Sunscreen for Kids: What to Know

Dr. GehrisThe sun is shining, and our children are finally putting down their technology and video games and going outside to play. We applaud this, but remember to protect them from the sun’s strong rays at this time of year. Sunscreen should be every child’s number one accessory.

Sunscreen is important because:
We know that sun exposure and especially sunburns early in life (as well as cumulatively throughout life) can increase the risk of later developing melanoma, which is a potentially life-threatening type of skin cancer.

Sun exposure can also increase the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal or squamous cell cancer.

Cumulative sun exposure ages the skin prematurely and causes wrinkling and abnormal pigmentation of the skin.

Certain groups of children should be especially diligent about their sunscreen:

• Infants
• Children who are fair-skinned with blonde or red hair and blue or hazel eyes.
• Children with a first degree relative who has had melanoma.
• Certain children who are on (or have a history of being on) immunosuppression. They are at an even higher risk of non-melanoma skin cancers, EVEN DURING CHILDHOOD. This is because the suppressed immune system is not as able to eliminate certain pre-cancerous lesions.

Here is some general sunscreen advice for children:

• The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies UNDER 6 months avoid direct sun exposure on their skin by dressing in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats. However, if this does not shade all areas of the skin then parents should follow the instructions below and apply the sunscreen to the small exposed areas of skin that are not covered by clothing (face, tops of hands).

• Use a product that is “broad spectrum”, meaning that it blocks both UVA (aging) rays AND UVB (burning) rays. UVA rays can penetrate glass, which is why you should apply a sunscreen to the face and exposed areas EVERY day (even on days that might be cloudy).

• Apply and then reapply the sunblock with SPF AT LEAST 15 at least every 2 hours or more often if you are sweating or swimming (even on cloudy days). Use extra caution near water and sand, which reflect the sun’s rays and can more easily lead to a burn more quickly than parents expect.

• Find shade and avoid direct sunlight between 10 am and 2 pm (when your shadow is shorter than you are).

Does it matter whether you use a lotion or a spray sunscreen?

• Until the FDA concludes whether they are safe in children, we do NOT recommend spray-on products, as they can be inhaled and rarely provide thorough coverage to all areas applied due to the child running away or to wind conditions.

• Check the expiration date on the sunscreen bottle to ensure that you are not using a product that has expired and no longer has maximal efficacy (I like to write it on the bottle with a Sharpie marker as soon as a buy it to be sure the expiration stamp does not wear off over time).

We have some special sunscreen advice for babies as well as for older children who have sensitive skin:

• Use a product that contains only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the primary ingredients. These are physical or inorganic blockers.

• Avoid chemical sunscreens such as avobenzone or oxybenzone, which are chemical blockers.

• Avoid fragrance.

• Examples of over the counter products that meet these requirements are: Blue Lizard Baby or Sensitive Skin SPF 30+ or Vanicream Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin SPF 60

Enjoy this time of year, as it seems to go by far too quickly, but do so safely with the guidelines above and you’ll be sure that you and your children get the healthiest fun out of your summers!

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric dermatologists, please visit www.chp.edu/dermatology.  You can call our office at 724-933-9190 or email us at ccpderm@chp.edu to request an appointment in one of our 3 locations:  Wexford, South Fayette, or Monroeville.