A parents guide to sunscreen for kids
What is the best way to protect your kids from the sun? Beachside vacations. Play dates at the park. Splashing in the pool. Trips to the zoo. Summertime is filled with glorious outdoor activities. So battle the burn, and safeguard your kids from the summer sun's intense rays by making sure they are adequately protected with sunscreen by using our age-approriate guide.
The increased sun exposure during the summer increases the risk of sunburns. In fact, pediatrician Subir Mitra, MD, FAAP, of Pediatrix in Phoenix, Arizona, says that in many cases, skin cancer can result from sunburns that were accumulated before the age of 18.
ABCs of sunscreen
According to dermatologist Bill Halmi, MD of Arizona Advanced Dermatology, it's important to follow your ABCs when it comes to protecting your children from the sun:
- A — Avoid the sun as much as possible, particularly between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and always keep infants out of direct sunlight.
- B — Block the sun's harmful rays from reaching your children's skin with clothing as well as hats that cover the head, neck and ears. Don't bother with expensive clothing and hats that claim to have sunscreen in them, however. Dr. Halmi says they are all hype! "They don't make any sense," he says. "You shouldn't have to spend that kind of money to get adequate protection."
- C — C stands for creams – as in sunscreens.
As far as sunscreen goes, Dr. Halmi says that most brands on the market are good. He says that using it properly is often the problem. "Using sunscreen properly is the most important thing," he advises. "The keys to proper protection includes applying a thick layer, applying it a full 30 minutes before exposing your children to the sun, and reapplying it every two hours. There are some sunscreens, such as Neutrogena's [sunscreen] line, that last up to four hours. But, in general, most last about two hours," says Dr. Halmi.
Re-application is important, but don't wait until the clock is up on the two-hour limit because there are other factors involved that may contribute to the sunscreen wearing off before that time. Dr. Mitra adds that even waterproof sunscreens wash off while swimming or sweating heavily, and towel drying can wipe off sunscreen. So pay attention, and reapply often! Dr. Mitra also advises to properly slather sunscreen on all exposed areas of your children's bodies including the scalp, ears, back of the hands, and top of the feet.
Dr. Mitra does not recommend that babies under two months be exposed to direct sunlight. "If they have to be in the sun, I recommend a barrier type of sunscreen," he says. Both he and Dr. Halmi suggest Blue Lizard brand sunscreen, which contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, versus brands that contain chemicals and perfumes. This brand is great for children with sensitive skin, as well.
Though doctors once advised parents not to apply sunscreen to babies under six months of age, Dr. Mitra says this type of sunscreen can now be used as early as one to two months of age. Dr. Halmi agrees, but adds the caveat that parents should limit the areas the sunscreen is applied to the face, arms/hands and legs/feet. Both doctors agree, however, that it is best for babies this young to avoid the sun altogether.
It's no secret: Kids hate being slathered with sunscreen! Make the process a little less painful with easy-application sunscreen sprays, which Dr. Halmi says are just as effective as the creams. He also suggests sunscreen sticks that make applying sunscreen fun for older kids that like to do it themselves!
For active teens, Dr. Mitra suggests a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays that can potentially damage skin.