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*This blog post was written in collaboration Dr. Carrie-Dow Smith with information sourced from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Before you know it, summer will be here, and it'll be time to pack up the car and head to one of the Carolina's many amazing beaches. Splashing in the ocean, building sand castles, catching the surf, treasure hunting and playing a little beach volleyball are just a few sunny pleasures. But, how young is too young to head to the beach? Should you put sunscreen on your children? If you have a newborn, should you completely avoid the beach?

Let's dive into these questions and others – so you and your family can enjoy the lazy days of summer free of sunburns and other skin issues.

Protecting Your Baby from the Sun

Tip #1 – Avoid direct sunlight.

If your baby is younger than six months-old, keep him/her out of direct sunlight. Find shade under a tree, umbrella or stroller canopy. Babies' eyes are especially vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) damage because their lenses allow penetration of dangerous rays more easily than adults.

Tip #2 – Dress cool & comfortable.

Dress your children in cool, comfortable clothing that covers their bodies. Great examples include lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats.

Tip #3 – Wear a hat or cap with a brim.

Hats are great for protecting your child’s face. Be sure the brim faces forward to help shield your child’s face properly.

Tip #4 – Limit sun exposure during peak times.

In North Carolina, the summers can get pretty hot. Avoid lengthy or unnecessary sun exposure between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest.

Tip #5 – Wear sunglasses.

Look for child-sized sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.

Considering Babies & Sunscreen

  • For babies younger than six months of age, only use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face, if protective clothing and shade are not available.

  • For babies older than six months of age, apply sunscreen to all areas of the body, but be especially careful to avoid getting it into their eyes.

  • If the sunscreen irritates your baby’s skin, use a different brand, or try a sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

  • If you notice any irritation, it is best to speak with your pediatrician.

Selecting Sunscreen

The following are some tips to help you select the appropriate sunscreen.

  1. SPF Matters! 

    Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 (up to SPF 50). An SPF of 15 or 30 should fine for most people. More research is needed to determine whether SPF 50 offers any extra protection.

  2. Avoid Oxybenzone. 

    This chemical in sunscreen may have mild hormonal properties. However, balance this with the fact that it is better to use any sunscreen versus none at all.

  3. Choose sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. 

    For sensitive areas of the body (ears, nose, cheeks, shoulders), these are best. These products may stay visible on the skin even after you rub them in, and some come in fun colors that children may enjoy!

  4. Choose ‘broad-spectrum’ sunscreen. 

    This means that it will filter out both UVB and UVA rays.

  5. Look for the UVA ‘star’ rating system on the label. 

    One star indicates low UVA protection, while four stars indicates the highest UVA protection available in an over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen product.

Applying Sunscreen Correctly

How should sunscreen be applied? Are there areas that I don’t have to include?

Be sure to use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin – especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands and backs of the knees. Be sure to rub the sunscreen in well.

How much sunscreen should I use on my child/myself?

Use a generous amount of sunscreen when applying it. Most people use way too little!

When should I apply sunscreen?

Apply sunscreen at least 15 – 30 minutes before heading outside. Why? Sunscreen needs time to properly absorb into the skin.

How often should I wear sunscreen?

You should put sunscreen on you or your child any time you plan to be outside. Keep in mind that even on overcast days, you can STILL get a sunburn! This is because up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can still break through the clouds. Additionally, UV rays can be reflected off of water, sand, snow and even concrete.

How often should I reapply sunscreen?

You should reapply your sunscreen every two hours – especially after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.

Remedies for Sunburn Relief


    Give your child water or 100% fruit juice to replace/replenish any fluids that may have been lost.

  • COOL OFF  

    Cool water against your skin to feel better.


    Use approved pain medicine for painful sunburns. Always consult with your pediatrician to ensure that you are using the correct dosage for babies versus infants.

  • AVOID 

    Stay away from the sun and other outdoor activities until the sunburn is completely healed.

When Should I Call a Medical Provider?

If your child is younger than one years old and gets a sunburn, contact your provider immediately. For children who are older, contact your child’s provider if your child is experiencing blistering, pain or fever.


About Carrie Dow-Smith, MD

Dr. Dow-SmithDr. Carrie Dow-Smith is a board-certified pediatrician with WakeMed Physician Practices - Pediatrics. Dr. Dow-Smith joined the WakeMed team in 2005. In additional to caring for patients in the general pediatric practice, she also works with WakeMed Concussion Services, evaluating young athletes with head injuries.    

Prior to joining WakeMed, Dr. Dow-Smith previously worked with Capital Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in Raleigh, After Hours Pediatrics Urgent Care Center in Raleigh, and in a private pediatric practice in Houston, TX.

She received her medical degree from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, and completed her internship and residency in pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine Pediatric Residency in Houston, TX (Texas Children's Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital). She earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from Wake Forest University.

Dr. Dow-Smith, who speaks Spanish, is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and member of the North Carolina Pediatric Society.

About WakeMed Children's - Pediatric Primary Care

We are proud to offer exceptional, compassionate pediatric care to families throughout Wake and Johnston counties. WakeMed Children’s wide range of pediatric care includes annual well visits, sick visits and comprehensive pediatric physical exams. Our team of pediatricians in Raleigh and pediatricians in Clayton offers the most comprehensive services for children in Wake and Johnston counties. 

Other WakeMed Locations for Care

  • Primary Care WakeMed Physician Practices features board-certified primary care, internal medicine and family medicine physicians conveniently located throughout the Triangle. Our exceptional and compassionate providers and care teams pride themselves on developing long-term relationships with their patients and their families. 
  • Urgent Care 
    • No appointment necessary
    • Convenient hours – open 8 am to 8 pm, 7 days a week
    • A cost-effective alternative to emergency care
    • Virtual Urgent Care
    • Seamless access to other WakeMed services
    • Accepting most insurance plans 
    • Fast, convenient treatment for common illnesses and injuries
    • Highly-qualified, compassionate providers and staff
    • On-site x-ray and IV therapy
    • Fracture management and laceration repair
    • Physical exams for college, sports, camp or employment
  • Emergency Department Emergency Departments are open 24 hours a day, every day. If your condition is life-threatening or no other level of care is open, visit your nearest location.
  • Virtual Urgent Care Available via our mobile app, virtual care options are available 24/7 from anywhere in North Carolina. While you can’t get tested for the flu virtually, physicians can evaluate you, offer guidance, and write prescriptions for nasty symptoms such as cough.


Fun in the Sun: Keep Your Family Safe (Copyright © 2008 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 4/2014)


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