With summer rapidly approaching, everyone is thinking about fun under the sun. Whether it’s a trip to the beach, getting ready for camp, or simply playing in the backyard or park, everyone needs to know how to protect their family from the sun. The simplest solution—staying inside—has obvious drawbacks, but you should do all you can to limit exposure to harmful sunlight. Here are some helpful tips for safe summer fun:
Try to be indoors or in shaded areas between 10am-4pm, when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.
Use sunscreen. Remember, you can get sunburn even on cloudy days. Use enough to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands, and even backs of the knees—and rub it in well. Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outdoors. This allows it time to absorb into the top layers of the skin. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours, as well as after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Also, while we are focused on the summer, be aware that one can get sunburn even in winter.
What is SPF? A sunscreen’s efficacy is measured by its sun protection factor, or SPF. SPF is not an amount of protection, but instead indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden without any protection. For example, if it takes 10 minutes for skin to redden on its own, it will take 15x longer with a sunscreen of SPF 15 applied. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50, 98 percent. But regardless of an SPF number, sunscreen needs to be reapplied often.
How to choose? The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) recommend that all sunscreen you use should provide broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection, have an SPF of 30 or higher, and be water resistant.
Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight and under shade. If an infant is out in the sun and protective clothing and shade are not available, use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face. For babies older than 6 months, apply sunscreen to all areas of the body, but be careful around the eyes.
When possible, dress yourself and your children in cool, dark colored, and loose clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. Good examples include lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts, and broad brimmed hats. Select clothes made with a tight weave; they protect better than clothes with a looser weave. If you’re not sure how tight a fabric’s weave is, hold it up to see how much light shines through. The less light, the better. Or you can look for protective clothing labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). The higher the UPF number the better. For a good comparison, a white cotton t-shirt has a UPF rating of 6.
Look for child-sized sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.
If all your protection efforts fail and your child gets sunburn: most sunburns are mild, but ALL are real burns, if only superficial. Cool compresses, pain relief medication, rehydration (with water or 100% fruit juice), and staying out of the sun are usually all that is needed for care of 1st degree burns. Severe sunburns are classified as 2nd degree, and can be accompanied by severe blistering and pain. Any child who develops fever and severe blistering or cracking of the skin should call their pediatrician and/or seek immediate medical attention.
David Shipman, MD, is a pediatrician and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone Medical Center. He sees patients at NYU Langone at Trinity.