Sunscreen Use in Children

kids in the waterby Anne Sveen, MD

Sunscreen is important and necessary to use in order to protect our kids from sunburns. In Upstate New York, it is especially important in the summer months. School is out, as is the sun, and kids are spending more time outside and in the water. Here are some helpful tips as far as what products to use, how to use them and risks to watch out for.

1. What sunscreens are best for children?
The best sunscreens are actually sunblocks. This means they contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients block out all UVA and UVB rays to protect against sunburn and skin damage. They are considered safe to use in children, but there are some reports that they may be harmful.

2. What is the best SPF to use?
There are many levels of SPF to choose from when buying a sunscreen. A good level is probably between 30-50. These will block out up to 99% of UV rays. As you go higher than that in SPF strength, you do not get much more protection. The most important thing is to apply a thick layer 15-30 minutes before kids go outside and reapply every 2 hours while they are in the sun.

3. Are sunscreens really waterproof or sweat proof?
Some will claim to be but they cannot be totally waterproof and you should still follow the rule of reapplying after 2 hours in the sun. Some are called water resistant which means they stick to the skin better than others after swimming or sweating.

4. Are spray sunscreens as good as lotions?
No they are sometimes considered worse than lotions because they may not be sprayed on thick enough, it is easy to miss spots and it is unclear if the aerosol is harmful if breathed in. If you do use a spray it is best to spray it on your hands first, and then apply to the face or body. In general, it is not recommended to use spray sunscreens on children.

5. Is it okay to use sunscreen on a baby, especially under 6 months?
Yes, if they must be in the sun. They should wear a hat and thin, cotton clothing that covers them well and keep them in the shade as much as possible. Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 is a good product, but, rarely, some children may get a rash from this.

6. What should you use if you have eczema or sensitive skin?
Use a sunscreen that has little to no perfume or fragrance. Neutrogena makes some nice products for sensitive skin that say that on the tube. Blue Lizard (Australian sunscreen regular) is also good for kids with sensitive skin. Look for the ingredients avobenzone and oxybenzone; these may cause skin rash in some people.

7. What are the best brands to use?
You do not have to spend a lot of money to get a good, safe sunscreen. Some of the nicest ones are by NO-AD and the Target brand “Up & Up”. They have little perfume, they offer good UVA/UVB protection and they are not expensive. They are generally safe to use on children. Some other brands that offer good protection are: Neutrogena, All terrain (Aquasport) and Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 and some Banana Boat sport performance products. (Consumer reports, June 2012) Keep in mind that they may stain clothing and bathing suits.

8. What about sun protective clothing or clothes that have an SPF built in to them?
These are thought to be very helpful for protecting children from sunburn. You can buy hats, shirts, bathing suits and rash guards that have an SPF in them and they are good to use in all children, if possible.

9. Will you cause vitamin D deficiency by using sunscreen or sunblock?
The current evidence tells us that, yes, sunscreen use decreases production of vitamin D but it is probably not enough to cause a health concern or serious deficiency. If you are still concerned, allowing a child to play outside for only 10-15 minutes twice a week without sun protection is probably enough to give them a healthy dose of vitamin D and not cause sunburn. It is even better to make sure they are eating foods that contain vitamin D, like fortified milk, and fish like salmon.

Remember, to keep kids safe in the sun, it is best to wear a hat and sun protective clothing, keep babies out of the sun as much as possible, reapply sunscreens every 2 hours, especially after swimming or sweating and avoid a lot of sun exposure between 10am and 2pm.

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