Skin Damage Starts with Your Child’s First Sun Over-exposure

Early childhood skin damage can be lifelong skin damage. In fact, just a few childhood sunburns can double the melanoma risk later in life.

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. That’s why skin damage starts with your child’s first sun over-exposure.

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

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?

Because Skin Damage Starts with Your Child’s First Sun Over-exposure …

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. (Little Leaves Clothing Company  has a UPF of 50+ and uses no chemicals. 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.

Published on: June 14, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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