I’ve written about sunscreen before (Protecting Children From The Sun, 10 Tips on Tanning, & the video on Protecting Infants included below). More important and than any granular, scientific detail about a sunscreen ingredient, UVA/UVB radiation, or it’s vehicle– a spray or a lotion or an ointment–is how you use it. The best sunscreen is the one that is used early and often on children. No sunscreen is waterproof and no sunscreen is play proof. For infants and toddlers, I’ve found the best trick for easy application is to put it on while they are strapped into the car seat on your way to the beach! There’s no controversy that it’s best to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and repeat the application head to toe every 1-2 hours during active play/swim.
Don’t be fooled– sunscreens marketed for children may not provide any increased safety or protection. You’ll see and hear conflicting reports on ingredient safety, particularly as differing groups discuss concerns about chemical ingredients versus physical/mineral ingredients. Trouble is, groups now warn about the physical/mineral ingredients (previously felt to be the safest) due to their particle size. And although the FDA warns against using spray sunscreen with children (concerns about inhalation of the fumes) most families love the convenience. Here’s a comprehensive, current review on ingredients & safety.
Good thing is, most everyone agrees that the ingredients in sunscreen are less risky than any significant sun exposure or burn in childhood.
The video above explains the need for broad spectrum protection. You’ll need to look for a sunscreen that has 2 or 3 ingredients to cover all the range of UVA and UVB rays that damage our skin. Here’s the American Academy of Dermatology’s tips.
A Little Science About UVA/UVB Light & Sunscreen:
- UVA radiation causes Aging and deeper skin damage. To protect against the entire spectrum of UVA rays, you’ll likely need two ingredients in the sunscreen–most commonly you will see oxybenzone or avobenzone coupled with another (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, for example) to cover the entire UVA spectrum of light. Although some people report concerns about oxybenzone’s irritation to sensitive skin, recent research finds when it’s only at typical 1-6% concentrations, skin reactions are unlikely. If using a sunscreen for the first time, apply a small patch of sunscreen to your child’s leg as a test before using it elsewhere. UVA radiation is constant throughout the year, regardless of season or heat index.
- UVB radiation causes Burning. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) you see on sunscreen bottles and clothing relates to the ability of the sunscreen to protect you from UVB light. Pick anything with an SPF over 30 as it 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. UVB radiation varies with the season (unlike UVA)–it’s most intense in the summer.
If all this seems confusing or makes you uneasy, you can
Reduce Sunscreen Use While Still Providing Protection:
- Cover your children up with hats and long sleeves whenever you can to reduce the amount of skin you need to cover with sunscreen. Do the same for yourself. It’s remarkably easier to get the boys to wear a hat when I do the same.
- Stay out of the sun (when you can) between 10am and 4pm as the sun is most intense and UV radiation is highest during peak hours.
- Take a bath before bed on the days you apply sunscreen–get rid of all those physical and chemical ingredients when you’re done using them.
Rhonda Sparks says
Hi Dr. Swanson.
Thank you very much for posting again about sun protection. I learned of your blog through my friend, Dr. Bob Uslander, as he really liked your explanation and video on sun protectino and he knew how much I like hearing about this stuff. I started my company, UV Skinz, after I lost my 32 year old husband to skin cancer. It was this expereince and being left to raise our three little boys on my own that gave me the will and determination to bring sun protection products to the market that were fun, affordable, and products that people would WANT to wear. We started an annual campaign to where we donate baby sun shirts to pediatricians and dermatologists all over the nation to give to their newest members of their practices. On the front of our shirts reads ‘What’s a Sunburn?’ – we feel NO child should ever know what the feeling of a sunburn is. Please let me know if I can ship some of our baby skinz to you (free-of-charge) to give away. And thank you for always having great articles to share! Even in this sun protection post … here I am thinking I know quite a bit on the topic since it’s part of my daily life and I have never thought of recommending taking a bath/shower on the days you wear a bunch of sun block. Great idea.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
I don’t accept products and we don’t give any away on the site. But I will tell you I already have some of the UV Skinz products in our home—actually on my son as I type!! We love using clothing (rather than sunscreen) when we can.
Thanks for sharing your story and for your ongoing energy and passion to protect all of us from harm.
Brian from medigapgroup.com says
Thank you so much for this valuable information… Sunscreen really is so important. Many of the consequences however, we don’t see until later in life. I work with senior citizens every day, helping them cover the out of pocket gaps brought on by government Medicare. If you talk to any of my clients, they would all say that using sunscreen was something that they wish they would’ve done! It is so easy to do and doesn’t take up hardly any time, but many of us overlook its importance.
I will have to pass this information along to my friends and clients. Thank you again for sharing. Someday we will be able to make people realize how vital sunscreen is to our health! If you ever get the opportunity, feel free to check out our brand new website. We’d appreciate any type of feedback that you may have. Keep up the good work.