Dr. Mom: Sunscreen a big part of enjoying California summer

05/31/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:10 PM

Summer is just around the corner and this wonderful weather means most of us are headed for the outdoors. Our extended outdoor adventures mean more time in the sun, so inevitably, the sunblock comes out and we start slathering it on.

I get many questions from parents regarding sunscreen. Most of these questions have to do with safety.

Are chemicals found in sunscreens safe for children and is it OK to use on babies?

With these questions in mind, here are some important sunscreen-safety tips to protect your children while they're having fun in the sun without the added worry that you may be causing harm.

What you do want in a sunscreen:

A broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

PABA-free and preferably fragrance-free

An SPF of at least 15, though I would recommend SPF 30 or 45. Anything above SPF 50 is essentially overkill and does not mean you can stay out in the sun longer.

Look for sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are physical vs. chemical sun protectors. Sure, they may leave white residue on your child's skin and don't blend in as easily; however, they are free from chemicals such as retinyl palmitate or oxybenzone.

What you don't want in a sunscreen:

You don't want a sunscreen that has expired. Sunscreen typically has a shelf life of three years. After that, it starts to lose its efficacy. Toss all expired products

Tips for keeping children safe in the sun:

Remember that sunscreen is just one part of the whole sun-protection package. Use clothing, sun-protective bathing suits, hats and sunglasses, in addition to sunscreen as part of your sun- safety routine.

Apply sunscreen to the exposed areas of skin and reapply every two hours. Even sunscreens labeled "waterproof" need to be reapplied after swimming or excessive sweating.

For infants younger than 6 months, try to avoid direct sunlight. Keep them in the shade, dress in light clothing, hats, and apply sunscreen only to exposed areas.

Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors.

Keep plenty of water on hand and remind little ones to drink up frequently to avoid dehydration.

Remember that UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This doesn't mean you have to hide away during those hours; it's not practical. Just be aware and protect that skin.

Above all, don't skip the sunscreen. It's still an essential part of our sun-protection package. Check the Environmental Working Group's website to see how your sunscreen measures up as far as safety goes.

Now, get out and enjoy the lazy days of summer with your family.


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