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The sun and how it affects children’s skin

Sunlight is essential for synthesising vitamin D, but overexposure to the sun without special care can have serious consequences.
Even with protection, babies under six months old should not be exposed to the sun.
Paediatricians and dermatologists advise against sun lotions for babies under six months old, and advise caution in their use in children up to one year of age.
Between 6 and 12 months old babies can begin to use protective lotions on areas such as their faces and hands which are not protected from the sun’s rays.

This does not mean that you should not take your baby outside on sunny days, simply that babies should not be exposed to direct sunlight for more than 10 minutes.

Just a few minutes’ walk suffices for them to synthesise all the vitamin D that their bones need.

To protect your baby from the sun, dress them in clothes that help guard them against sunlight: hats or peaked caps, cotton garments in light colours, etc.

Sunshades and parasols do not protect against ultraviolet rays, because these rays fall vertically, bounce off the ground and are reflected diagonally onto our skins. They do not produce heat but they can cause sunburn in children, even if there is a breeze or the sky is cloudy.

Children’s eyes should also be protected against the sun. In the early months of their lives the shade provided by a hat should suffice, but after that it is best to have them wear sunglasses.

This post goes into a little more detail about the risks posed by the sun for the skins of babies and young children, and on how to protect and care for them because, as you know, “the skin remembers“.

Evidence is mounting to indicate that being exposed to the sun and early age can subsequently cause skin tumours (melanomas) as much as 40 or 50 years later. It has been proven that direct sunlight during childhood is capable of starting off the mutagenic process that gives rise to melanomas.

It is important to remember that children’s skins contain less melanoma and are therefore more sensitive than adults’ to the sun’s rays, and less capable of defending themselves against them. The highest levels of protection for the skin are provided by “broad-spectrum” sun lotions, so-called because they block both UVA and UVB rays.

For small children you should never use an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of less than 15 and it is advisable to use one of 30 or more. The higher the SPF the more protection it provides. To help you interpret SPF numbers correctly, remember that the difference between a filter ranked at SPF 15 and one of SPF 30 is not double the protection: FPS 15 filters out 93.3% of UVB radiation, while an FPS 30+ filters out a further 3%. FPS 50 filters out 98%.

Sunburn is the result of too long exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Babies have very fine, delicate skin and may get burned however careful we are: just 15 minutes’ exposure may be enough. Babies may get sunburn even on cold or cloudy days, because it is not visible sunlight or heat that burns but UV radiation, which is invisible. Sunburn can be painful and can lead to more serious problems such as dehydration and fevers.

Sun creams and lotions that contain moisturising agents are the most suitable for babies and young children. The alcohol solutions found in some lotions and gels can dry the skin: this is not advisable for children, though it may be a good thing for greasy skins and skins tending to acne.

On the beach, in the country or at the park you should always apply sun lotion and reapply after sweating or swimming, once the skin is dry. Remember that you can never go too far with measures to protect yourself and your kids from the sun.

Dra. Montserrat Pérez  – Dermatologist (Nº col 10630)

Clínica Dermatológica de Moragas - Carelia Petits