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Summer Series: Break Out The Sunscreen!

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

As the temperatures continue to warm up across the country and everyone is spending more time outdoors, it is time to break out the sunscreen.  The majority of a child’s sun exposure (somewhere between 50 – 80%) occurs before the age of 20.

Sun exposure is directly related to the risk of melanoma, and melanoma is on the rise in youth.  To prevent sunburn damage it is imperative that parents begin using sunscreen on their children at very young ages, even younger than 6 months.

Sunscreen needs to be applied about 15 minutes before your child heads out to play, swim or any outdoor activity.  Sunscreen should then be re-applied at least every 2 hours, and more often if a child is swimming or perspiring.  An ounce of sunscreen is about the amount necessary to cover a child for a single application.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays.  UVA rays which penetrate more deeply into the skin causing damage to the DNA which subsequently leads to wrinkles, aging and skin cancer.  UVB rays penetrate the first layer of the skin and typically are the rays that cause sunburn.  There are 20 times more UVA rays in the environment than UVB.  Therefore, you need to look for a sunscreen product with both UVA and UVB protection.

It is also good to look for a sunscreen that will provide a physical block like zinc oxide (now micronized so it is transparent on the skin) or titanium oxide.  These blocks help scatter the UV light and are typically less irritating and less allergenic than chemical sunscreens. These products may be preferable in young children, and remember you can use sunscreen on children under 6 months of age if they are going to be sun exposed.

Chemical sunscreens contain compounds that abosorb some of the sun’s damaging rays, including PABA, cinnamates, Parsol and helioplex.

Many parents with infants are concerned about using sunscreen .  Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology state that sunscreen may be used on infants, but preferably an infant will not be exposed to the sun for any extended period of time.  An infant’s skin contains less melanin and therefore is even quicker to burn..

Children should also wear sun-protective clothing that is now readily available at chains like Target and Walmart, and is available in all different sizes. Infants should also wear a hat.  Putting an infant under an umbrella does not provide complete sun protection either as the sun’s rays may penetrate through an umbrella or awning.

The use of a good sunscreen with frequent re-application will make your child sun-smart and prevent those burns that we know are a major cause of later skin cancers.

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question to Dr. Sue right now!

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