PLATTSBURGH — We all know of the need for protection from the sun, but babies require special attention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for babies younger than 6 months but only on small sections of the body, such as the face and the backs of hands, if protective clothing and shade are not available.
“Anything 15 or higher can reduce the risk of developing skin cancer,” said Linda Keysor, a supervising public-health nurse for the Clinton County Health Department’s Newborn and Post-Partum Unit. “There’s no evidence that anything above 50 will further help reduce the risk.”
The SPF (sun-protection factor) in sunscreen refers to the amount of ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) that are blocked from penetrating the skin. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns, while UVA are associated with more long-term concerns, such as skin cancer.
With babies under 6 months of age, however, other factors have to be considered.
“Babies have a wider skin area per proportion than adults,” Keysor said. “The skin is thinner and absorbs more of the chemical. Plus, infants can’t sweat as easily as adults.”
Infants also have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated due to heat. Sunscreen can somewhat impair effective cooling by perspiration, so placing too much sunscreen on an infant could be harmful.
The baby’s skin is also not adequately protected by melanin, the pigment that provides color and some natural protection for the skin.
“Anybody under 6 months should stay out of the sun, but since that isn’t always feasible, you can put a little bit around the nose, face, ears. But consider the use of clothing, as well.”
Skin creams are available that provide sun protection without chemicals. Products with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide form a barrier against the sun’s rays and start protecting the skin immediately but are not absorbed by the skin.
Plattsburgh pediatrician Dr. Heidi Moore agrees that infants should be out of sunlight during the hottest parts of the day and should wear sufficient protective clothing.
Wide-brimmed hats and sunbonnets can go a long way in protecting exposed areas. Babies may be distracted by the hat initially, but they typically get used to the extra shade quickly.
Parents should also use long-sleeved but lightweight clothing on their infants. Lightweight clothing with skin-protection materials — including swimsuits — is available at most infant-clothing stores.
Parents can also purchase sun-protection baby-wrap carriers, umbrellas and sun shelters.
AVOID DIRECT SUNLIGHT
For older infants, Moore recommends a children’s sunscreen with high SPF. Avoid the mouth and refrain from placing sunscreen on the hands, since a youngster’s hands often go in the mouth.
“Hats are still important,” she said, “and it’s also important that an infant less than a year old to stay out of direct sunlight at the hottest times of day.”
Parents should apply sunscreen often if the child is swimming. The pediatrician advised using a separate spray for bugs because bug spray should not be used as often as sunscreen.
It is just as important to protect the baby’s eyes from sun exposure. Children of all ages spend more time outdoors and get an average of three times more sun exposure than adults, including during both summer and winter.
Increased exposure to sun can increase the risk of cataracts or clouding of the lens of the eye; pterygium, an abnormal growth on the cornea; corneal sunburn; damage to the cornea; or macular degeneration, a major cause of reduced vision that can lead to blindness.
Children should always wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of all UV rays and should also don broad-rimmed hats, even on cloudy days.
Children and adults should limit exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and should reduce exposure near beaches, bodies of water and snow-covered landscapes, where sunlight is reflected.
The Health Department’s Newborn and Post Partum Unit provides education to new parents across the region, including information on sun protection for infants and children.
“The parents have the sole responsibility for the well-being of their child,” Keysor said. “That’s why we try to help educate parents through visits.”
The Health Department contacts all parents of newborns and asks if the new mom or dad would like an educational visit from the unit. If the parents decline, the Health Department can also send by mail a packet of material on healthy factors in raising newborns.
In 2011, 718 babies were born in Clinton County
preceded by 753 in 2010 and 723 in 2009.
Email Jeff Meyers: firstname.lastname@example.org