WakeMed Blogs

Summer Guide to Sunburn, Sunscreen, and Sun Safety for Children

June 09, 2016

*This blog post was written in collaboration Dr. Carrie-Dow Smith with information sourced from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

How young is too young to put sunscreen on your child? If you have a newborn, should you avoid going to the beach at all?

Below, we address these and other similar questions that parents may be pondering – especially with the summer just around the corner! Follow these simple tips to protect your children and other family members from sunburns and other skin issues down the road.

Protect Your Baby from the Sun

Tip #1 – Avoid direct sunlight.

If your baby is younger than 6 months-old, keep him/her out of direct sunlight. Find shade under a tree, umbrella, or use your stroller canopy. Babies eyes are especially vulnerable to UV damage because their lenses allow penetration of dangerous rays, more so than adults.

Tip #2 – Dress cool & comfortable.

Dress your children in cool, comfortable clothing that covers the body. Great examples include: lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats.

Tip #3 – Wear a hat or cap with a brim.

Hats are great for protecting your child’s face. Be sure that the brim of the hat/cap faces forward to help shield your child’s face properly.

Tip #4 – Limit sun exposure during peak times.

In North Carolina, the summers can get pretty hot. Avoid lengthy or unnecessary sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm, when UV rays are the strongest.

Tip #5 – Wear sunglasses.

Look for child-sized sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.

A Note About Babies & Sunscreen

  • For babies younger than 6 months of age, only use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face, if protective clothing and shade are not available.
  • For babies older than 6 months of age, apply sunscreen to all areas of the body, but be especially careful around the eyes.
  • If the sunscreen irritates your baby’s skin, use a different brand, or try a sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
  • If you notice any irritation, it is best to speak with your pediatrician.

Always make sure to put sunscreen on your child.

Selecting Sunscreen

The following are some tips to help you select the appropriate sunscreen.

  1. SPF Matters! Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 (up to SPF 50). An SPF of 15 or 30 should fine for most people. More research is needed to determine whether SPF 50 offers any extra protection.
  2. Avoid Oxybenzone in sunscreen due to concerns about mild hormonal properties. However, balance this with the fact that it is better to use any sunscreen versus none at all.
  3. Choose sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for sensitive areas of the body (ears, nose, cheecks, shoulders). These products may stay visible on the skin even after you rub them in, and some come in fun colors that children may enjoy!
  4. Choose ‘broad-spectrum’ sunscreen. This means that it will filter out both UVB and UVA rays.
  5. Look for the UVA ‘star’ rating system on the label. One star indicates low UVA protection, while four stars indicates the highest UVA protection available in an over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen product.

Applying Sunscreen Correctly

How should sunscreen be applied? Are there areas that I don’t have to include?

Be sure to use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin – especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands, and backs of the knees. Be sure to rub the sunscreen in well.

How much sunscreen should I use on my child/myself?

Use a generous amount of sunscreen when applying it. Most people use way too little!

When should I apply sunscreen?

Apply sunscreen at least 15 – 30 minutes before heading outside. Why? Sunscreen needs time to properly absorb into the skin.

How often should I wear sunscreen?

You should put sunscreen on you or your child any time you plan to be outside. Keep in mind that even on overcast days, you can STILL get a sunburn! This is because up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can still break through the clouds. Additionally, UV rays can be reflected off of water, sand, snow, and even concrete.

How often should I reapply sunscreen?

You should reapply your sunscreen every two hours – especially after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel.

Remedies for Sunburn Relief

  • HYDRATE by giving your child water or 100% fruit juice to replace/replenish any fluids that may have been lost.
  • COOL OFF by using cool water against your skin to feel better.
  • MEDICATE using approved pain medicine for painful sunburns. Always consult with your pediatrician to ensure that you are using the correct dosage for babies versus infants.
  • AVOID the sun and other outdoor activities until the sunburn is completely healed.

When Should I Call a Doctor?

If your child is younger than 1 years old and gets a sunburn, contact your doctor immediately. For children who are older, contact your child’s doctor if your child is experiencing blistering, pain, or fever.

Source: Fun in the Sun: Keep Your Family Safe (Copyright © 2008 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 4/2014)


About Carrie Dow-Smith, MD

Dr. Carrie Dow-Smith is a board-certified pediatrician with WakeMed Physician Practices – Pediatrics.

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