New: skin damage starts with your child’s first summer

It’s taken a long time for science to quantify what mothers have always known: the skin of babies and toddlers is very different from the skin of older children and adults. Babies’ skin is softer because the outermost protective layer, the stratum corneum, isn’t mature until at least age two. In babies and toddlers the total epidermis is also thinner, with increased absorption:

Ultraviolet radiation can penetrate more deeply.

This can damage skin DNA, trigger inflammation, accelerate aging, and suppress the immune system in the skin. (Our skin is a key, active part of our immune system – not just the physical barrier we’ve long assumed.) Radiation-induced skin changes can start accumulating during a baby’s first summer.

Sunscreen chemicals penetrate more easily as well.

Many of the chemicals used in sunscreens to absorb radiation act like estrogen hormones. These could end up throughout a baby’s body in the blood, and later be detected in the urine. This hasn’t been proven to cause a problem. Or proven safe.

How do you balance the health of young skin, where just a few sunburns can double the melanoma risk later in life? I recommend a few simple steps:

  1. Avoid midday sun, when practical.
  2. Choose sun-protective clothing for everyday wear when babies or toddlers will be outside. K&J clothing has a UPF of 50+, using no chemicals. And it’s adorable! In contrast, a typical tee has a UPF of only 5 or 10.
  3. Seek shade with your little one.
  4. Use a mineral sunscreen to physically block UV radiation. Zinc and titanium are the two common mineral active ingredients. Micron-particle-size minerals are small enough to go on clear and large enough not to be absorbed through the skin.

And don’t forget a pair of stylin’ baby sunglasses!

Paller AS, Hawk JLM, Honig P, Giam YC, Hoath S, Mack MC, and Stamatas GN. “New Insights about Infant and Toddler Skin: Implications for Sun Protection.” Pediatrics. 2011; 128(1):1-11.

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Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

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