Use Sunscreen Correctly with Kids

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Prevent the chance of skin cancer in your kids by correctly using sunscreen when they're outdoors.

When it comes to kids, you need to be extremely cautious about sun exposure, says Marla Policana of Nashville. She had a patch of squamous cell carcinoma removed from her face, and it made her really think about her three children.

“I got sunburned as a kid,” Policana says, “so now with my kids, I just never let them leave the house without wearing sunscreen,” she says. But there are plenty of kids who don’t wear sunscreen for things like soccer games, summer camp and just backyard play. Do you really need sunscreen for ALL sun exposure? The simple answer is yes.

What you do right now to guard your child from the sun can literally save his life. Kids receive 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18 — and having one blistering sunburn doubles the risk of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Because the atmosphere’s ozone layer is thinner than it used to be, the sun’s rays are more powerful than ever, and the annual number of melanoma cases has more than doubled during the last 20 years. Here’s what you need to know:

You may assume that you can let your kids play outdoors for hours at a time as long as you spray or smear them with sunscreen beforehand. But plenty of kids have experienced sunburn even after applying sunscreen.

“It has to be reapplied every two hours or every time your child comes out of the water,” says Policana, “but almost everybody is really lax about it, and when kids are playing they don’t want to stop for it. You have to really insist on it,” she adds.

And although the sun is strongest where there’s water or sand to reflect its rays, kids need sunscreen for any sun exposure they get. Sunscreen’s effective if used correctly, so make it a habit on all sunny or partly cloudy days: Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside and slather on more at least every two hours. Other key habits include wearing hats and long-sleeve shirts; avoiding direct middle-of-the-day sun; wearing sunglasses; buying protective clothing and washing kids’ clothes with Rit Sun Guard which ups an SPF factor.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says you should apply sunscreen to all areas of your child’s body with an SPF-30 or higher to protect against both UVA and UVB rays (for children older than 6 months of age).

Caution with Spray-Ons

In July 2014, the Food and Drug Administration announced an investigation into the safety of spray-on sunscreens. The results have not yet been released. Until the safety factor is known, the American Academy of Dermatology warns against their use.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

• Family history
• The amount of unprotected sun time
• Early childhood sunburns
• Many freckles
• More than 50 ordinary moles
• Atypical moles
• Prior radiation therapy
• Lowered immunity
• Certain rare, inherited conditions

Source: Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt


Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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