Sun protection is essential in childhood. Here’s 3 golden rules, backed by science, for you to use when purchasing, applying/re-applying sunscreen, and protecting children from the sun. Remember, more important than any ingredient or any particular SPF number or brand is the way you use a sunscreen: the best sunscreen is one used early and often.
Sun-protective clothing (those UV shirts, shorts, and hats) is an awesome, affordable, and easy way to protect children from sun without the hassle of sunscreen. Risks for skin cancer increase with sun exposure, family history, and sunburns in particular. Protecting your children from excessive sun exposure and sunburn is an anti-cancer move. That’s power.
3 Rules For Protecting Children From Sun Exposure
- Respect the brilliant sun; know your local risk. Enjoy the sun but be smarter. After surviving melanoma, I’ve been forced to change the way my family lives with the sun to decrease our risks. I’ve learned a ton about letting the UV index guide me. UV index is a measure of the radiation you are exposed to when outside. Radiation from the sun increases cancer risk, increases skin aging (wrinkles!), while it decreases eye and immune health. UV index varies with the time of year, the type of weather, the latitude, and the time of day. Check out your UV index today (by zipcode) and download the free app (search “UV index” in your smartphone). Make a habit to check the UV index every day to get a sense of your family’s exposure–I guarantee it will surprise you. Even on cloudy days, the UV index midday can rise to levels that will encourage you to protect your skin. Don’t be scared of the sun, just be smarter.
- Choose SPF 30 or more that covers both UVA and UVB rays. It’s misleading for brands to sell SPF labeled 70 or 100. The FDA is now more aggressively regulating how sunscreen is packaged as not to confuse or mislead. For your children and yourself, choose a sunscreen with SPF over 30. But save your money, you don’t get anything better with anything over SPF 50. Read about sunscreen ratings–rising cost doesn’t improve efficiency. UVA radiation is constant throughout the year, regardless of season or heat index. UVB radiation varies with the season (unlike UVA)–it’s most intense in the summer. An SPF over 30 protects against about 97% of the UVB light. You can get 60-90 SPF but most experts agree you aren’t getting much more bang for your buck. Remember no sunscreen is truly “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” or “playproof.” The American Academy of Dermatology also has tips.
- Avoid tanning beds, use shade and physical barriers. UV sun-protective clothing (UV shirts, long shorts, and hats) are are an easy affordable way to protect children from sun damage. Don’t underestimate this important strategy. I never have to apply sunscreen to my boys’ chests, backs, or shoulders as they always wear UV protective shirts. Use shade umbrellas and plan activities outside of peak sun times (10am until 4pm). Explain to teens who want to use a tanning bed the risks for increases in premature aging (wrinkles, wrinkles, wrinkles) and skin cancer risk. Explain that tanning beds have 10-15 times the radiation than the natural sun. Spray tans are an awesome alternative to a tanning bed and often not too far off on price.
We are in Denmark and were just talking about the UV Index today. I will be looking it up now! Thanks. One question for now – how much protection do standard tshirts offer from the sun?
Richard Saint Cyr MD says
The US CDC says most t shirts are under SPF 15, a white t shirt only 7 https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm And I agree with the advice to generally use SPF 30, and that over 50 is a waste of money. I thought it was now against the law since last year to even advertise any SPF greater than 50?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks !! Beat me to it
Kathleen Berchelmann says
Don’t forget that UV protective bathing suits are available for both boys AND girls! My kids wear very cute “rash guard” long sleeve swim tops with long swim shorts for boys or a swim skirt for girls. They are available from lots of retailers if you just do a google search. I use Lands End. There are also a lot of “surfer” style wetsuit bathing suits.
For me, this is the ultimate happy-mom bathing suit solution. I have less space to cover with sunscreen, and when the kids dry out they are already dressed for a restaurant or tennis lesson.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Of course– that’s what I am talking about in the post — UV protective sun clothing is available nearly everywhere–and online.
Amy Parker says
I really want my kids to wear hats or baseball caps when outside. My daughter complains because hers comes off when she swims. Is there some kind of cap (not a swim cap) that will stay on? Is there another way to protect her face and head? I already use sunscreen on her face and scalp.
What are your thoughts on these continued notions that many sunscreens actually CAUSE skin cancer? I haven’t bought into it yet but it seems to be more and more widespread these days. I’m guessing it has something to do with the chemicals and how your body absorbs vitamin D??? I just can’t justify spending $30 on 2.5 oz of “real, natural” sunscreen. Insane!
Whether we like it or not, sunscreen is a must for all of us.