BY LINDA STEVENSON, PhD, RN, FNP-C, PEDIAQ SENIOR NURSE PRACTITIONER
Let’s talk about sunscreens and sunburn. Sunscreens are essential, but an SPF of 30 is sufficient. Current research has not proven an SPF greater than 30 gives any more protection. You should pick a sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone for children, as there is concern over mild hormone properties.
How much sunscreen should you use? 2 tablespoons for a small child and up to 4 tablespoons for a larger child, per application. If you use a spray type it still has to be rubbed in. Don’t forget to use a zinc or titanium oxide sunblock on your child’s ears, nose & cheekbones. It even comes in fun bright colors.
If your child is under 6 months of age try to keep them out of the direct sun. If you are unable to keep them out of the direct sun or have them covered with protective clothing, including a hat, then use sunscreen sparingly on exposed areas. For children over 6 months of age apply sunscreen to all exposed areas. Remember with infants and young children to be careful around the eyes, and keep hands free of sunscreen as an infant or very young child may put their hands in their mouth or rub their eyes.
Clothing should be loose but have a tight weave to help block the UV rays. Hats with a 3-inch brim to shield the face, ears and neck are helpful. Sunglasses that are labeled to have UV absorption to 400nm should be worn by all, including infants. Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day from 11am to 4pm when the UV rays are the strongest. Teach children the shadow rule: seek shade when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.
Remember, sunscreen needs to be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Application should be repeated every 2 hours, or after swimming or heavy sweating or toweling dry.
Sunburn can occur in as little as 30 minutes after exposure. Some medications can increase sun sensitivity, so always read the package insert on medications to check for the side effect of photosensitivity. Children are at increased risk of sunburn since they usually spend an increased time outdoors, and also due to structural and immunologic skin differences in those under age 20.
Cool compresses can ease the discomfort of sunburn, along with acetaminophen for a child under 6 months of age or ibuprofen for a child over 6 months. A skin emollient such as aloe vera gel is often helpful. Avoid local anesthetic sprays with benzocaine due to the risk of sensitivities. If your child has a blistering sunburn see your pediatrician for care.