Summer, sun, and why you still need sunscreen in Seattle

June 26, 2012 Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP

Summer is almost here, so this is a good time to talk about sunscreens.

We all get excited when the sun comes out in our area, but it is always important to remember that everyone should avoid direct sun exposure when it is the harshest - between 10am and 4pm during the summer months. Everyone should wear sunscreen, hats and covered clothing when exposed to the sun. Cloudy days do not offer too much protection as the UV rays can penetrate through the clouds and affect the skin the same way. Children and adolescents in particular should avoid tanning beds.

What you should know about different types of sunscreens:
There are different types of sunscreens available in the market, which makes it confusing to know which one to use. Earlier it was thought that the UVB radiation was most harmful, but recent studies have shown that UVA and UVB can be equally harmful. A recent legislation was passed that specifically states - manufacturers can claim broad spectrum coverage for the sunscreens only if they provide protection against UVA and UVB and those that have an SPF of 15 or more and protect against both UVA and UVB radiation can be labeled as being able to protect against skin cancer.

What sunscreen should parents buy?
Sunscreens with a minimum of SPF 15 and those that have protection against UVA and UVB rays is recommended for children. Sunscreens with SPF 30 or more are available, but studies have not shown that an increase in SPF over 30 provides any additional protection.

How often should you apply sunscreen?
Typically, sunscreens have to be applied every 2 hours at minimum for it to be effective. The sunscreens need to be applied to all exposed areas of the skin and preferably be applied at least 15-20 minutes before sun exposure. If children swim or are in the water, sunscreens need to be applied every time they come out of the water.

Sunscreen for infants:
The safety of sunscreens in infants less than 6 months of age has not been studied and so it is not recommended for use in this age group. However, it is important to avoid direct sun exposure at this age and parents should make sure that infants wear clothing that covers the skin.

What to do if your child gets sunburn?
Symptoms of sunburn usually begin about 3-5 hours after being in the sun and include redness, pain and skin that feel hot when touched. If the sunburn is severe, blistering may also occur. You can use OTC pain relievers, avoid further sun exposure, and apply sunscreen over the area of redness. If symptoms do not improve, you should contact your pediatrician and your child may need evaluation.

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