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Infants and Sunscreens

Health experts differ on whether sunscreens should be used on babies

SATURDAY, June 2, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Should you use a sunscreen on your infant? The question continues to divide medical experts.

While most parents slather on the stuff to protect their babies from the sun's harmful UV rays, some experts still worry that little is known about the long-term effects of sunscreen chemicals.

Among the concerned is the American Cancer Society. "We don't recommend that sunscreen be used on children 6 months and younger," says Mary O'Connell, director of skin cancer initiatives for the society.

"The skin is very delicate at that age, and there's just not much known about how those chemicals can affect children that young," she adds.

O'Connell says that because infants can be more easily protected than older kids, the recommendation is to keep the very young out of the sun as much as possible.

"Since children that age are not mobile and running around, there are easier ways of protecting them from the sun, anyway. You can put them in the shade or take other steps," she says.

Dr. Joseph Lopreiato, an associate professor of pediatrics at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., says there's another, more basic, reason for discouraging infant suncreen use.

"We usually don't recommend sunscreen for infants under about 6 months because we don't want to give parents a false sense of security that will cause them to leave their 6-month-old out in the sun all day."

"Children's skin is more sensitive, and we really don't want them to get sunburn because the data shows that for every red, painful sunburn you have, your risk of skin cancer increases. So you don't want to expose your child to that risk," Lopreiato says.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently revised its recommendations and now gives parents the go-ahead for limited sunscreen use on infants. It agrees, however, that the emphasis still should be on keeping babies out of the sun as much as possible.

"Our latest recommendation is that sunscreen can be used," says Dr. Michael Shannon, chief of the Pediatric and Environmental Health Center at Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

"For a long time, there was a concern that it might not be safe in young children for reasons that weren't quite clear. But we looked at the scientific data closely and looked at the risks-versus-benefits to children and felt comfortable in saying that sunscreen could be used in children under 6 months," says Shannon, a member of the AAP's Committee on Environmental Health.

"But at any age, you don't want to put this stuff on [your infant] and stay out in the sun all day," he adds. "The only purpose of sunscreen is to lengthen the amount of time that it takes for you to burn. But you can burn, even with it on."

What To Do

Read more about children and sunscreens in these HealthDay stories.

The American Academy of Dermatology has plenty of information on protecting your skin from the sun. And you can read more about the AAP's position on sunscreens and infants on its Web site.

SOURCES: Interviews with Mary O'Connell, director of skin cancer initiatives, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.; Joseph Lopreiato, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Md.; Michael Shannon, M.D., chief of the Pediatric and Environmental Health Center, Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass., and a member of the AAP's Committee on Environmental Health
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