Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Sunlight is essential for life, it provides the energy that plants need to grow, it heats up the earth so we could inhabit it and it gives us Vitamin D. But like any other thing, too much of a good thing can be harmful.
Our skin, and especially baby's skin is susceptible to sun damage. Exposure to sunlight leads to premature aging and the development of skin cancer. Even when we don't usually consider it, all the damage the sun causes to our skin accumulates from an early age that's why the measures you take to protect your baby's skin are important.
Before 6 months
Babies younger than 6 months should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as they are more susceptible to skin burns and dehydration. Although babies also need vitamin D that is produced when the body comes in contact with the sun, it’s safer to give Vitamin D as supplements. Thus avoiding premature sun damage.
That doesn't mean that you can't take your baby out to the park for a daily walk, it just means that you should cover your baby and avoid direct sunlight. And since you won't be exposing your baby to sunlight, it’s not necessary to use sunscreen. But in some cases where sun exposure can't be entirely avoided, there is no evidence that using sunscreen in small uncovered areas of the body is harmful.
After 6 months
After 6 months of age, the unintentional exposure to sunlight could be contemplated but it's prudent to use proper clothing like long sleeves UV protective shirts that will cover most of their body, it's wise to cover the baby's head with a hat and to use sunscreen on the rest of exposed areas.
To provide the maximum effect, sunscreen should be applied on dry skin 10 to 20 minutes before going out and be reapplied every two hours and after bathing in water. Concerning the SPF number, it specifies how much UV light the screen is able to block, and it should be at least of 30. Keep in mind that higher numbers don't mean longer times between reapplications.
Commercially available sunscreens have different mechanisms of action, chemical sunscreens will absorb UV light, and physical screens will reflect it. For safety and toxicity concerns it’s suitable to stick to physical sunscreens like zinc oxide which have little or no skin penetration. The downside is its cosmetic appearance because zinc oxide leaves a chalky white film on the skin after its application. However, this appearance could be a useful reminder for sunscreen reapplication.
Another concern that arises when trying to choose a physical sunscreen is the size of the particles that compose the screen. The particles are made reasonably smaller to improve the cosmetic appearance in the application. This leads to questions about how these tiny particles, called Nano-particles can penetrate the skin and cause cell damage. However, the most recent studies conclude that there is no skin penetration by these molecules, regardless of the size of the particles. Anyhow this is something you want to consider when choosing the perfect sunblock because people tend to prefer clearer sunscreens whereas the clear sunscreens are chemical based or ones with even smaller nanoparticles. Thus, if we make our safety a priority, we would understand that a little white is just fine.
Another important thing is eye protection. Studies show that kids that are born in summer months have more tendency to suffer from visual refractory problems. Hence it is noteworthy to consider eye protection being important and not just as a trivial matter.
And to complete the safety sun exposure guide, note that you must increase hydration as sun exposure increases, even if it's not direct. So regular drinking, especially when exposed to sunlight, can alleviate dryness and fatigue. You should also pay attention to signs of lack of energy or dry-looking skin as they could be telling you that your baby is dehydrated.