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Summer Fun, Summer Sun: How Can You Protect Your Child?

Sunscreen on the back of a child

Each day, nearly 9,500 Americans receive a skin cancer diagnosis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. As cool spring weather turns into hot summer days, it's likely that your children will spend more time outdoors. While the fresh air brings plenty of benefits for kids, it also comes with dangers - from above.

The sun's rays can damage young skin and set the stage for later cancers. Fortunately, you can help your child to protect their skin. Understanding UVA and UVB light, how sunburn and sun damage happens and what sunscreen can do to stop exposure issues is the first step to keeping your child safe.

What do you need to know about the sun and sunscreen? Look at some of the top questions that parents have. 

What Are the UVA/UVB Dangers to Your Child's Skin?

Ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light are at the heart of current research' on sun damage and the causes of skin cancer. While these aren't the only two types of light, they both make their way through the Earth's atmosphere. This means there's nothing to stop the wavelengths from causing skin damage.

UV radiation causes damage by creating genetic mutations. These mutations can lead to or play a role in both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas).

How Can You Protect Your Child?

Keeping your child out of the sun's direct rays is the easiest answer to this question, but that isn't always possible. During the summer months, your child wants to play at the park, go swimming, or engage in other outdoor activities. The peak sunlight/UV hours are between 10 am and 4 pm. Staying in the shade (or taking extra protective measures) during this time period is always advisable.

Along with limiting exposure to the direct sunlight, things like sun-protective clothes, hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen can all help to reduce the damaging effects of UV rays.

What Type of Sunscreen Should Children Use?

A broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays is an absolute must-have when your child goes outdoors. Keep in mind that the sun's rays reach your child when they're in the car and on cloudy days too. This means you need to be vigilant about slathering them up with a broad-spectrum product at all times. 

While the specific brand of sunscreen you choose is a personal choice, the SPF isn't. Always choose a product that has an SPF of 30 or higher. Even though there is no product that provides 100 percent protection, an SPF 30 filters 97 percent of the UVB rays and an SPF 100 filters nearly 99 percent.

Are Sunscreens Waterproof?

The short answer to this question is no. Along with a broad spectrum, high SPF number product, look for a sunscreen that is water-resistant. The term water-resistant is often misread as waterproof. The two terms are not interchangeable and shouldn't be viewed as one and the same.

Read the sunscreen's label closely. Sunscreens are never completely water- or sweat-proof. Labels that make water- or sweat-resistance claims must clearly state if the sunscreen will last for either 40 or 80 minutes while swimming/sweating.

This is a general claim, and some circumstances may reduce the total effectiveness time. Using a towel to dry off or wipe sweat away will also wipe the sunscreen away. Always reapply the product after toweling off. 

Are Sunscreens Safe for Kids?

Some parents worry that the chemicals used in sunscreens are harmful. Avobenzone and benzophenone are common chemicals used in these products. There is no conclusive research showing that these, and other, chemicals in sunscreens can cause significant health issues in children.

Some kids may have dermatological allergies to these chemicals, resulting in rashes, redness, swelling, irritation, blistering or burning. Always see your dermatologist immediately if your child has a reaction to a sunscreen product.

If you want to avoid avobenzone and benzophenone, zinc and titanium dioxide products are barrier products that are often less irritating to sensitive skin.

Do you need help choosing a sunscreen for your child? Contact the Dermatology Center of Newton-Rockdale, P.C., for more information.