by Dr. Jennifer Cox, Pediatric Hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial

Understanding the world of summer skincare and sunscreen is a challenge. There are several brands of sunscreen to choose from and alphabet acronyms to understand (UVA, PABA, SPF, etc.). Here’s how you can protect your child’s tender skin.

Sunscreen works in two ways:

  • It scatters ultraviolet (UV) rays, reflecting them away from your child’s body
  • It absorbs UV rays before they reach your child’s skin

What’s Best?

We once shopped for Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rates, finding sunscreen that protected against one type of ultraviolet ray, UVB. Studies show that UVA can also cause skin cancer and it’s not recommended to purchase a Broad Spectrum Sunscreen that guards against both UVA and UVB rays.

Select a cream-based sunscreen that is water and sweat resistant. A sunscreen containing zinc oxide is a good choice because it provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

It is also important to protect your child’s skin with sun-resistant clothing, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Keep your child in the shade as much as possible and limit sun exposure during hours of peak sunshine around 10:00am to 4:00pm.

Babies under 6 months of age should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Myth Buster

The higher the SPF the better? Sort of. SPF 30 isn’t twice as strong as SPF 15:

  • SPF 15 filters 93% of UVB
  • SPF 30 filters 97% of UVB
  • SPF 50 filters 98% of UVB

Bottom line: Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to properly protect your child.

Use Early and Often

Choosing the right sunscreen is one thing but proper application is another.

  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Apply liberally. It takes about 1 ounce to properly cover the body of a young adult.
  • Reapply at least every 2 hours and after being in the water, sweating or towel drying.

Summer and sunburns often go hand in hand, but they don’t have to. Armed with proper knowledge you can protect your child against cancer-causing UV rays.

Dr. Jennifer Cox is a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial in Nashville, TN.