Infancy

In infancy the skin's oil glands are not very active, although the sweat glands are quite active. Tepid water is recommended for bathing, and a mild soap may be used sparingly to remove skin oil. The diaper area requires special attention: Soiled diapers should be changed frequently to avoid the harsh irritants of urine and feces. Removal of fecal material may require gentle rubbing with a cotton ball soaked in an oily solution. Avoid using soap if an irritating rash appears—in fact, a great deal of soap is not required at this early age.

The child's skin should be examined regularly, while diapering, bathing, and dressing. Any change (mole, growth, spot, or sore) should be pointed out to the baby's doctor. While it is normal for toddlers to develop new moles and other brown spots, those that continue to change should be checked by a doctor. Some medications make skin ultrasensitive; when parents get a new prescription for their child, they should ask the physician if the sun should be avoided.

Because it make take several years for an infant's melanin production to be fully developed, its skin is especially vulnerable to the sun—even in those with darker skin. Because a baby's skin constitutes a larger percentage of total body mass than adults, they are especially vulnerable to anything affecting the skin. A bad sunburn can cause serious fluid and electrolyte loss, fever, faintness, delirium, shock, low blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat.

Infants under age six months should not be given sunscreen and should be kept out of the sun entirely by using carriage hoods, canopies, and tightly woven umbrellas, along with a lightweight but tightly woven hat. Time in the sun should be limited to short trips, and babies should be kept in the shade as much as possible. Since sand, concrete, snow, and water reflect ultraviolet radiation, it is better to park the carriage on grass instead of a patio. When at the beach, the baby should stay away from the water. Even on overcast days, as much as 80 percent of the sun's harmful radiation can still penetrate the clouds.

Babies over age six months should avoid the hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the sun is most intense; at other times, the baby should be covered up with tightly woven hats and clothes (a broad-brimmed hat will shade ears, nose, and lips and may reduce the baby's chance of cataracts in later life). However, the sun can penetrate some fabric, including cotton undershirts, which only have a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 8, so parents should not rely on clothes alone for protection. Parents also should limit time spent in the sun with babies this age, regardless of hour or season.

After a baby reaches six months of age, experts agree on the importance of using sunscreen especially made for children. Most of these do not contain paba, which can be irritating to the skin.

Unscented sunscreens are a better choice because they do not attract insects. The product's SPF should be at least 15, manufactured by a major drug company and purchased at a store with a large turnover. Look for an expiration date (lack of one probably indicates that there are no ingredients that could deteriorate).

No matter how safe and effective the product seems, it is a good idea to test it on a child's skin before using. A small amount placed on arm or abdomen will reveal if redness or irritation appear; if it does, parents should select another product. Normally, creamy products work best on youngsters because they do not dry the skin and they can be easily seen.

Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed areas, and under thin clothing, 15 to 30 minutes before exposure (it takes that long for the ingredients to penetrate the skin).

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