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What’s the Big Deal with Sunscreen?

Last updated: June 1, 2021

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 guidelines and explains the benefits of sunscreen.

Why is Sunscreen So Important?

“Wearing sunscreen consistently is important because it can protect both adults and children against dangerous UV light,” Dr. Odathil says. “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?

Use at minimum a sunscreen with an SPF 15 (sun protection factor) for normal daily use, Dr. Odathil says.

“SPF 30 is recommended for anyone who plans to be outside for more than one hour,” he says. “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 15 times longer than if they wore no sunscreen at all.

While people might believe that sunscreen with SPF 50 or SPF 100 would be even better, anything stronger than SPF 30 “only increases protection by marginal percentages,” Dr. Odathil says.

People who are enjoying water sports or plan to swim should choose a sunscreen that is water resistant.

“Regardless of which sunscreen you use, reapply it every one or two hours, depending on how much water exposure there is,” Dr. Odathil says.

Adults with a family history of skin cancer should be extra cautious and apply sunscreen even when spending a short time outside. Beyond sunscreen, wearing a wide-brim hat and protective clothing or a swim shirt can offer additional safety. Remain mindful of skin that’s still exposed, like the face and hands.

Do Kids Need Special Sun Protection?

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. Make sure to reapply every two hours, 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,” Dr. Odathil says. “Parents can set a reminder on their phone to help them remember to reapply sunscreen for the entire family.”

Parents also should 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. Conversely, sunscreens containing oxybenzone can cause skin allergies to flare up and may have hormonal impacts.

“Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months old,” Dr. Odathil says. “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 1 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. You can help aid 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. Odathil says. “We hope that ultimately leads to fewer skin cancer diagnoses and better overall health and well-being.”

Looking for more tips to help your kids stay safe this summer? Schedule with one of our expert pediatricians to learn more.

Tags: applying sunscreen skin cancer skin cancer prevention skin protection summer safety sun protection sunscreen wearing sunscreen

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