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Baby Matters

Sun Safety for Baby

June 20th, 2014

Photo credit : Raimondi Photography

By Chandra Devam

With summer here after such a long winter, we are excited to get back out and spend time in the sun! Camping, picnics, barbecues and going to the beach are all great ways to gather with friends and family. Parents with infants, however, are faced with a lot of questions related to their children's safety in the sun. We spoke with Dr. Zaki Taher of Lucere Dermatology & Laser Clinic to get some advice and answers on the matter. Dr. Taher has special training in pediatrics as well as cosmetic dermatology so he has seen the damage of the suns rays start to finish. 

While Dr. Taher can reduce the signs of sun damage (and even treats skin cancer in his OR), he advocates prevention to avoid damage in the first place.

Be mindful of your infants time outdoors. It is best for babies to never bask or be in the direct sun, they should be kept in a shaded area. It's a good idea to keep them covered up, but be aware of the potential for overheating, and don't over-swaddle. If an infant is over-swaddled, they can get a heat rash. This is a sign that they’re too warm, and can be treated with baby powder, cornstarch, Polysporin or a cool compress. Be aware of where infants are in the shade. A shaded area can become sunny as the sun moves. This may mean hopping around the park a bit, but it gives us a chance to stretch our legs and have a change of scenery.

Babies, like us, need sunscreen. Now the question is, "What kind of sunscreen do we use?" Dr. Taher explains: use a cream based sunscreen, not a spray, and apply thickly to all areas not covered by a hat or clothing. Sunscreens come in two categories: physical (zinc based) and chemical. Look for sunscreens that contain zinc or titanium oxide (your zinc based diaper cream is an idea if you are in a pinch!) Avoid chemical based sunscreens as the long-term effects are unknown in developing babies and children, so it's best to be safe. On a side note, pregnant women should avoid chemical sunscreen use as studies have shown it can be harmful to developing fetuses. A safe alternative for a tan would be something like a VersaSpa Sunless Tan. Check with your dermatologist on any products you're using to be sure.

Sunscreen should be reapplied after the same number of minutes as the SPF rating. For example, SPF 30 should be reapplied every 30 minutes. When they're at the beach, pool or running through a sprinkler, apply. If they've been running hard or playing at the park and sweating, apply. Pretty much any time they could get wet or it could rub off, reapply. Dr. Taher says it's better to over-apply than under-apply.

In case of exposure, we asked Dr. Taher how to spot sun damage in babies, and how to tell if it's acute rather than just over-exposure. 

Dr. Taher explains: heat stroke or heat exhaustion are the most dangerous short-term results of over-exposure to the sun. Acute sun damage like heat stroke and heat exhaustion are characterized by lethargy (not being like themselves), head drooping, dry eyes or tongue. Dr. Taher further explains: body temperature is not a good indicator, as feeling cool or clammy can be an indicator that a child is about to pass out. Any of these symptoms indicate you need to go to emergency immediately.

Never let your child become red like a lobster.  If their skin is blistering or red seek medical care. In the event of a mild sunburn, cooling and hydration are critical. If they aren't suffering an emergency, keep them unswaddled and cool them down with a cool compress, sponge, or mister. Be sure to monitor them carefully for the next 24 hours for it can take time for sun burns to develop. Don't use a fan, ice, or other rapid cooling methods as this can put their body into shock. To avoid dehydration, ensure they're drinking lots of milk or formula. For babies on solid foods, have them drink extra water.

According to Dr. Taher, damage over time from UV exposure is something that catches up to us. Not only does it age us prematurely, acute sun damage is the leading cause of melanoma, or skin cancer, the thinnest of all potentially fatal cancers. A melanoma of less than 1mm can kill. Other skin cancers, such as squamous cell or basal cell cancer are more frequently caused by chronic sun damage.

Remember that the steps you take today will make a difference for your babies skin health twenty years from now.

Dr. Zaki Taher is a board certified dermatologist and fellowship trained in laser surgery and cosmetic dermatology.. He works out of the Lucere Clinic in Edmonton.

Tags: Babies, health, Safety

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