Sunscreen and Sun Safety

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The nice weather is here and with that comes more time to spend outside. It is important to remember that everyone in the family is at risk of having injury from the sun and protective steps should be taken. 

First of all, covering up and avoiding the peak hours of sun exposure is the best way to avoid injury from the sun. Wear a hat with the rim facing foreward. Get in the shade whenever possible and wear "broad spectrum" sunglasses. Those are sunglasses that protect against 97-100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Remember, the peak hours of sunlight are from 10am to 4pm. Try to avoid those times for exposed outdoor activity. 

Second, everyone should wear sunscreen when outside. Every time, every day. Make it not only a "rule" for play, but a habit, just as you should have for lets say wearing a helmet when riding a bike. Taking this first essential step is a great way to promote a healthy life in the sun. 

Now children less than 6 months of age should use sunscreen sparingly on exposed skin. Not necessarily because it is unsafe, but because children less than 6 months are immobile and can be put somewhere in the shade. For example, if a child is less than 6 months and needs to be out in the sun they should be covered with a hat, longer clothing or under an umbrella. The same goes for older children just sitting around in the sun. You see it all the time, the kid that fell asleep in the stroller for the 4th of July parade. Even with sunscreen, that kid is just baking there. Help your kids out by keeping out of the sun. 

When buying sunscreen look types that have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 or higher. Make sure it is labeled as broad spectrum or specifically covers UVA and UVB rays. There is a new "star" rating system that is quite handy as well. The more stars the more protection it offers. For particularly sensitive areas use the zinc oxide cream, that is the thick white stuff that you see a lot of lifeguards using. 

Remember, sunscreen should be re-applied frequently. At least every 2 hours and after being in the water. Even if it "waterproof sunscreen."

If you follow these steps and make it a priority to avoid sun damage sunburns will be uncommon. Sunburns usually show up 6-12 hours after exposure and In the event that you or your child gets a sunburn do your best to stop the damage. Get out and away from the sun. Typically the discomfort is at its worst the first day or so and will gradually get better. If the skin is just red, warm and painful you can apply some cool compresses to the area or bathe in cool water. Generic tylenol or motrin is just fine to give. 

If the sunburn causes blisters, fever, chills, headache or a feeling of illness it is time to be seen. These kinds of symptoms make us worry that something else like heatstroke is going on as well. More serious sunburns are treated just like regular burns and can get infected so it is important to keep the wound clean and apply antibiotic creams as directed by your pediatrician. 

Aaron Traeger MD FAAP