The month of May not only heralds the onset of summer but also Skin Cancer Awareness Month – the perfect time to review your sun protection plan for your family. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide and it is estimated that 1 out of 5 Americans will develop a skin cancer by the age of 70. But the risk of skin cancer is not the only reason to protect yourself and your child from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Leathery skin changes, dark spots and wrinkles are all unwanted effects of chronic sun exposure.
Cruise into summer prepared and armed with these practical sun protection tips for kids.
Make sun protection part of your daily routine
With 365 days of sun in Florida, sun protection is not only for those special beach, pool and boating days – it should be part of your morning every day. I recommend applying sunscreen before leaving the house as it is much more challenging to get it on correctly when your child is excited and distracted once you have arrived at the park, pool or beach.
Choose the right sunscreen
I often get asked: What is the best sunscreen? The best sunscreen is the one that you will use! As long as it is labeled “Broad spectrum, SPF 30 and water resistant”, the other factors like smell, consistency and brand are up to you to choose. For my young patients and those with sensitive skin, I recommend the use of mineral containing or physical sunscreens as these tend to be less irritating. These are ones that have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. I also don’t recommend the use of sprays as it is much harder to get on kids as thick and evenly as is necessary.
Don’t rely solely on sunscreen
Now that you have chosen the right sunscreen, it is important that you don’t rely on sunscreen 100% as your only line of defense against the sun’s UV rays. I often see bad sunburns in people who have been out in the sun with sunscreen on. This is due to improper application, and not reapplying every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Additional things you must do to stay protected from the Florida sun include: seeking shade (especially during peak sun hours 10 am – 4 pm), wear sun protective clothing and a wide brimmed hat (at least 3 inches all around).
I can’t emphasize this one enough! There are so many fashionable sun protective clothing lines available and these fabrics also keep your skin cooler in the sun . Being covered with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) 50 fabric will block 98 percent of the sun’s rays and means you will only need to apply sunscreen to the exposed areas. This is so much easier than chasing kids down to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. Sun protection clothing is now widely available at many popular retailers. You can find good options at Target, Old Navy, Coolibar, Mott50, Minnow Swim, UV Skinz, Land’s End and Green Sprouts Baby.
Apply sunscreen on your baby, if necessary
Although many sunscreen products say: for use in older than 6 months (or “< 6 months ask a doctor”), it turns out that there is nothing magical that happens to babies’ skin at 6 months of age that suddenly makes it safe for babies to use it. This labelling is based on the ages of the subjects who participated in the safety and efficacy testing studies that were submitted to the FDA for approval. Thus, the products were only tested in infants older than 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a statement regarding their recommendation: “Sunscreens can be used on infants < 6 months to areas of skin uncovered by clothing and hats, if adequate clothing and shade are not available.”
Thus, clothing, hats and shade should be first line in young infants, but if there are areas of skin still exposed, you can apply sunscreen. In this circumstance, I do recommend the use of mineral only sunscreens such as those containing zinc oxide (same ingredient as in most diaper pastes) and titanium dioxide.
Talk with your child about the importance of sun protection while he or she completes our Fun in the Sun activity sheet.
Lastly, make it a family affair. Don’t forget to model the sun protection practices for the whole family to follow.
Dr. Mercedes E. Gonzalez is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing medicine in Miami-Dade County.