5 Tips To Protect Your Child's Skin From the Sun
A pediatrician explains the importance of wearing sunscreen
School is about to be out for summer! This means playing outside, swimming and enjoying the warm, sunny weather. Of course, you know what’s coming next - don’t forget to wear sunscreen!
Since this is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and today is "Melanoma Monday, let's talk about the importance of protecting your child's skin.
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined with over 5 million cases diagnosed in the United States alone. The good news is skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer if we take care of our skin.
As you know, finding a good product and using it properly can be tricky. There are so many products to choose from and the priciest, prettiest, ‘organic,' SPF 100 products aren’t necessarily the best. I’m frequently asked what products to use, how to apply them, how often to apply them, and other advice on staying safe in the sun. So, here is what I tell my patients.
1. First off, what’s the deal with SPF?
Well, SPF stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’. Higher SPF provides more protection; yes, SPF 100 is a real thing. Is it necessary though? Surprisingly, no! In my experience, applying SPF 100 is often times like working with clay, which is no fun. You’re usually best off sticking with SPF 30. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays, whereas SPF 50 provides 98 percent protection; not much of a difference. There is also no clear evidence that any number higher than SPF 50 provides any extra benefit; so, don’t bother spending the extra cash for that fancy SPF 100 product. What about if you’re only going to be in the sun for a short period of time; well, then SPF 15 (blocks about 92 percent of the sun’s rays) is probably good enough. Generally, I recommend using SPF 30; but, keep in mind, any sunscreen is better than none at all.
When you are out shopping for sunscreen, I have a few extra tips for you. Make sure you buy a BROAD-SPECTRUM sunscreen. This means it’ll block both UVA and UVB sun rays, and will protect your skin best. Also, avoid any fragranced products as it is often-times the fragrances that are added to sunscreens that cause skin irritation. Next, look for products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide; these work better and tend to be better tolerated on sensitive skin. The catch is that these tend to be tougher to rub in; however, you can find them in some fun colors for young children. I especially recommend using one of these products on sensitive areas like your face. Lastly, the sunscreen lotions are generally better to use than the sunscreen sprays. But, I do know that getting some children to grease up with the lotions can be an all-out battle. In that case, as mentioned above, using the spray is still much better than using no sunscreen at all!
2. If it's organic, does that make it better?
Well, not necessarily. Honestly, when shopping for sunscreens I have seen them labeled as ‘organic,’ ‘all natural,’ ‘non-GMO,’ vegan and even ‘gluten-free’. If you find yourself somehow ingesting gluten from these products, you’re doing something very wrong. All kidding aside, I can understand the concern over chemicals and synthetic products that many parents have. There is some concern that the chemical oxybenzone, found in many chemically based sunscreens, might have hormonal impacts; and as such, this would be a good idea to avoid if possible. However, I don’t recommend seeking out any old ‘organic’ or ‘alternative’ sunscreens necessarily. Instead, ignore all of the marketing tricks and flip the sunscreen bottle over; look at the ‘Active Ingredients’ section. The best products will contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients are minerals and are natural; some but not all of these products will be labeled as organic. Even still, using any sunscreen is STILL better than no sunscreen at all.
3. Now that you found your product, before going outside, grease ‘em up!
Apply the sunscreen generously and use it frequently. For a young adult, you need at least 1 ounce (30 mL) per application. It is best applied to dry skin, 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. You should reapply sunscreen every 2 hours AND after swimming (or getting wet any other way). I do recommend using a water-resistant/sweat resistant sunscreen but, remember, water resistant is NOT the same as water-proof. It still needs to be reapplied after swimming.
Whichever sunscreen you pick, limit your exposure to the sun as much as possible. It’s particularly important to avoid direct exposure during the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun’s damaging UV rays are at their strongest. So, if you can avoid spending a lot of time in direct sun during those hours, your chances of sunburn will be lower. Furthermore, during those hours, it would be best to cover your child’s skin with a light-weight, long-sleeved shirt, light-weight pants and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Stay in the shade as much as possible but, keep in mind, you can get a sunburn even when in the shade or on a cloudy day; so, I still recommend that you wear sunscreen. Also, keep in mind, the sun’s UV rays reflect off surfaces, especially water (or snow) and the reflection can also burn you!
4. Now, what about infants?
You may have noticed that the label on most sunscreens say, “For children under 6 months, ask a doctor.” This is certainly not to suggest that young infants do not need any sun protection. Actually, quite the opposite. Young infants’ skin is very sensitive and will burn very easily. Best practice is to always keep them out of direct sunlight, especially during those peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., keep their skin covered with light-weight pants, a light-weight, long-sleeved shirt and a big floppy hat. If you notice redness, the best thing to do is actually bring them indoors. If sun exposure is unavoidable for some reason, you can use a small amount of sunscreen on those exposed surfaces. Be careful though, because, like I mentioned, infants’ skin is sensitive and can be irritated even just from sunscreen. The sunscreen products made for infants may be less irritating to their skin, but again, the best thing to do is actually keep them out of the sun’s rays.
5. Don’t forget about your eyes!
Your eyes can actually be damaged by UV rays from the sun year-round, and this damage over time can lead to problems like cataracts or cancers. All you need to do to protect your eyes is throw on a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Look for sunglasses that protect your child’s eyes from at least 97 percent of UV rays. Even infants should wear sunglasses. Plus, what’s more adorable than an infant in some cute shades?
A sunburn can be painful and harmful to your skin; and can definitely bring more than a few days’ discomfort and damper on your summer time activities (not to mention a risk of skin cancer in the future). Keep these few helpful tips in mind to prevent damage from the sun’s rays. So get out there, have some fun, but make sure to protect yourself and your family from the sun!
Get to know Jennifer Gittleman, D.O.
Dr. Gittleman, D.O. is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Fort Worth (Clearfork). Our Fort Worth (Clearfolk) doctors are specialists in the health care of infants, children and adolescents. Our team includes board certified pediatricians, that together with you, will get your kids on the path to leading happy and healthy lives.
New and existing Clearkfork pediatrician office patients can make an appointment by calling 817-592-8199 or by click here.