With all of the different terms from SPF, to UVB to Broad Spectrum, protecting your child’s skin from the sun sounds more complicated than it should. To top it off, the changing regulations and differing opinions on the best sun safety skincare practices are enough to confuse just about anyone looking for the best method to protect their child from the sun’s harmful rays this summer. But with the potential to cause skin cancer, currently the number one cancer in the United States, it’s important to take skincare safety seriously. Dr. Laurie Shinn, a childhood dermatology expert at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, provides simple and important tips to help parents keep their children safe in the sun.1. Is sunscreen waterproof? The FDA is requiring companies to use the terms sunscreen and water-resistant instead of sunblock and waterproof. Why? Because in reality, it’s impossible for sunscreen to be completely waterproof. Similarly, sun protection does not block all of the sun from a person’s skin, but rather screens some of the sun’s harmful rays. Therefore, it’s important to reapply your child’s sunscreen more often if he or she is sweating or jumping in and out of water. 2. What SPF does my child need? Any sunscreen above SPF 30 has the same amount of sun protection. The difference, however, is the higher the SPF, the longer the sunscreen will protect your child from the sun. A child with fair skin may be protected by SPF 30 from a half an hour to an hour, whereas SPF 50 would offer longer protection depending on the child. Ideally parents should use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30.3. Which sunscreen should I buy? One of the most important qualifications to look for when purchasing sunscreen is broad spectrum, which protects skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Traditional sunscreen only protects your skin from UVB rays which are more likely to cause a burn, but if a sunscreen is not broad spectrum it does not protect the skin from UVA rays which causes wrinkles. If you are looking for the best sunscreen brand to purchase, Dr. Shinn recommends checking out the latest Consumer Reports study which examines sunscreen criteria and rates different brands.4. When should sunscreen be applied? Apply sunscreen to your child 20 minutes before exposure and reapply every one to two hours. An adult should use one ounce of sunscreen on their body per application and adjust the amount of sunscreen used accordingly depending on the size of your child. 5. What other ways can I protect my child from the sun? Sunscreen is not the only form of sun protection. Clothing can and should be used to screen some of the sun’s harmful rays. However, not all clothing is created equal. If you hold up a piece of clothing to the light and can see your hand through it, you are only getting approximately an SPF 4 level of protection. There are a variety of brands touting their sun protective clothing and swimwear; unfortunately, most are not regulated by the FDA. When purchasing sun protective clothing, a good tip to remember is the tighter the weave of the fabric, the more protection the clothing provides. Dr. Shinn suggests checking out Sun Precautions’ line of protective clothing, which is currently one of the only FDA regulated brand. Remember to replace protective clothing often, as it too becomes damaged from sun exposure and repeated washes overtime. She also recommends children wear sunglasses as soon as they are old enough to keep them on. Sunglasses with UV protection will help prevent a child from developing cataracts later in life.In addition, parents need to take special precaution with young children. Kids should never be directly in the sun for long periods of time, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Parents of infants should be particularly careful since babies under six months of age do not have enough protective pigment producing cells (melanin) in their skin yet and their skin is thinner, so even using sunscreen will not protect them from a sunburn. While putting children under an umbrella at the beach is better than exposing them to direct sunlight, it’s important to realize that sun is reflected from the sand and this exposure can still result in sunburn. Dr. Shinn advises her patients to consider how appropriate their vacation plans are in relation to the age of their children. “I tell my patients it’s important for them and their children to live a normal life and participate in activities they enjoy, said Dr. Shinn. “I never tell anyone to avoid the sun completely, but rather I advise parents to do what they can to protect their child from sun damage at an early age. By doing this parents will also inadvertently teach children how to care for their skin health, just as you teach them to brush their teeth and eat their fruits in vegetables. I promise your child will thank you later.”And remember, children learn by example so if you’re having fun in the sun, don’t forget YOUR sunscreen too!Note: If you have a family history of melanoma, have your child checked every year starting at age two. If melanoma does not run in the family, have your child checked every 2-3 years starting at age three.What’s your favorite sunscreen to use on your children during the summertime?
Laurie L. Shinn, M.D. clinical assistant professor in the VCU departments of Dermatology and Pediatrics, is an expert in childhood dermatology. Shinn received her medical education from the VCU School of Medicine. She completed her residency training in pediatrics in 1995, and another in dermatology in 1998, both from the VCU Medical Center. She is board certified in pediatrics, dermatology and pediatric dermatology sub-specialty. In 2010, Shinn was listed for dermatology in Richmond Magazine’s Top Docs survey, which asked Richmond-area physicians whom they would recommend in a range of specialties.