, protect them with shade, use sun hats and protective clothing rather than relying on sunscreen.

“Sunscreen products are not recommended prior to 6 months of age,” says Kate Seymour, M.D., Internal Medicine & Pediatrics of Saint Thomas Medical Group. “Adequate clothing and shade are preferred measures for protection from the sun, but if these are not available and sun exposure is planned, a small amount of sunscreen could be applied to small areas of exposed skin such as the hands and face. The risk of sun damage to vulnerable immature skin is greater than the risk of limited, conservative use of sunscreen when used infrequently,” she adds.


Sunblock or sunscreen? Is there really any difference? Seymour says manufacturers of the products are no longer allowed to say sunblock and adds that chemical sunscreens are the more common product and they filter ultraviolet rays to protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays.


“The concern with spray sunscreens are the aerosolized particles which may be inhaled. This is especially dangerous for children with asthma or other chronic lung disease,” says Seymour. She recommends spraying it onto your hands and then rubbing it onto your child’s skin. Be sure to apply it evenly, too, so you don’t have patchy application.

If it’s windy outside, you may not even reach the skin or you risk bystanders inhaling it. Seymour notes that all sunscreens contain various ingredients, any of which can cause an allergic type response, too. If you’re unsure if your child will have an allergic reaction, do a spot test on the wrist where you apply a small amount and wait a day or so to see if a reaction occurs.

Remember, too, that sunscreens do expire. “There is concern that the protective molecular bonds in the cream can break down over time and become less effective,” says Seymour. “Follow expiration dates listed on products.” Following these guidelines will ensure that you both have a happy and safe time in the sun.

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