Dr. Laura Miguel Gómez.
Dermatologist. Hospital Ramón y Cajal
People are becomingly increasingly aware of the need to use sun cream, however, there is still a lot of confusion about the instructions for using sun cream on children, especially in terms of how old children should be when they start to use sun cream and whether the ingredients of the creams are harmful or not for our children's skin. Below, I will clear up some of the questions that parents ask at the paediatric dermatology clinic every summer about how to protect their babies and children from the sun.
What do children need in terms of protection from the sun? Should they be protected the same as adults?
The sun is beneficial for children as it enables the production of vitamin D which is necessary for our body to absorb the calcium it needs; however, we should bear in mind that children's skin is not the same as adult skin:
Children's skin is thinner than adult skin and has not yet fully acquired all its protective functions.
As it has less melanin, it does not defend itself as well as adult skin.
It is more sensitive to products that are absorbed through the skin as children weigh less than adults.
Are sun cream instructions different for babies and children?
It is important to know that it is not advisable to use sun cream on babies under 6 months old. The skin at this age is very sensitive and its protective capacity against the sun's rays is not fully developed. There is also a greater risk of dehydration from high temperatures therefore they should not be exposed to the sun. For babies over 6 months, there are sun creams with a high protection factor designed specifically for them; however, even if you use this cream you should still take extra precautions and avoid the sun in the hours of greatest ultraviolet radiation (from 12 to 17h) and use clothing to protect the child (hat and t-shirts). Most of the children's sun creams we found on the market are for children over 3 years old, and all of them should have a sun protection factor of 50+.
What differences are there between a cream with a physical filter and one with a chemical filter?
Physical filter creams are not absorbed and are more suitable for babies and children because they work by creating a "shield" against solar radiation, which bounces off the cream preventing any damage to the child's skin; however, they are usually more "inconvenient" to apply because the cream is much thicker, although more physical filters with a more appealing appearance are being brought out all the time now. They are usually perfume free too, so they prevent any allergic dermatitis. Chemical filters are absorbed by the skin, they capture the sun's rays and turn them into heat, thereby preventing harmful radiation. They have a better texture, but in contrast, they can cause skin irritations.
What ingredients of sun creams are not recommended for children?
Most sun creams contain compounds like parabens (preservatives necessary for the creams to be effective), perfumes and alcohols that are not recommended for children's skin as they can trigger allergic reactions. Therefore, we should choose a sun cream that does not contain these compounds.
What are the recommended exposure and protection reapplication times?
The middle hours of the day, between 11h and 17h are the times when the solar radiation is most concentrated; therefore, you should avoid exposure to the sun between these hours. It is not enough to simply apply sun cream once at the start of the day, you need to reapply it at least every 2 hours and after every time you go in the water to be fully protected.
Children's skin must be protected to enjoy the summer while avoiding any harmful risks for them. You need to choose a good protection cream and avoid exposure to the sun in the middle hours of the day, without forgetting to reapply your sun cream several times.