Practical reminders for sunscreen recommendations, sun safety as summer approaches

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As children head outside for summer, providers can remind parents of some staple sun safety tips.

Wendy Ripple, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Allegheny Health Network, Erie, Pennsylvania, joined Contemporary Pediatrics to discuss sun safety tips as the summer season approaches, and as children are typically outside more often.

Ripple said many parents of patients she sees state that their child still gets burned, even when sunscreen is applied. Ripple said sunscreen should only be a part of the sun safety process, but not the end all be all.

"As providers, we need to remind [parents] that [sunscreen] is only 1 tool in the toolbox and that they need to use other means to protect themselves from the sun," said Ripple. "First of all, they should try to avoid the sun between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, or 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, I guess depending on your latitude. They should try to seek out activities that are in the shade. They should use sun protective clothing like hats with a wide brim. You can buy clothing now that has ultraviolet light protection (UPF). If you can't find something with UPF, you can find something with a tight weave, like a light cotton base with a tight weave. So long sleeve, light clothing is also very protective. Umbrellas, stroller covers, as many things as possible."

Even if children are not in the direct sunlight, Ripple noted sunscreen should still be used, as a lot of sunlight comes in the "indirect" form.

"A lot of the sun that we accumulate is just incidental sun," said Ripple. "The other thing that people don't realize is that the UV rays that can do damage to our skin, about 80% of them will come through on a cloudy day as well. So if even if you're going to be outside on a cloudy day, or if you live in a cloudy area, it's important to wear sunscreen pretty much all the time."

"It's probably best to avoid sunscreen in babies under 6 months," said Ripple.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping children under 6 months of age out of direct sunlight. If protective clothing and shade are not available, the AAP recommends using sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face.1 Similarly, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends a minimal amount of broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, if shade and adequate clothing are not available.2

"[In children over 6 months of age], it's probably best [to use] a broad-spectrum mineral blocker, which has only zinc or titanium compounds in them, which are relatively inert and relatively sensitive skin friendly," said Ripple.

References:

  1. Sun Safety: Information for parents about sunburn & Sunscreen. HealthyChildren.org. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated November 20, 2023. Accessed May 16, 2024. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Sun-Safety.aspx
  2. Infant sun protection: How parents can keep their baby safe. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed May 16, 2024. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/prevent/sun-babies

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