When it Comes to Protecting Your Skin, a Little Can Go a Long Way
No doubt, most of us are more than ready to jump into summer fun this year. But before you leave for the lake, don’t forget to grab the sunscreen. Dr. Felix Jolly Odathil, Family Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Physicians-New London, offers a few best practices and explains the significant benefits of wearing sunscreen early and often, especially for children.
Why is Sunscreen So Important?
“Wearing sunscreen consistently is important because it can protect both adults and children against dangerous UV light,” explained Dr. Jolly. “Protection from the sun is important because burns early in life increase the risk of skin cancer later.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that one in five U.S. adults will develop skin cancer by age 70. Using sunscreen and other sun protection from an early age is the best way to prevent skin cancer later in life.
What Type of Sunscreen Should I Use?
According to Dr. Jolly, people should use at minimum a sunscreen with an SPF 15 (sun protection factor) for normal daily use.
“SPF 30 is recommended for anyone who plans to be outside for more than one hour,” he said. “The sunscreen should be broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.”
The SPF number refers to the time it would take UV rays to turn your skin red, as opposed to not using sunscreen. So, SPF 15 sunscreen helps prevent a person from burning about fifteen times longer than if they wore no sunscreen at all. While people might logically believe that sunscreen with SPF 50 or SPF 100 would be even better, anything stronger than SPF 30 “only increases protection by marginal percentages,” said Dr. Jolly.
People who are enjoying water sports or plan to swim should choose a sunscreen that is water resistant.
“Regardless of which sunscreen you use, it should be reapplied every one or two hours, depending on how much water exposure there is,” Dr. Jolly said.
Adults with a family history of skin cancer should be extra cautious and apply sunscreen even when spending a short time outside. For everyone, wearing wide-brim hats and protective clothing or swim shirts that are designed to block UV-rays can offer additional safety. People should be mindful of skin that’s still exposed, like the face and hands.
Do Kids Need Extra Protection from the Sun?
Kids especially can benefit from protective clothing as they tend to spend more time in the sun than adults. Parents should apply sunscreen on their kids about 30 minutes before they plan to go outside, and should be careful to reapply, even when kids aren’t swimming because sunscreen can come off with sweat.
“When children are having fun at the pool or on the boat, it is easy to forget to reapply the sunscreen,” said Dr. Jolly. “One recommendation – parents can set a reminder on their phone to help them remember to reapply sunscreen for the entire family.”
Parents should also consider using sunscreens that are made specifically for children. Some children’s sunscreens contain minerals like zinc oxide, which essentially creates a physical barrier between your child’s skin and harmful UV rays. Sunscreens containing oxybenzone can also cause skin allergies to flare up and may have hormonal impacts.
“Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months old,” Dr. Jolly said. “However, SPF 15 sunscreen can be used on high-risk skin areas such as the nose, hands, tops of ears and other exposed skin not protected by clothing or shade. It’s best to keep babies out of direct sunlight by using hats, umbrellas or other barriers to sun exposure.”
How Should I Treat Sunburn?
If kids do experience sunburn, call your provider if your child is younger than one year old, or if your older child is experiencing pain, fever, or blistering. For mild burns on older children, rehydrate your child with water or real fruit juice, and help aid the discomfort with cool water or age-appropriate doses of over-the-counter pain medications. Keep kids out of the sun until the burn heals.
“If we teach our children to always wear sunscreen when they’re young, it will set up good habits for the future,” Dr. Jolly said. “We hope that ultimately leads to less skin cancer diagnoses, and better overall health and well-being.”
Looking for more tips to help your kids stay safe this summer? Contact our expert pediatricians to learn more.