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Sunscreen Lingo and Tips

Jun 17 | Sunscreen Lingo and Tips

If you're like me...you understand the importance of protecting your child from the harmful effects of the sun and you have absolutely no idea how to choose a sunscreen that is right for your child. One severe sunburn early in life can double your child's chances of developing melanoma as an adult. Since you're likely overwhelmed by the plethora of choice available... I thought the decision might be a little easier if you had the facts.

Follow up:

  • There are two types of products available to protect children from the harmful effects of the sun. Sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb UV rays while sun blocks provide a physical barrier that deflect UV rays. In order to best protect your child, choose a product that provide broad spectrum protection...that contains both a sunscreen and a sun block and thereby protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • We all know that the SPF factor of a sun protection product specifies the amount of time that your child can remain in the sun without burning. SPF, or sun protection factor, is determined by having individuals with very fair complexions apply the product and measuring the amount of time the product protects their skin from frying. Who volunteers for that anyway? In any event...the SPF factor measures the amount of additional time your child can remain in the sun without burning. So, if they normally begin to burn in 15 minutes...they will not begin to burn for 30 x 15 or 450 minutes when using SPF 30 sun protection.
  • Research has proven though that SPF factors greater than 30 do little to increase actual protection and, since they contain more chemicals in order for them to work, they can actually be harsher for children with sensitive skin. Since sun protection needs to be regularly reapplied in order to be effective...very high ratings can actually do more harm than good by giving parents a false sense of security. The best advice seems to be to use a sun protection product with a SPF of 15 to 30 and to reapply it liberally every hour or two. Remember to do a skin test on your child to check for allergic reactions or signs of sensitivity to the product BEFORE you lather them up completely.
  • In order to provide both sunscreen and sun block protect, look for products containing avobenzone (absorbs UVA rays and can be absorbed through the skin), 5% or more of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (chemicals that sit on top of the skin and cannot be absorbed).
  • Look for products labeled fragrance free, PABA free and hypoallergenic when shopping for a child with sensitive skin. • In order be labeled water resistant by the FDA, sun protection must maintain its SPF rating for 40 minutes after water exposure. Waterproof products must maintain their SPF rating for 80 minutes after swimming.
  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every 2 hours, sooner if the child has been swimming. • Spray-on sunscreens for kids are easy to apply.
  • Apply sunscreens first, then insect repellents.

The best sunscreens for children recommended by Consumer Reports:

  • Blue Lizard Baby Suncream SPF 30 (the same formula as their adult Sensitive brand). It’s fragrance and chemical free and contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
  • Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free Sunblock Lotion SPF 30 offers broad spectrum protection, but is not chemical free. It is easy to apply and does not irritate the eyes.
  • California Baby No-Fragrance SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion is water resistant but very expensive – about $20 for 2.9 oz.
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