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Willows Pediatrics Blog - We Know Kids
We Know Kids
The Willows Pediatrics Blog

Protecting Your Child From Overexposure to the Sun

Sun Protection for Children

photo via flickr.com

We all love sunny days in New England! The summer is our one chance to really enjoy our beaches, pools, backyard sprinklers, boats and everything else Fairfield County has to offer. However, as much as we adore the sun, we all have to be careful about exposing our skin—and our children’s young skin—to its rays. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it only takes one sunburn to double a child’s lifetime risk of developing melanoma.  Pediatric skin cancer, while rare, is an important health concern and melanoma accounts for up to three percent of all pediatric cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. 

When you send your kids to camp or pack up for a day at the beach this summer, plan ahead for sun protection. By age 18 an individual has acquired close to 25 percent of his or her lifetime UV exposure.  Minimizing this UV exposure is vital as cumulative lifetime sun exposure is the greatest predictor of skin cancer risk. Always apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sending your children outside, and reapply sunscreen at least every two or three hours regardless of product claims for greater durability.   Use plenty of sunscreen; it takes about two ounces of sunscreen to adequately cover all sun-exposed areas of the average adult. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your child’s scalp and feet and have them wear protective clothes such as swim shirts and wide brimmed hats.  (Remember: even on hazy or foggy days, invisible ultraviolet rays can harm your child’s skin, so take precautions regardless of the weather forecast.)  Take advantage of physical barriers, i.e. clothes, umbrellas, sunglasses and awnings, when you can; they offer the best protection from the sun. But since UV rays can reflect off surfaces like sand and dwater, be sure to use a topical sunscreen even if you are using a physical barrier.

The AAP recommends choosing a sunscreen with the words “broad-spectrum” on the label. This means the sunblock will screen out both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. UVB radiation results in the skin redness that we call sunburn. UVA radiation passes more deeply into the skin than UVB and contributes to the development of a suntan.  UVA is also associated with the development of wrinkling and photoaging of the skin.

SPF or Sun Protection Factor is a measure of the amount of protection from sunburn, or UVB radiation, that a product offers.  Select a product with an SPF of 30 or more.  While higher SPF’s are available and can certainly be used, a higher SPF only marginally increases the protection you receive.  SPF 15 filters out about 93.5 percent of UVB rays,  SPF 30 filters about 96.5 percent, and SPF 45 provides protection from about 97 percent of UVB rays according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.  At this time SPF does not address UVA protection, although a new labeling system to indicate levels of UVA protection is expected soon.

Physical sunscreens, as opposed to sunscreens based on chemical filters, are becoming more popular.  They have the benefit of being non-allergenic.  Unlike chemical sunscreens, which are absorbed into the skin where they absorb or reflect ultraviolet radiation, physical sunscreens lay on top of the skin and create a physical barrier to he penetration of both UVA and UVB rays.  Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the most widely used physical sunscreens.

(Also, as with any new cream, before applying a sunscreen to your child’s entire body, test a spot on your child to watch for any reactions to the sunblock.)

Babies under age six months, who generally should not use sunscreen, must be protected from the sun with loose fitting, light-weight, long-sleeved clothes, hats, sunglasses and umbrellas. The shade is definitely the best place for these little ones. Nevertheless, when physical protection from the sun is inadequate, you may apply sunscreen to small areas of your infant’s body, such as the face and hands.

Finally, we recommend that you try to keep your kids out of the sun during peak hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Sunscreens alone do not prevent the development of melaniocytic nevi (brown moles) in children.  Studies dating to the early 1990s have established that a person’s total number of melanocytic nevi is an important risk factor for the development of melanoma later in life.  Sun avoidance by keeping your child out of the sun when possible, or using protective clothing, decreases the long term risk of skin cancer by decreasing the total number of melanocytic nevi your child will develop.

If, somehow, your child still manages to get sunburn, relief will come from a cold cloth, aloe vera and—if your child is experiencing discomfort—pain relievers. However, if the sunburn is severe please bring your child into Willows Pediatrics to see one of our doctors.

Have fun and enjoy all of the sunny days this summer … just don’t forget to protect your skin!