Q&A: sunscreen

Jesse writes:

"Since we are on the topic of what to put on little kids— do you are readers have ideas about safe sunscreen or alternative strategies?

I am reluctant to put it on my six month old since my ped basically said wait until she is at least one, if not two.  This makes me nervous, coupled with the scary fact that beauty products/ skincare stuff is not regulated the way food or drugs are and the skin is the largest organ of the body.  So slathering stuff on a baby/child’s skin means they will get a big dose of whatever that stuff contains."

My ped, when I asked him if I should really hold off until 6 months to use sunscreen, looked at me in horror and said, "You can't let him get sunburned!" So I used the sunscreen. But I did look for a health-food store brand that didn't have all the nasty, irritating, potentially dangerous stuff. My ped said to get the kind that was a physical barrier, not a chemical barrier. This post on Babycenter agrees, and recommends a sunscreen with zinc oxide* or titanium dioxide.

Sure, it costs more than a tank full of gas, but the hope is that you're not exposing your teeny babies to the sun all that much anyway, so you won't be going through tubes of it.

The best thing to do is to keep your kids (of all ages) out of the direct sunlight between 10 and 4 every day. Have them play in the shade if they can. You could also invest in sun protective clothing for them to wear. You can get those full-body surfer suits with SPF protection at SkyMall OneStepAhead.com (they also have plain cotton T-shirts with SPF protection) and LandsEnd.com. Make sure you have a good sunscreen for your stroller if you have an infant.

But if you can't keep your baby out of the sun, you do need to use suncreen to protect them from burns. So much of parenting is about managing risk, and this is another example of that. You can't be sure that even the most expensive, "natural" suncreen is absolutely safe in large doses, but it's better than letting your child get burned.

Reader recs for "safe" suncreens?

* Remember the diaper rash discussion when we found out that zinc oxide can be bad for your baby? Titanium dioxide appears to be harmful at large doses, but nowhere near as dangerous as zinc oxide is even at smaller doses. Titanium dioxide dispersion is drying to the skin ("May cause skin irritation. Repeated contact may result in defatting and drying of the skin.") but doesn't cause burns or pox like zinc oxide can. I look for titanium dioxide instead of zinc oxide.