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Sun Safety Tips

5/21/2018 | Julie R. Javorek, M.D.

Everyone loves spending time outside when the weather warms up, but it is important to follow certain precautions to avoid sunburn. Children in particular should be protected from the sun, since most damage occurs during the early years.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology on how to keep the whole family safe this summer.

How to Select Sunscreen

Look for the following words on the label:

  • Broad Spectrum - protects against both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.
  • Sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15-30 - the additional benefits of using sunscreen with SPF 50+ are limited.
  • Water-resistant reapply every two hours or after swimming, sweating or towel drying.
  • Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide- these products can be used for extra protection on sensitive areas such as the nose, cheeks, top of the ears and shoulders.
  • Avoid sunscreens that contain the ingredient oxybenzone, a chemical that may have hormonal properties.

How to Apply Sunscreen

  • Apply generously (about 1 ounce per sitting for a young adult) to all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet and hands, and the backs of the knees.
  • Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors to give enough time for it to absorb into the skin.
  • Sunscreens should be used for sun protection and not as a reason to stay in the sun longer. Stay in the shade whenever possible, and limit sun exposure during the peak intensity hours (10am - 4pm).
  • Use sunscreen even on cloudy days, since 80% of harmful UV rays can get through the clouds.

Special Tips for Babies Under 6 Months

  • Avoid direct sunlight whenever possible, choosing instead shaded areas under a tree, umbrella or stroller canopy.
  • Dress babies in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs and use brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn.
  • When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) to small areas, such as the infant's face and the back of the hands.
  • If an infant gets sunburn, apply cool compresses to the affected area.

Other Sun Safety Tips for Kids

  • The first, and best, line of defense against harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure is covering up and avoiding exposure, particularly between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Select clothes made of tightly woven fabrics. Cotton clothing is both cool and protective. Commercially available sun-protective clothing, including swim shirts, are another great option.
  • Wide-brimmed hats that shade the cheeks, chin, ears and back of the neck and sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection offer added protection.
  • If your child gets sunburn that results in blistering, pain or fever, contact your pediatrician.

For more information, check out the full guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology: "Sun Safety and Protection Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics” and "Sunscreen FAQs." 

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