Sun Care For Babies and Children

Sun Care For Babies and Children
By A Gubbins

Before looking at what parents should and shouldn’t do, we need to understand the reasons that too much sun can be bad for us. For this we need a little physics and chemistry.

Sunlight consists of a wide range of different wavelengths of radiation. Some of these we can sense – the warmth we feel in sunlight comes from Infra-Red radiation, and the light we can see comes from radiation in the visible spectrum. There are other wavelengths in sunlight that we can’t see, and chief among these are those in the Ultra Violet group. There are at least three different types of Ultra-Violet radiation and these are generally referred to as UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVC Radiation

Taking these in reverse order, UVC has the shortest wavelength and although it is potentially very harmful to our skin, it is completely filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere and so does not affect us.

UVB Radiation

UVB radiation is the one that causes the appearance of a tan after sun exposure. It does this by stimulating the formation of the pigment ‘melanin’ in the deeper layers of the skin and activates it’s movement to the outer skin layers. Here it acts as an antioxidant and skin protector – it is in fact part of our natural defense against sun damage.

UVB radiation also causes thickening of the outer layers of the skin, and if exposure is taken to excess is what causes sun-burn. This should be avoided at all costs, particularly by children, as it is thought that sun-burn in early years may lead to an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.

UVA Radiation

UVA radiation is potentially the most damaging form as it penetrates deeper into the skin. In the deep basal layers of the skin UVA can damage the DNA that makes up the blueprint of each cell, and can result in mutated cells that no longer reproduce properly. This in turn may be a primary cause of some skin cancers, although they may take years or even decades to manifest themselves.

UVA also damages structures made from or containing collagen and elastin and this is one of the main causes of wrinkles and premature ageing in skin that is often exposed to sunlight.

General Advice

The general advice given to adults who are going to be exposed to sunlight can be summed up in the now famous Australian adage of ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ – Slip on a Shirt, Slop on a Hat, Slap on some Sun-cream. Clearly, all three of these actions are designed to reduce exposure to sunlight and therefore minimize the risks involved.

Further advice is to avoid exposure to the sun when it as its strongest – between mid-day and three in the afternoon. When you think about it, this is the traditional time when many Mediterranean countries have lunch followed by a Siesta – both taken indoors thereby avoiding the worst effects of the sun.

What about Sun-creams?

And now a word or two about Organic Sun-creams. All Organic Sun-screens carry a Sun Protection Factor, usually abbreviated to SPF. This is followed by a number, generally between 4 and 25, although some products claim to go as high as SPF30 or more. OK, but what does this mean to the user.

Put simply, the higher the SPF value, the longer the user will be able to stay in the sun without visibly burning. As an example, if someone would normally start to burn after 15 minutes in the sun when unprotected, by using an SPF8 sun cream they should be able to stay out for 2 hours without visibly burning. If they use a Factor 20 sun cream, in theory they could stay in the sun for as long as 5 hours without visibly burning.

Organic sun creams earn their SPF rating by including ingredients which filter out UV radiation and reduce it’s effect on the skin. Because it is UVB that causes most of the visible adverse effects of sun exposure, most commercial sun-creams concentrate just on filtering this out and pay little attention to UVA radiation. However, as already explained, it is UVA that does the most damage in the long term and which we need protection from.

It has been suggested that the use of organic sun creams that only filter out UVB radiation has encouraged people to stay out in the sun far longer that they would otherwise do, and that this has unwittingly increased their exposure to UVA to such an extent as to lead to the dramatic increases in skin cancer that we are currently seeing. The moral of this has to be to only use sun-creams that filter out both UVB and UVA radiation.

What about Babies and Children?

Because babies and young children have skin that is far more sensitive than adults, we have to even more careful about exposing them to sunlight.

Most authorities agree that new-born babies should not be exposed to sunlight at all until they are at least 6 months old. After that age, and depending on their skin type, short periods of unprotected exposure lasting just a couple of minutes at a time may be introduced.

Other than for these brief moments, all other sun exposure for babies must be carefully controlled and must not be allowed to take place without some protection. As with adults, keep the skin covered with light clothing, although bear in mind that UV radiation can pass through thin, open weave materials and it is possible to burn even through a shirt or blouse. Make sure they wear a wide-rimmed sun hat at all times – the best ones have ribbons attached so they can be tied under the chin. Use an organic sun-cream but make sure it filters out both UVA and UVB radiation.

As with all sun-lotions, apply liberally at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun to give the filter time to become active. Also, remember to re-apply regularly, and especially after bathing.

As children become older and more active it becomes even more important to keep applying sun lotions especially if they are in and out of water in a pool or at the seaside. Again, keeping covered with a light T-shirt will help, but don’t forget to apply lotion underneath to prevent burning.

If you are in a hot climate, try and copy the locals and take a break in the heat of the day. Babies and children soon adapt to the idea of a Siesta and by avoiding the heat of the day they are often happier and less irritable.

As your children grow up, try and encourage them to assume some of the responsibility for ensuring they are safe in the sun. Give them their own bottle of organic sun-cream and show them how and when to use it – soon it will become a habit that will protect them for the rest of their lives.

Titanium Dioxide

There have been recent suggestions that the use of microscopic particles of Titanium dioxide, also called nano-particles, may increase the formation of free-radicals on the skin. This rumor has come about because isolated nano-particles of Titanium dioxide can react with UV light and oxygen to form free-radicals. However, Titanium dioxide used in some organic sun lotions and creams has been coated with silicates to prevent this happening – in short, it is impossible for it to react with oxygen or indeed any other substance on the skin.

Another concern is that nano-particles may penetrate the skin and thereby enter the body. Again, this is not possible with the coated form of Titanium dioxide as the individual particles clump together during the manufacturing process to form aggregations which are too large to penetrate the skin.

In Summary

o Avoid all sun exposure under 6 months of age
o Always provide some form of protection from the sun
o Wear a wide-brimmed sun hat, preferably tied on
o Use an Organic Sun Lotion that filters both UVA and UVB radiation
o Apply at least 30 minutes before sun exposure
o Reapply frequently, and especially after bathing
o Avoid the heat of the day between noon and 3:00pm

Alexandra Gubbins from Green People, a pioneering UK company in the field of organic body care. We have a large range of organic products for all the family, including organic sun lotions for children and babies. You can see our full range of baby care products at

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