Hot weather is settling into the region, and new parents may be stressing about how to protect their little cherub’s soft, sensitive skin from the blaring summer sun. When purchasing baby sunscreen, many people just grab the lotion with the highest SPF possible. However, SPF level isn’t the most important thing to look for, says Chevy Chase, Md., dermatologist and skin cancer specialist Ali Hendi.
Hendi, who is also the father of a 20-month-old, says that parents should use baby sunscreen that includes one or both of these ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They create a physical barrier from the sun rather than a chemical one, which is safer for a baby’s delicate skin. Also, choose a lotion that is fragrance-free, he says.
“Parents hear ‘chemicals’ and they get really scared, because even these sunscreens have chemicals in them,” Hendi says. “All of the ingredients are generally accepted as safe and any potential risk is far, far less than the known, documented risk of skin cancers.”
As for the SPF level, anything 30 and above is good, according to Hendi and the American Academy of Dermatology. The difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is negligible compared to the importance of reapplying, Hendi says. Parents should reapply sunscreen on their children every two or three hours, or after kids get out of the pool (yes, even if the bottle says “waterproof”). Also, apply a thicker layer than you think you need. Study after study shows that people don’t apply enough sunscreen. An adult should use a shot-glass full to cover his or her body, so use maybe a third of that for a child, according to the AAD.
Sunscreen should be just one of many sun-protection tools, Hendi says. Sun hats, lightweight shirts with SPF in them and staying in the shade are all important, too. For babies younger than 6 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests keeping them out of direct sunlight and only using sunscreen sparingly on small areas of the body, such as the face and the backs of hands, if protective clothing and shade aren’t available.
Baby sunscreens tend to have a whitish tint to them because of the active ingredients, but the extent of it varies from brand to brand depending on the formulation. (Read: your baby may still have white splotches of lotion no matter how thoroughly you try to rub it in.) Here are some sunscreen options for lathering on your little one:
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion With SPF 55: This is not an official endorsement, and Hendi doesn’t have any affiliation with Aveeno, but he uses this sunblock on his toddler. That says it all.
Coppertone Water Babies Quick Cover Lotion Spray SPF 50 Sunscreen: A spray sunscreen sounds like a disaster waiting to happen with a squirmy baby who doesn’t know how to hold his or her breath. Hendi says sprays are fine to use, but it would be smart for parents to spray the lotion in their hands and then rub it on the baby, rather than trying to spray the child directly.
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Stick SPF 60: Parents can use this product anywhere on their babies, but it’s especially great for the face. Plus, it’s smaller than a deck of cards and slips easily into the diaper bag.
Goddess Garden Baby Natural Sunscreen SPF 30: The label says that it’s 95 percent organic, but more importantly, it meets Hendi’s requirement of containing zinc oxide as an active ingredient. It takes some work to rub in enough to get rid of white splotches of lotion.
Rachel Saslow, a former editorial aide for The Washington Post, lives in the District with her husband and daughter.