May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and dermatologists are reminding parents to apply sunscreen to their children when they play outdoors. Though skin cancer typically appears much later in life, protecting your child’s skin at an early age prevents burns and long-lasting damage to the skin.
According to the World Health Organization, one in five North Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
This doesn’t mean we should keep kids indoors. The sunlight and fresh air are beneficial for children and necessary for their development. However, there are some things we can do to prevent sun damage.
Plan Outdoor Play Wisely
Limit outdoor time in midday, because that is when the sun is highest and hottest. In general, the sun is the hottest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If possible, choose to play outdoors outside of those hours.
Seek Shade and Cover Up
Play in the shade, if possible. Seek the shade of a tree or an umbrella, or set up a pop-up tent. Wear hats and sunglasses, and consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt or clothes made from UV protective material.
As you walk down the sunscreen aisle of the store, you’ll find hundreds of sunscreen products. The biggest question is often, “Which sunscreen is best?”
Choose a High SPF
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is simply the measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from broad spectrum UVA and UVB rays, the radiation that causes sunburn and damages skin. An SPF 30 or higher is the safest choice for children. Be sure the sunscreen mentions both UVA and UVB, so you know you’re fully protected.
Dermatologists most often recommend sunscreens made with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide because it deflects sun rays, versus a chemical sunscreen that absorbs them. Mineral or “natural” sunscreens are often gentler on thinner and more sensitive skin. Ingredients such as oxybenzone or avobenzone could potentially irritate vulnerable skin.
Lotion is Best
There are sprays, sticks, lotions and other applications, but dermatologists recommend lotion as the go-to for most affective coverage.
Sprays can be easier to apply, and you might avoid some inpatient squirming. However, we often don’t apply spray sunscreen correctly, and it’s easy to miss spots. If you are going to use a spray, make sure the nozzle is about two centimeters away from the skin. It should leave a liquid residue on the applied site.
Sticks are also convenient, but doctors say it takes about four applications to equal what you can get with lotion.
Make Sure It’s Water Resistant
Many sunscreens advertise water resistance. Though we should apply sunscreen for any outdoor exposure, we often think about it on the way to the lake or the beach for the day. The trick is, reading the label to find out how long the resistance should last. Often, those water-resistant choices are only effective for 40 to 80 minutes, which means reapplying once an hour or so is necessary to keep kiddos protected.
Experts say we need to apply half a teaspoon of sunscreen to your child’s face and one ounce to the entire body. Reapply once per hour if they are in water and once every two hours if playing outdoors.