Sunblock Safety

Safe-Fun in the Sun

Below you will find information about safe-sun guidelines for adults and children during the summer months. Please choose a link to find out more information.

ADULT Sun Safety
What are the safe-sun guidelines?
Safe-sun guidelines are the following 4 ways to protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer:

1. Avoid the sun.
Sunlight damages your skin. The sun is strongest during the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these hours, the sun can do the most damage to your skin. Sunburns and suntans are signs that your skin has been damaged. The more damage the sun does to your skin, the more likely you are to get early wrinkles, skin cancer and other skin problems.

2. Put on sunscreen.
Use a sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, even on cloudy days. Use a lot of sunscreen and rub it in well. You should put the sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go into the sun. Put the sunscreen everywhere the sun's rays might touch you, even on your ears and the back of your neck. Men should also put it on any bald areas on the top of their head. Put more sunscreen on every hour or so if you're sweating or swimming.

Remember that using sunscreen is just part of a program to prevent skin cancer. To greatly lower your risk, you must follow all of the safe-sun guidelines.

3. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, protective clothing and sunglasses.
If you have to be out in the sun, cover up your skin. A wide-brimmed hat will help protect your face, neck and ears from the sun. A hat with a 6-inch brim all around is the best. Baseball caps don't protect the back of your neck or the tops of your ears. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun. Choose sunglasses that block both ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays. Sun exposure increases your risk of getting cataracts. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from cataracts.

Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants made of tightly woven fabric. If the clothes fit loosely, you will feel cooler. Special sun-protective clothes are available from several companies, like Solumbra Sun Precautions.

4. Don't try to get a tan.
Don't use tanning salons. Tanning booths damage your skin just like real sunlight does.

Copyright © 2000-2003 American Academy of Family Physicians

CHILDREN Sun Safety
How to Protect Your Child From the Sun
With the right precautions, kids can safely play in the sun. Here's the lowdown on the most effective strategies:

Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day
First, avoid being in the sun for prolonged times when it's highest overhead and therefore the strongest (normally from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM in the northern hemisphere). If your child is in the sun between these hours, as many kids are, be sure to apply protective sunscreen - even if he or she is just playing in the backyard. Most sun damage occurs as a result of incidental exposure during day-to-day activities, not at the beach.

Even on cloudy, cool, or overcast days, UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, and even concrete. Clouds and pollution don't filter out UV rays, and they can give a false sense of protection. This "invisible sun" can cause unexpected sunburn and skin damage. Often, kids are unaware that they're developing a sunburn on cooler or windy days because the temperature or breeze keeps skin feeling cool on the surface.

Cover Up
One of the best ways to protect your family from the sun is to cover up and shield skin from UV rays. Ensure that clothes will screen out harmful UV rays by placing your hand inside the garments and making sure you can't see your hand through them.

Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, their skin burns more easily than that of older kids. But sunscreen should not be applied to babies under 6 months of age, so they absolutely must be kept out of the sun whenever possible. If your infant must be in the sun, dress him or her in clothing that covers the body, including hats with wide brims to shadow the face. Use an umbrella to create shade.

Even older kids need to escape the sun. Long exposure can make them feel tired and irritable. For all-day outdoor affairs, bring along a wide umbrella or a pop-up tent to play in. If it's not too hot outside and won't make your child even more uncomfortable, you can have him or her wear a light long-sleeved shirt and/or long pants. Before heading to the beach or park, call ahead to find out if certain areas offer rentals of umbrellas, tents, and other sun-protective gear.

Use Sunscreen Consistently
There are lots of good sunscreens available for kids, including formulations for sensitive skin, brands with fun scents like watermelon, long-lasting waterproof and sweat-proof versions, and easy-application varieties in spray bottles.

What matters most in a sunscreen is the degree of protection from UV rays it provides. When faced with the overwhelming sea of sunscreen choices at drugstores, concentrate on the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) numbers on the labels.

The SPF number tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning if you apply the sunscreen, which acts as a "block" to the sun's rays (hence the term sunblock). For example, if your child would burn after 20 minutes of sun exposure, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 gives him or her 15 times the protection.

For kids age 6 months and older, select an SPF of 15 or higher to prevent both sunburn and tanning. Choose a sunscreen that states on the label that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays (referred to as "broad-spectrum" sunscreen). To avoid possible skin allergy, avoid sunscreens with PABA, and if your child has sensitive skin, look for a product with the active ingredient titanium dioxide (a chemical-free block).

For sunscreen to do its job, it must be applied correctly. Be sure to:
  • Use sunscreen whenever your child will be in the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before going outside so that a good layer of protection can form. Don't forget about lips, hands, ears, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Lift up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them (in case the straps shift as your child moves).
  • Don't try to stretch out a bottle of sunscreen; as a guide, apply the sunscreen generously.
  • Reapply sunscreen often, approximately every 2 to 3 hours, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Reapply after your child is sweating or swimming.
  • Apply a waterproof sunscreen if your child will be around water or will go swimming. Water reflects and intensifies the sun's rays, so kids need protection that lasts. Waterproof sunscreens may last up to 80 minutes in the water, and some are also sweat- and rub-proof. But, regardless of the waterproof label, be sure to reapply sunscreen when kids come out of the water.
Keep in mind that every child needs extra sun protection. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that all children - regardless of their skin tone - wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Although dark skin has more protective melanin and tans more easily than it burns, remember that tanning is also a sign of sun damage. Dark-skinned children can also develop painful sunburns.

Purchase Protective Eyewear for Kids Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Even 1 day in the sun can result in a burned cornea (the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye). Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life (clouding of the eye lens, which results in blindness). The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses.

Not all sunglasses provide the same level of ultraviolet protection; darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick the eyes into a false sense of safety. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring that they provide 100% UV protection.

But not all children enjoy wearing sunglasses, especially the first few times. To encourage kids, let them select a style they particularly like; many manufacturers make fun, multicolored glass frames or frames embossed with cartoon characters. And don't forget that kids want to be like grown-ups. If you wear sunglasses regularly, your kids may be willing to follow your example.

Ask About Your Child's Medication Some medications increase the skin's sensitivity to UV rays. As a result, even kids with skin that tends not to burn easily can develop a severe sunburn in just minutes when taking certain medications. Fair-skinned children, of course, are even more vulnerable. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the prescription (especially antibiotics and acne medications) and over-the-counter medications your child is taking can increase sun sensitivity. If so, always take extra sun precautions. The best protection is simply covering up or staying indoors; even sunscreen can't always protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications.

What to Do if Your Child Gets a Sunburn A sunburn can sneak up on your child, especially after a long day at the beach or park. Often, kids seem fine during the day, but then gradually develop an "afterburn" later that evening that can be painful and hot and can even make them feel sick. The best way to take care of your child is to treat the symptoms and prevent further problems.

When children get sunburned, they usually experience pain and a sensation of heat - symptoms that tend to become more severe several hours after sun exposure. Some children also develop chills. Because the sun has dried their skin, it can become itchy and tight. Burned skin typically begins to peel about a week after the sunburn. Encourage your child not to scratch or peel off loose skin because skin underneath the sunburn is vulnerable to infection.

If your child does get a sunburn, the following tips may help you make him or her more comfortable:
  • Keep your child in the shade until the sunburn is healed. Any additional sun exposure will only increase the severity of the burn and increase pain.
  • Have your child take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.
  • Apply pure aloe vera gel (available in most pharmacies or taken directly from within the leaves of the plant) to any sunburned areas. It's excellent for relieving sunburn pain and helping skin heal quicker.
  • Give your child a pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen and spray on over-the-counter "after-sun" pain relievers. (Do not, however, give aspirin to children or teens.)
  • Apply topical moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and help reduce swelling. For the most severely burned areas, apply a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone cream. (Do not use petroleum-based products, because they prevent excess heat and sweat from escaping. Also, avoid first-aid products that contain benzocaine, which may cause skin irritation or allergy.)
If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Until you can see your child's doctor, tell your child not to scratch, pop, or squeeze the blisters, which can become easily infected and can result in scarring.

Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Family Physicians
Permission is granted to print and photocopy this material for nonprofit educational uses. Written permission is required for all other uses, including electronic uses.