Reduce the Risk of Skin Cancer (& Figure Out What SPF Actually Means!)
By Roger Kirk, Nurse Practitioner at Preferred Medical Group
Summer is all about long days by the pool, picnics, ball games, and outdoor activities with family and friends. Protecting your child’s skin is extremely important in preventing painful sunburns as well as premature aging, dry skin, and cancer. Choosing the proper sun protection can sometimes be tricky and confusing, so here are some basic sun safety guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology to help you out.
Sun Safety for Infants
Babies under six months shouldn’t spend time in direct sunlight at all and should only be exposed to indirect sunlight for short periods. Keep your baby under a shady or covered area. A tent or umbrella is a great way to keep your baby safe and cool, just make sure the baby is properly hydrated.
Dress your baby in loose, lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs, along with a wide-brimmed hat. Make sure to use eye protection too. We recommend UVA/UVB approved sunglasses for infants (plus it’ll make your baby look cool!). When absolutely necessary, you can also apply small amounts of sunscreen to the baby’s face and the back of their hands. If you have to use sunscreen, make sure that its SPF rating is 15 or higher.
Sun Safety for Children and Adults
Clothing is the most effective method of sun protection. Wearing cotton or garments with an SPF rating are often a good choice. Just make sure that it’s loose and covers as much of the skin as possible. Cotton is a great material, as it is woven tightly and filters out the harmful solar rays. Wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are a must!
How Do I Choose a Sunscreen?
Picking a sunscreen can seem complicated at first, here are some tips to help you out.
The first thing you want to look for is a sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays cause premature aging and are the number one cause of skin cancers. (Yikes!) UVB rays are the “sunburn rays”. Not all sunscreens protect from both types of rays. Be sure to use ones with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher, but heads up, sunscreens with a total SPF higher than 50 are not significantly stronger.
Not all sunscreens are the same. You may be surprised to learn that they come in two broad categories. Some are physical sunscreens, where the cream or spray sits on top of the skin and deflects the sun’s radiation. Others are chemical sunscreens which absorb the radiation and prevent it from damaging the skin. While both are equally effective, chemical sunscreens can sometimes irritate the skin, especially for small children, and aren’t especially environmentally friendly, so take that into consideration.
How Often Should I Apply Sunscreen?
Apply sunscreen at least thirty minutes prior to enjoying outdoor activities. Reapply sunscreen after two hours of water time or after you’ve dried off with a towel.
Make sure to rub in the sunscreen really well on the ears, nose, neck, behind the knees and the backs of shoulders.
Other Things to Consider
Sunburns can even happen on a cloudy day! To be absolutely safe, be sure to apply sunscreen any time you or your children plan to be outdoors. You also never know when the weather may change.
Try to avoid extended exposure to the sun between 10am and 4pm, as the sun’s radiation is strongest during these hours.
Following these guidelines can ensure a safe, fun summer and prevent harmful skin conditions in the years to come. Using sunscreens early in a child’s life will protect their skin as children, but also teach them good habits for when they are older.
Have a fun summer!
Roger Kirk is a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Preferred Medical Group in Phenix City.
Preferred Medical Group is currently accepting new pediatric patients at our offices in Columbus / Phenix City, Fort Mitchell, and Opelika. In addition to sick and wellness visits, we offer Behavioral Health counselling and ADHD assessments for children. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us directly or schedule your next visit through our convenient online appointment system.