Don’t Get Burned
Tips to help keep your kids safe when out in the sun
Children who frequently sunburn are more likely to get skin cancer later in life, which is why parents need to instill sun protection habits at an early age. “Teaching your children how to protect themselves from dangerous UV exposure can keep them safe while they enjoy the outdoors throughout their life,” says Dr. Aurora Badia, board-certified dermatologist and pediatric dermatologist for Florida Skin Centers. “Parents who follow proper sun protection guidelines show their children how skin safety is a routine healthy habit like with brushing teeth and washing hands.”
What are the best sun-blocking strategies for kids? Here are Dr. Badia’s tips for parents to keep their children safe on the sunniest days.
Look for the right sunscreen ingredients. Choose brands that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These natural minerals offer top protection but are not absorbed into the body. They also are the only two ingredients that meet the FDA’S “GRASE” criteria—generally Recognized As Safe and Effective.
Choose the right number. Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
Apply early and often. For optimal results, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and use generous portions to cover all exposed skin. Reapply every two hours, especially after swimming and toweling off. “A lotion allows parents to see where sunscreen is applied and can thoroughly cover all exposed skin compared with sprays,” says Dr. Badia. A mineral-based sunblock stick also is a convenient way to quickly apply sunscreen to little noses, cheeks and feet. Keep sunscreen in multiple places like the car, gym bag, backpack and purse for convenience and spontaneous outdoor activities.
Wear proper clothing. Invest in ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) clothing. The UPF number on the label shows how effective the garment blocks UV radiation. The higher the UPF number, the better the protection. “Children should wear clothing with UPF of 40 to 50-plus that also conceals as much skin as possible,” says Dr. Badia. Keep in mind that garments treated with UPF chemicals and dyes lose effectiveness over time.
Pick proper colors and materials. When not wearing UPF clothing, avoid dark colors, which absorb more UV light, and thin fabrics, such as cotton, rayon and hemp. Vibrant colors in polyester and nylon fabrics have the best quality for diminishing
UV rays, but also lose effectiveness when wet or become stretched after excessive wear.
Add hats and sunglasses. Children also should wear a wide-brim, tight-woven hat and sunglasses. “The head and eyes are vulnerable areas because sunscreen cannot be applied as a protective measure to the eyes and hair-covered body parts,” says Dr. Badia. Hats that fully cover the ears, neck and nose provide the most protection. Also, look for hats with 50-plus UPF due to direct penetration of UV light to the top of the head and ears. Sunglasses should offer both UVA and UVB protection. Dr. Badia suggests parents spend a bit more on wrap-around sunglasses with shatterproof lenses for small children.
Cover babies with clothes—not sunscreen. Dr. Badia says that babies age 6 months or younger should not use sunscreen because of possible side effects suggested by the FDA. Instead, cover babies in lightweight clothing, including a hat. Try to stay in shaded areas as much as possible and away from reflective surfaces like water and sand.
Get your child’s skin checked. Perhaps the most overlooked, but essential element to protecting your children, is an annual skin check. “Board-certified dermatologists are specialty-trained to detect abnormalities and catch pre-cancerous lesions that may appear to be a pimple or dry skin,” says Dr. Badia.