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Sunscreen: What you need to know for little ones



Dr. Gregory Gordon

Dr. Gregory Gordon

by Dr. Gregory Gordon

What are the new sunscreen laws?

In 2011, the FDA updated its laws regulating sunscreen products. These rules are largely in effect now, but small companies have until December 2013 to be fully compliant. Basically, these changes require uniform testing standards and more accurate labeling.

The updated sunscreen requirements:

Limit the maximum SPF (Sun Protection Factor) to “50+”.

Restrict the use of the term “broad spectrum” to only those products that protect against both ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) and ultraviolet B     radiation (UVB).
Limit claims for “reduce risk of cancer and early skin aging” to only products of SPF 15 or higher.

Prohibit the use of claims not scientifically supported including “sunblock,” “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” “instant protection” or protects     longer than two hours without reapplication.

photo courtesy Elisabeth Nixon Photography

photo courtesy Elisabeth Nixon Photography

Restrict water resistance claims to either 40 or 80 minutes.

Is sunscreen safe for babies?

Sunscreen remains approved for use on children 6 months and up. I would rather my infants had sunscreen than a sunburn. On this issue, I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which states on their website:

“The two main recommendations from the AAP to prevent sunburn are to avoid sun exposure, and dress infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn. However when adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) to small areas, such as the infant’s face and the back of the hands.”

While there are no medical studies detailing the horrors of sunscreen use in babies there are theoretic concerns, there are two main concerns with sunscreen use on babies:

1.  Chemical absorption: Young skin may absorb increased amount of sunscreen.

2.  Heat regulation impairment: Coating children in sunscreen may impair their ability to dissipate heat.

If you are taking a young one to the beach or soccer field, I would recommend sunscreen. When in the sun, children under 6 months should wear breathable clothing like a surf shirt. These non-sunscreened areas should allow for sweating and therefore heat loss. The exposed areas should be covered with sunscreen. At this age, I recommend a zinc oxide based sunscreen. Zinc oxide is the white stuff lifeguards use on their noses. It is also the major ingredient in many tested baby products like Desitin and Balmex. Zinc oxide is available in a variety of colors, or clear.

What types of sunscreen do you recommend?

I do not recommend a specific brand of sunscreen. Look for sunscreen products that are SPF 50+ and “broad spectrum”. For our children, we use “sunscreen sticks” for their faces. These are thick, non-irritating, easy to apply and do not run into their eyes. On their bodies, we use either a “continuous spray” or lotion as they cover large areas quickly. Our children often wear surf shirts to the beach. With this type of clothing there is no need for sunscreen in the covered areas, and they (unlike sunscreens) are truly “water proof”.

Always remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours when in the sun.

Greg & eight!

Greg & eight!

Dr. Gregory Gordon grew up in Gainesville, Florida. He attended the University of Florida for both his undergraduate and medical degrees. After he completed his pediatric residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he joined Pediatric Associates of Orlando. Dr. Gordon is the proud father of eight children. He is the Vice President of “The Gift of Swimming” (a local charity that provides swim lessons to Orlando’s needy children). In early 2010, encouraged by his patients, he started to share his pediatric and parenting experience.

Source: The AAP website,, and the FDA website,


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