Summer is here again and with it comes the increased risk of sunburn and damage to your skin. To learn how you can protect yourself and your children from the sun’s damaging effects we talked to our own board-certified pediatric specialist, and medical director of pediatric dermatology at Florida Hospital for Children, Tace Rico, MD, about tips and tricks for staying safe and healthy this summer.
Sunscreen Isn’t Everything
“A lot of people think that the be-all end-all to sun safety is to use sunscreen, but that’s a common misconception,” explains Dr. Rico. “The best way to keep your skin safe from the sun is to avoid it altogether. Don’t go outside during the brightest and hottest hours, when you do go outside try to stay in the shade, and always wear sun protective clothing rated 50–55 UPF or higher.”
All clothing is sun protective to one degree or another, but certain types of clothing are better at it than others. The rating system for clothing is UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, as compared to sunscreen’s SPF, or sun protection factor. Not all clothing will specify its UPF rating, but all clothing has one. For instance, a normal T-shirt has a UPF rating of 5 but once wet it will drop to about 3.
Things to Know About Sunscreen
“The SPF protection from sunscreen is a bit misleading,” says Dr. Rico. “This kind of sunscreen is called a chemical blocker. SPF only blocks UVB light that will give you a sunburn but the UVA which damages the skin cells long term isn’t blocked at all. To block out UVA, your sunscreen needs to include zinc or titanium, which is called a physical blocker because it actually reflects the light.”
When choosing a sunscreen, you should buy one that has at least an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Properly applied SPF 30 blocks about 80 percent of the UVB light.
Aerosol or spray sunscreens may seem convenient but come with their own set of risks. The components in chemical blockers are very often toxic and should never be used on the face or inhaled. They also have a high alcohol content and shouldn’t be used if you or your child has eczema as it will aggravate the condition. That said, if it’s all you have you should still use it rather than exposing yourself to the raw power of the sun.
Water-resistant does not mean water-proof. Sunscreen comes in two varieties of water resistance, “water-resistant” and “very water-resistant.” Standard water-resistant sunscreen lasts in water or sweat for up to 40 minutes while very water-resistant sunscreen will last up to 80 minutes. Being in water or being sweaty are essentially the same when it comes to sunscreen so be sure to reapply as necessary depending on the variety you’re using.
Babies 6 months and younger should not be in the sun since their bodies have not yet developed the ability to cope with it and therefore should also not be wearing sunscreen. If, for whatever reason, you have to have your newborn infant out in these conditions, be sure to check the ingredients for toxins and use a sunscreen with zinc or titanium in it.
Proper Application of Sunscreen
“It’s very important that you apply the sunscreen correctly, otherwise you can have very inconsistent results,” says Dr. Rico. “By putting it on wrong you can cut its benefit in half or more.”
When applying sunscreen always try to err on the side of too much versus too little. Dr. Rico recommends using 1–2 ounces of SPF 30+ sunscreen containing a UVA physical blocker like zinc or titanium, making sure to cover every part of you that will be exposed to the sun and reapplying every hour.
Treatment for Sunburn
Mistakes happen — sometimes you’ll miss a spot and get a sunburn. Here’s the best way to treat it:
- Drink plenty of water as your body will need it to recover
- Take cold baths
- Take ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medication
- Apply aloe or other cool, light lotions but be sure to avoid any heavy occlusive ones that contain ingredients like Vaseline, as they can increase the heat rather than cool the burn
Skin Health Checkups
Even with proper protection and diligence, you should still have your child’s skin checked once a year by their pediatrician. If you have a family history of melanoma, be sure your child visits a dermatologist. Be sure to keep a close eye on birthmarks, too. To schedule an appointment with a dermatologist or to learn more, please visit Florida Hospital for Children or call 407-303-KIDS (5437).