It’s taken a long time for science to quantify what mothers have always known: the skin of babies and toddlers (your grandchild) is very different from the skin of older children and adults. Babies’ skin is softer because the outermost protective layer, the stratum corneum, isn’t mature until at least age two. In babies and toddlers the total epidermis is also thinner, with increased absorption which means ultraviolet radiation can penetrate more deeply.
Sunscreen chemicals penetrate more easily as well. Many of the chemicals used in sunscreens to absorb radiation act like estrogen hormones. These could end up throughout a baby’s body in the blood, and later be detected in the urine. This hasn’t been proven to cause a problem. Or proven to be safe.
This can damage skin DNA, trigger inflammation, accelerate aging, and suppress the immune system in the skin. Our skin is a key, active part of our immune system – not just the physical barrier we’ve long assumed. Radiation-induced skin changes can start accumulating during a baby’s first summer.
How do you balance the health of young skin, where just a few sunburns can double the melanoma risk later in life? I recommend a few simple steps:
- Avoid midday sun, when practical.
- Choose sun-protective clothing for everyday wear when babies or toddlers will be outside. k&j clothing has a UPF of 50+, using no chemicals. And it’s adorable! In contrast, a typical tee has a UPF of only 5 or 10.
- Seek shade with your little one.
- Use a mineral sunscreen to physically block UV radiation. Zinc and titanium are the two common mineral active ingredients. Micron-particle-size minerals are small enough to go on clear and large enough not to be absorbed through the skin.
Don’t forget a pair of stylin’ baby sun glasses!
Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com, a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green