In Minnesota, August is one of, if the hottest month of the year. It also happens to be the last month of freedom for many kids before they head back to school, which means kids all over the state are cramming in as much fun as possible.
Many parents know that one of the most important things to protect your child from the summer elements is sunscreen. Recently, though, there has been some controversy around using sunscreen, which kinds of sunscreen to use, and how often is safe to use it. We know that your kids are important, and seemingly obvious habits - such as using sunscreen- can be questioned with a few internet posts. Let’s go over a few facts about sunscreen for kids, to clarify the subject:
What’s the difference between SPF’s?
SPF - or sun protection factor- is the approximate measurement that a sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Although a higher SPF might seem to protect one better from the elements, it is important to take in mind is how well you apply the sunscreen, how often you are applying it, which types of rays the sunscreen block, and other elemental factors.
High SPF products are not always the best. They tend to lull the wearer into a false sense of security, preventing them from reapplying sunscreen when they need to. They also contain higher concentrations of the sun-filtering chemicals, and can be irritating to small children.
There is more than one type of UV ray
There are actually three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays are filtered out by the earth’s ozone, so don’t be concerned if your sunscreen doesn’t list UVC on the bottle. None of them do. UVB rays are the most harmful; sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays, but not all of them protect against UVA rays. UVA rays cause skin to tan. Although alluring to many, tanned skin is actually a sign of genetic mutation, and can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and certain skin cancers. When choosing a sunscreen for kids, pick one that protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
How often to apply
This can vary from brand to brand. Be sure to read the instructions on your chosen brand of sunscreen. It also depends if your child is playing in direct sunlight at the sun’s peak time of day (10 AM to 4PM) or in the shade in the early morning or late afternoon. A good rule of thumb for reapplying sunscreen is every two to four hours, depending on the wearer’s activities.
When to reapply:
The location and time of day in which your children are outside will play a big role as well. If your child is more active during hotter times of day, he or she will sweat more, and if your sunscreen is not waterproof, you will need to reapply more often. Likewise, if your child in playing in or around the water (as most kids do in the summer) it is a good idea to reapply often.
But, what about that scary post I read on the internet? Is sunscreen harming my child?
This year, there have been reports circling the internet that sunscreen is bad for children. One of these reports is about the chemical Oxybenzone in some sunscreens, and how it can be a hormone disruptor in children. Simply put, the data is simply not there. A study often cited used rats - not humans- as participants, and these rats ingested shockingly large amounts of the chemical that would not be present in sunscreens. As common sense would tell us, large amounts of any chemical- beneficial or not- could be potentially hazardous. If you have questions, ask your doctor, not the internet.
Other posts and images on the internet are simply instances of sunscreen misuse and are examples of how not to apply or choose a sunscreen. Some are not best suited for children, but sunscreen, on the whole, is important to protect children from the damaging rays of the sun.
If you come across any of these if the post, ask yourself a few questions: Is the post promoting or selling a sunscreen that is “safer” than conventional sunscreen? Is the research backed up by scientific data or just opinions? You might find that you want to do a little more research when reading these posts.
So, what is the best way to protect your kids?
- Question what you read on the internet. Do your research. The sun’s rays can cause cancer - this is known and proven time and again. Other sunscreen speculation is often just that - speculation.
- Use a sunscreen between SPF 30 and 50. Higher SPF’s can seem tempting and more protective, but higher SPF’s can overwhelm a child’s sensitive skin.
- Reapply every 2-4 hours as needed. As adults, we often find ourselves in awe of how much energy our children have. Encourage them to take a break every now and then to reapply their sunscreen (and maybe drink some water).
- If your child is having issues with their sunscreen, don’t take to the internet—ask your doctor. If your child has continuing issues with sunscreen, it may be that your child is allergic to a chemical in that particular brand and need to switch to using something else.
A parent’s issues with sunscreen often stem from other underlying factors; an unknown allergy, misuse, the wrong SPF rating, longer than expected exposure time—there are many factors. The one fact that remains is that kids love to play outside and need to be protected from the sun. Help your children enjoy the last month of summer the right way: protected from harmful rays and sunburn-free.