As we approach the beginning of summer and the 4th of July weekend, one of the concerns many parents have is sun exposure. What type of sunscreen should I use? Should I apply sunscreen if we will only be outside for a little while? Are there ingredients my sunscreen should or should not contain? We are going to address many of those questions as we explore the pros and cons of sunscreen.
First of all I want to discuss the sun and its effect on the body. Our bodies make Vitamin D, which is an essential vitamin for a healthy body, when our skin is exposed to the UVB rays of the sun. Vitamin D is important for a lot of reasons including absorbing Calcium. Overexposure of the UVA and UVB rays of the sun is also believed to damage the skin and cause things like wrinkles and skin cancer. As parents we need to find a balance of exposure that is healthy for our children.
What does SPF mean? The Sun Protection Factor is a measurement of the percentage of UVB rays that are blocked by the sunscreen. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB, and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB. Notice there is no indication of the amout of UVA protection. Remember that these numbers are only accurate if you apply the correct amount of sunscreen and reapply after 2 hours. If you do not use enough sunscreen then these number are a lot lower.
Are there dangerous chemicals in sunscreens? There is a lot of information and debate about this. The ingredients in question are retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) believe these are dangerous compounds while USNews.com believe it will not cause the issues in humans that it did in the mice. The EWG believe minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are safer ingredients as long as you don't have a skin condition like eczema that will allow these compounds to be absorbed into the skin with unknown effects. There is so much debate on this it is best to discuss these chemicals/minerals with your pediatrician and look at these articles. You need to make a personal decision based on how much concern you have about these chemicals.
What type of sunscreen should I look for? According to skincancer.org you want to look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection. If you are going to be outside for a while you will want something that is waterproof so that it won't sweat off as easily.
How do I apply sunscreen correctly so that it is most effective? It doesn't matter how great your sunscreen is if you don't apply it correctly. This is where most people go wrong.
1. It needs to be applies 30 min PRIOR to exposure, not when you arrive at the pool or beach. I think its too difficult to do when you get there anyway. Tip: Apply the sunscreen before you put their bathing suit on. You can get it all over, more evenly when you don't have to worry about straps and things. Then put their bathing suits on and hit the beach.
2. Be sure to apply enough sunscreen. An adult needs to apply about 1 oz of sunscreen to ensure they are getting the proper coverage. If you are using a spray on sunscreen that means you have to go over the same area 3 times.
3. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming, drying off, or sweating. According to WebMD, it doesn't matter what SPF it is, after 2 hours its gone and you need to reapply.
Don't forget to block the sun when possible. Use a beach umbrella over the kids while they play. Have the kids wear rash guards , hats, and sunglasses at the pool, beach or park. Get a sunshade for your stroller that blocks the harmful rays of the sun. Just because you are in the shade does not mean you are protected. The harmful rays can go through clothing and beach umbrellas so look for ones that say they protect from the UVA/UVB rays. These powerful rays can even go through the clouds so apply protection on hazy days if you plan to be outside all day. Also remember that the rays of the sun are strongest from 10am to 4 PM and as you go closer to the equator. For example, the UVA/UVB rays are much stronger in Florida than in New York.
What are some recommended sunscreen?
Here are some of the children's sunscreens that have received the Seal of Recommendation from skincancer.org. Check out the full list here .
Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunblock Natural Protection Kids SPF 45
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 45 and 55
Banana Boat Baby Tear Free Sunblock Lotion SPF 50
Coppertone WaterBABIES Sunscreen Lotion Spray SPF 50
Coppertone WaterBABIES Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70+
Johnson's Baby Daily Face and Body Lotion SPF 40
You can also check out the EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide . This website has great features like "Find your Sunscreen", "Best Sunscreen", and "Hall of Shame"