Protecting your child in the sun is very important. Make sure you understand how sunscreen should be used and what SPF is.
The Skin Cancer Foundation and the Cancer Council in Australia provide information on the many ways we can protect our skin. The Cancer Council calls this: slip, slop, slap, seek, slide.
- Slip on sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Not all fabrics provide sun protection, so it’s important to learn about which fabrics do. Garments with UPF labels can help guide your choice, but some fabrics are inherently sun protective.
- Slop on broad-protection, water-resistant sunscreen. Apply according to the directions on the package. Some sunscreens take time to go into effect.
- Slap on a hat with a broad brim.
- Seek shade.
- Slide on sunglasses with UV protection.
Types of sunscreens
In the US, active ingredients typically found in sunscreen include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide.
Physical sunscreens, which include zinc oxide and titanium oxide, provide protection by blocking or deflecting UV light. There are some concerns that they do not work as well as chemical sunscreens. Zinc oxide may perform better than titanium dioxide. This overall decreased effectiveness may be related to the fact that they are more difficult to spread on the body and must be reapplied more often.
The other ingredients listed are chemical sunscreens, which work by absorbing UV light and then transforming that light energy (photons) into some other form of energy, such as heat. The benefit to chemical sunscreens is that they are more waterproof since they are absorbed. There is recent concern that these chemicals are absorbed into our bodies and may not be as safe as once thought. (Studies are still underway, so nothing definitive can be said.) There is also concern that these ingredients damage coral reefs, and many ocean locations forbid chemical sunscreens.
Infants under 6 months
Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of the direct sunlight. Move your baby to the shade or under a tree, umbrella or the stroller canopy. On reflective surfaces shade may reduce UV exposure by only 50%. It is okay to apply sunscreen to small areas of the body that you cannot cover with clothing, such as face and hands. Use physical blocking sunscreens with zinc oxide in this age group, not the chemical blockers that are commonly found in waterproof sunscreens. These are absorbed into the skin and may not be safe, especially in young infants.
Do not give extra water to infants until they are on solid foods. Breastfeed more often or give extra formula to prevent dehydration.
Dress babies in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs and use wide-brimmed hats.Small amounts of sunscreen may be used on small areas, such as the face, when clothing is not adequate protection.
What is SPF?
SPF= Sun Protection Factor. The SPF increases the time you can spend in the sun, depending on your skin type. If you would typically burn in 1 hour, an SPF of 15 will keep you from burning for 15 hours, if you reapply every 2 hours. If you would burn in 20 minutes, an SPF of 15 used every 2 hours would protect you 15 x 20 minutes, or 5 hours.
The sun protection factor (SPF) should be at least 15 and should cover both UVA and UVB rays. The sooner your skin burns, the higher the SPF you should use.
How should sunscreen be used?
For all infants and children over 6 months, be generous with sunscreen. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, reapply it every 1-2 hours if sweating or swimming (even if it states it is waterproof), and use sunscreen even on cloudy days. One full ounce should be used to cover an adult.
Reapply the sun screen every 1-2 hours.
Try to keep children out of the sun between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, when the sun's rays are strongest.
Clouds are not sufficiently protective against the sun. UV rays on cloudy days may be reduced by only 20% to 40%.
What about eyes?
Sunglasses may be used to protect the eyes from sun damage. Hats with wide brims also keep sun out of the eyes.
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