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Why All Kids Need Sunscreen

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

It certainly felt like summer in Texas today. Most of our schools are out and children are already heading to the pool. Unfortunately, I have already seen several rather severe sunburns on children who had forgotten to use sunscreen and came in with blistered shoulders or noses and ears.

The majority of our sun exposure occurs before the age of 20, somewhere between 50 – 80 % is the number often quoted. 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 the park to play or to swim or for any outdoor activity, and re-applied at least every 2 hours, and more often if swimming or perspiring. An ounce of sunscreen is about the amount necessary to coat a child each time it is applied.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays, UVA rays which penetrate more deeply into the skin damaging DNA, which leads to wrinkles, aging and skin cancer. UVB rays which penetrate the first layer of the skin and typically causes sunburn. There are 20 times more UVA rays in the environment than UVB. So, look for a sunscreen product with both UVA and UVB protection. It is good to also look for a sunscreen that will provide a physical block like a 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 six months if they will be sun-exposed. Chemical sunscreens contain compounds that absorb some the sun’s damaging rays, including PABA, cinnamates, Parsol, and helioplex.

I have had lots of questions about sunscreen in infants and the AAP and AAD all state that sunscreen may be used on infants, but that preferably an infant is not in the sun for lengthy exposure. Their skin contains less melanin and therefore is even quicker to burn. If you are taking your infant out, have them wear a hat, sun-protective clothing and put sunscreen on sun-exposed areas. Do not rely on an umbrella for complete sun protection either, as the rays can penetrate through an umbrella or awning. Better to keep the your-baby inside than on the beach for an extended period of time.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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