Dr. Alan Greene answers the question, How long is too long for a baby to be in the sun?



We live near the ocean and our 7-month-old loves the beach. We cover him with sunblock, but we're still concerned about having him in the sun. How long is too long for him to be in the sun?


When I was a child, we often visited the beach where an important part of every vacation day was working on our tans. Now we know that sun exposure is one of the biggest risk factor for cancer. Thankfully, sunblocks are available today to greatly diminish the damage of ultraviolet light.

The highest risk from sun exposure comes in childhood. Over half of all lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 18, and the first two or three years of life are when our skin is the most vulnerable. Slathering with a high-SPF, waterproof sunblock is a great idea. It should be repeated every 80 minutes if the person has been in the water.

It's best for babies to minimize sun exposure when the sun is highest overhead. This occurs between about 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in most places, so it's best to stay indoors for some quiet time during those hours.

The two biggest causes of damaging sunburn are the incorrect use of sunblock (either not putting it on 20 minutes before exposure or not reapplying often enough) and getting sunburned through clothes. Most T-shirts have an SPF of about 4. People burn beneath their shirts without even realizing it. As it turns out, blue shirts are far more effective than any other color.

Sunblock doesn't block all of the sun's rays, so we shouldn't use sunblock thinking we can then stay in the sun all day. Instead, we should be in the sun a reasonable amount of time and use the sunblock to minimize the damage.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

American Baby