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How to Safely Use Sunscreen for Your Child

June 5, 2017

How to Safely Use Sunscreen for Your ChildWith our beautiful summer weather, your child is probably excited to get outdoors to play and swim, especially now that most schools are out for the summer. But as a parent, you want to make sure they’re enjoying the weather in a safe and healthy way. One of the most important factors to keep in mind is sun protection. Everyone knows that sunscreen can protect children and adults alike from sunburns, skin cancer, and other issues caused by too much sun exposure—but only if it’s used correctly. That’s why our board-certified pediatricians and other providers at Children’s Wellness Center have put together a collection of sunscreen tips for parents.

  • Babies under the age of six months have very sensitive skin, so they should truly be kept out of direct sunlight. However, if you know they will be getting some sun exposure, use sunscreen on any exposed areas of their skin.
  • When you’re selecting a sunscreen for your family, use these guidelines:
    • Find a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays (often labeled as “broad-spectrum”).
    • Choose a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or above. Studies have shown that it is not necessary to use a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 30.
    • Look for a sunscreen that is labeled as “water resistant.”
  • For areas that are particularly sensitive to sunburns on a child like the nose, tops of the ears, and shoulders, use a sunscreen that includes zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
  • Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before your child goes outside, to give the product the time it needs to absorb into the skin and become effective.
  • Use sunscreen every day before your child goes outside, regardless of the weather. As many as 80% of the sun’s rays can still get through clouds, even in the winter.
  • While it’s best to use a “water resistant” sunscreen, any sunscreen needs to be re-applied every 40-80 minutes (depending on the specific product), as well as after your child has been swimming or sweating.
  • Don’t assume sunscreen is your only defense against the sun. For true protection, combine proper sunscreen use with other summer child safety measures, such as these:
    • Keep as much of your child’s skin covered as possible in lightweight yet tightly woven clothing.
    • Look for clothing that is labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 15 or higher.
    • Have your child wear a hat with a three-inch-wide brim to shade the face, ears, and back of the neck.
    • Try to avoid taking your child outside between 10am and 4pm—the hours when the sun is at its strongest.
    • Have your child wear sunglasses that provide at least 99% UV protection.
  • Before you start using a new sunscreen for your child, put a little bit on a “test spot” of his or her skin to see if the skin becomes irritated. If so, try a different sunscreen. You may want to choose a hypoallergenic product like those offered by Neutrogena or Aveeno, especially if your child has sensitive skin or pediatric allergies.
  • Remember to protect your child’s lips, too, by using a lip balm that contains sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
  • There have been claims about toxic chemicals in sunscreen being absorbed through the skin. While you don’t want your child to ingest sunscreen, there have been no proven problems from proper sunscreen use, and yet the benefits of using sunscreen have been proven time and time again, so don’t shy away from sunscreen as long as you use it correctly.
  • It’s not a good idea to use a product that combines sunscreen with insect repellant for children. Sunscreen should be re-applied frequently, while insect repellant must be used sparingly for children, so to avoid getting too little sun protection or too much insect repellant, purchase these two products separately.
  • Remember to check the expiration date on your sunscreen bottle before using it, and if you notice any clear changes to the consistency or color of the sunscreen, it’s time to replace it.

Parenting is all about finding balance. Too much sun exposure is harmful, but so is keeping your child indoors and away from the fun and refreshing exercise he or she can get outside. That’s why knowing how to properly use sunscreen is such a powerful tool—it lets your family enjoy the many benefits that the great outdoors have to offer while dramatically cutting down on the risks. If you have questions about your sunscreen use, contact Children’s Wellness Center for guidance. Or, for more child safety tips and health tips, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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