Kids in the Sun - How Much Protection is Enough?

As parents, protecting our children’s skin is one of the more important things we can do in the long run. The risk of skin cancer starts to accumulate early on. At least five blistering sunburns before age 20 raise the risk of melanoma by 80 percent, according to a study at Brown University. Read that again. We are learning more and more about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays on our skin.

Of course, those of us who are adults who have NOT been exposed to someone with melanoma may brush aside such data, as we are literally living proof that getting a tan every summer is just plain healthy, and demonstrates our love of the outdoors. Or is it?

UVA vs. UVB

You may be aware that it is widely understood that UVA rays cause the skin to tan, while UVB rays cause the skin to burn. While this is the case, both suntans and sunburns are signs that skin cells have been damaged by radiation, says Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at Continuum Health Partners in New York City. 

UVB used to get all of the blame for causing skin cancer, but new research shows UVA is equally damaging. This is particularly worrisome since UVA rays are 30 to 50 times more prevalent, and they penetrate deeper into skin cells. 

So teaching your kids about sun protection is really teaching them a life skill that will serve them and their families for a lifetime. It’s a habit that should become second nature for them. 

ENTER the SPF FACTOR

An SPF, or sun protection factor, indicates a sunscreen's effectiveness at preventing sunburn. "If your child's skin reddens in 10 minutes without sunscreen, SPF 15 multiplies that time (10 minutes) by 15, meaning they'll be protected from sunburn for approximately 150 minutes or 2 1/2 hours," says Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Program at the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.

Of course, this depends on an adequate application of sunscreen and is based on SPF calculations with artificial instead of natural sunlight. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using sunscreens with at least an SPF of 15, which blocks 93 percent of UVB rays. 

That’s where the rub comes in - how do you know how thoroughly your child is covered by the various application methods? Whether you use a lotion, cream, gel, stick, or spray, you often won’t know what parts you missed until they burn. On top of that, some of the most prevalent sunscreens don’t adequately block both UVA and UVB rays. That is a crucial point, especially when it comes to your child’s skin. 

Now, when you really get down to it, the best sunscreen is the one your child agrees to wear. That being said, make sure you're using a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that's broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. That is critical, as is the question of how much water  will your child be exposed to?

If your child is going to be in the water or getting sweaty, look for water-resistant sunscreens (the FDA has done away with waterproof and sweatproof claims). The new water-resistant labels state how long – either 40 minutes or 80 minutes – the sunscreen provides protection before you need to reapply it. Those are terms that make sense to a parent.

BABIES and TODDLERS

One should avoid sunscreens before the baby is 6 months of age (except those with zinc oxide as the only active ingredient) and use on small areas of his/her body. Use clothing plus shade  as the primary method of protection. Provide additional protection by keeping them out of the sun as much as possible: take walks before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., (when UVB rays aren't as intense); use a stroller canopy; dress them in lightweight clothing that covers their their arms and legs; choose a wide-brimmed hat or bonnet that covers their face, ears, and neck.

With toddlers, some young children are sensitive to certain sunscreen ingredients. To test for reactions, apply a small dab on the inside of your child's upper arm and check the area in 24 hours for signs of redness or rash. Also, be aware of their activity between 10 AM and 4 PM and ensure they are covered well if outdoors for longer periods.

The important thing is to cover all exposed areas (especially easily overlooked places like ears, tops of feet, backs of knees, and hands) 30 minutes before your child heads outside so their skin has time to absorb it. Also, use it on cloudy or overcast days, as 80% of UV rays penetrate the clouds, and kids are likely to play outside longer when it is cooler.

CLOTHING

Beyond using sunscreen for exposed skin, dress your kids in clothing that have a UV protection of at least SPF 30 or that have a tight weave. Sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats are excellent accessories to offer them full protection when the sun is most intense.

The most protection clothing can offer is a UPF50+ rating, which blocks 98% of UVB rays. Unlike sunscreens, clothing offers full protection from the sun, assuming your child will wear it. The best solution is a loose-fitting, UPF50+ garment that is comfortable - and let’s face it - looks cool enough that your child will wear it while playing with their friends.

A perfect example of this is WindRider’s Helios Kid’s Sun Shirt.

The fabric is soft and stretchy, and wicks away moisture to keep them comfortable for long periods. The long sleeves protect their arms without requiring additional sunblock, yet are cool enough to keep them from rolling up the sleeves.

In fact, you may want to consider Helios  sun shirts for your whole family, as this is a life skill we should all practice and behavior we should model for our children. Neck Gaiters are another accessory that will help protect faces and necks. The apparel line is primarily directed toward the fishing sector, but they are perfect for a full range of outdoor activities:

Women's Hooded Helios

Men's Helios

   Neck Gaiter

In conclusion, pay attention to the amount of sunlight your child and family are exposed to, and make a habit of taking these steps to protect their skin from both UVA and UVB rays for a lifetime. They’ll thank you later in life when they realize it was all worth the effort in preventing skin cancer, and at the very least the misery of sunburn. 

So protect yourself and your family and get out there and enjoy the outdoors! It’s all part of the WindRider philosophy of making memories, having fun and enjoying the water.   -WR