Proper use of sunscreen is of course one of the keys to good sun protection.
Since even the best sunscreen won't block all of the UVA and UVB rays that can cause skin cancer and skin damage, it is important that you learn other ways to maximize your child's sun protection.
To get the best sun protection for your child, things to consider include:
Learn ways to limit sun exposure. This can include that you:
- reduce or limit your child's sun exposure when UV rays are strongest, which is usually from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- be especially careful to limit your child's sun exposure when the UV index is moderate or high and especially when there is a UV Alert in your area
- remember that water, snow, and sand can reflect UV rays and increase your child's sun exposure and chance of getting a sunburn and that your child is still getting exposed to dangerous UV rays even when it is overcast and cloudy
Wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your kids when they will be outside, but they have to be used properly. To make sure your kids are wearing sunscreen properly, you should:
- choose a water-resistant sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum sun protection with an SPF of at least 15 to 30. You could go for a higher SPF, but most experts believe that these high SPF sunscreens don't provide that much extra protection. Some experts go as far as to say the SPF rating should be capped at SPF 30 or SPF 50, which provides protection against 97 to 98 percent of UVB rays. Using a high SPF sunscreen might provide more protection for those parents who don't use enough sunscreen and don't reapply it often enough though.
- apply a generous amount of sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes before your child is going to be in the sun
- don't forget to apply sunscreen to your child's ears, nose, feet, and the back of his neck, which are often forgotten by many parents
- reapply your child's sunscreen every few hours or sooner if he is swimming or sweating a lot
- make sure your sunscreen hasn't expired
- have extra sunscreen handy wherever you will be just in case your kids will be outside and exposed to the sun longer than you planned
Other elements of a good sun protection plan should include that you consider having your kids:
- wear a hat or cap, with a wide-brimmed hat offering the best protection
- apply a lip balm that includes a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or above
- wear real sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays
- wear clothing made of tightly-woven fabrics in dark colors, which provide more sun protection than a more loosely woven white cotton t-shirt (UPF 7)
- avoid medications, when possible, that can make them more sensitive to getting a sunburn
- get alternative, safer forms of vitamin D than unprotected exposure to the sun's UV rays, including vitamins, milk, and other vitamin D fortified foods.
Beyond Wearing Sunscreen
In addition to wearing sunscreen and staying in the shade, some other things to consider in your sun protection plan might include that your kids:
- wear specially designed sun protection clothing with a Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 15 (good sun protection) to 50+ (excellent sun protection)
- wear clothing washed with a laundry additive like Sun Guard, that can increase the UPF of clothing
- use a moisturizer with SPF 15 or SPF 30 instead of a plain moisturizer
Sunless tanning, including the use of spray tanning lotions and airbrush tanning, is becoming popular as people become more aware of the dangers of tanning outside and the use of indoor tanning salons.
According to the FDA, products that are marketed as sunless tanners, which provide a tanned appearance without exposure to UV rays, work by darkening the skin with ingredients like dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It is approved for use in cosmetics that are externally applied to the skin, except for the areas around the eyes and lips.
The use of dihydroxyacetone or DHA in misting or airbrush tanning booths, however, is not approved by the FDA.
Is sunless tanning safe for kids? Airbrush tanning should likely be avoided, since it is not approved and the FDA has received reports of adverse events from people, including symptoms such as coughing, dizziness, and fainting.
Spray tanning lotions are usually thought to be a safe alternative to tanning, although the age that you can start using them isn't very clear. While it is likely fine for teens, especially those that would otherwise be using a tanning booth, it is important they also remember to use a sunscreen, as most sunless tanning products don't provide good sun protection.
The other problem with sunless tanning is that it might get your teen used to having a tan and later moving to a tanning bed or trying to get a tan outside without using sunscreen.
Other types of self tanning products, especially tanning accelerators and tanning pills, should be avoided.
Auerbach: Wilderness Medicine, 5th ed.
Balk, Sophie, M.D. Teenagers and Artificial Tanning. Pediatrics 2008;121;1040-1042
Ramirez R. Practical guide to sun protection. Surg Clin North Am - 01-FEB-2003; 83(1): 97-107.
US EPA. Sun. The Burning Facts. September 2006. Accessed July 2010.
US FDA. Sunless Tanners and Bronzers October 23, 2006. Accessed July 2010.
US FDA. Sun Protection April 2009. Accessed July 2010.