Sun Protection 101

June 20, 2011

Body

girl-getting-sunscreen-applied-to-faceHere in Texas, it is sunny and hot! Daily sun protection is recommended for every one, but especially important for children. Because children spend more time playing outdoors, a significant amount of lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18.

There is overwhelming evidence that chronic sun exposure and sunburns (particularly in childhood) increase an individual's lifetime risk of all forms of skin cancer, including melanoma. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States and roughly 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. In 2009, more than 8,000 Americans died from melanoma.

Proper photoprotection has several components:

  1. Avoid deliberate sun bathing and indoor tanning.
  2. Seek shade whenever possible (especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  3. Wear protective gear, including clothing, a wind brimmed hat and UV protective sunglasses.
  4. Use broad spectrum sunscreen.

When purchasing sunscreen, look for a product with SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30.

Many products marketed for children will have an SPF of at least 50. Look for a product with "Broad Spectrum" coverage. This means it protects against both ultraviolet A and B rays from the sun. In general, the active ingredients in sunscreens are either "physical blockers" (e.g. zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) or "chemical blockers" (e.g. oxybenzone, avobenzone and ecamsule, to name a few). For younger children and children with very sensitive skin, it's usually best to select products containing physical blockers as they are less likely to be irritating. In addition, look for products that are "sweat and water resistant".

For maximum protection, sunscreen must be used correctly. It should be applied generously at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. It takes approximately 1 ounce (6 teaspoons) of sunscreen to adequately cover an adult of average size. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours, but more often when swimming and sweating.

Infants under the age of 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Sunscreen can be applied to small areas of exposed skin, such as the face or backs of the hands. Products that come in a stick are especially easy to apply to delicate areas, such as the nose, cheeks and ears.

Parents often ask if spray products are acceptable. To ensure even application of a generous layer of product, I recommend using a lotion or cream for the initial application. After that, sprays are convenient for reapplication. There are new spray products that adhere well to wet skin.

Finally, parents should remember to set a good example by protecting themselves from excessive sun exposure as well. Now that we have better information about the harmful effects of excessive sun exposure, we should make every effort to protect ourselves and our children as much a possible.

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