Daniela Kroshinsky, MD, Director of Pediatric Dermatology at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, answers some frequently asked questions about how parents can protect their children from the sun's harmful exposure.
Sun Safety: Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it Important to Protect Your Skin?
It's important to protect your skin from the sun for many reasons. When we say "protect your skin from the sun," we are referring to the sun's rays, UVA and UVB. UVA contributes more to skin aging, whereas UVB is what contributes more to sunburns. Over time, exposure to UVA and UVB rays can cause increased and more rapid skin aging. Cumulative exposure to sun can also lead to an increased risk of skin cancers.
When Should Parents Start Thinking about Skin Protection?
Right away; the sooner the better. In general it's good to avoid direct sun exposure for infants under 6 months of age. Seek shade and think about UV protective clothing and hats to physically protect from sun exposure. After 6 months old, sunscreens should be used over any area that would be potentially exposed to light while outdoors.
What Sunscreens are Safe for Kids?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved sunscreens as safe for both children and adults. Dermatologists recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 45 or higher. The most important thing about sunscreens is to remember to apply early, enough and often. "Early" would refer to about 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. "Enough" would be making sure that you're using enough sunscreen— usually about an ounce, or two tablespoons, over the entire body. Remember to rub in well! "Often" means every two to three hours while outdoors, but more frequently if in water or sweating. Apply sunscreen every hour if you're swimming or more often if you're going to be toweling off, sweating or potentially rubbing off the sunscreen; in those cases, you should reapply as soon as you do those activities.
What About Freckles and Moles?
Freckles refer to spots that usually arise after sun exposure, whereas moles are actual growths that can appear on the skin and tend to persist for life. In general, when your child goes to the pediatrician, he/she will be looking at your child's skin. Things that you can look for as a parent or bring to the attention of your pediatrician or dermatologist are moles that fit with the ABCs:
It's important to keep in mind that these features are not signs that a mole is cancerous, but more that the mole should be evaluated further by a pediatrician or a dermatologist.
What Else Can We Do for Our Children?
Approximately 80% of a person's sun exposure occurs before age 18, so start establishing safe sun habits and educating your children against the dangers of sun exposure early, and especially about the dangers of indoor tanning. Indoor tanning is the single worst thing that you can do for your long-term skin health, and making sure that your children are aware and are avoiding these types of practices will really help them in the long run.