How to protect your child from sunburn

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Do you know what kind of sunscreen to use on your kids' tender skin? Dermatologist and author Dr. Doris Day explains the best ways to protect children from the sun's damaging rays, and tells you what to do in case your child gets a severe sunburn.

How to protect your child from sunburn Make sure you keep your kids safe from the sun this summer. Dr. Doris Day has great advice on safety in the sun for children that will help lower your child's sunburn risk.

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. A good gauge of adequate sun protection for kids is to apply enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass.
  • Look for products that offer both UVA and UVB protection.
    • UVB rays penetrate the skin to cause burning. This is what SPF refers to.
    • UVA rays have a longer wavelength that can penetrate through glass. So UVA rays can affect you even while you’re in the car.
  • Photo-stabilized products offer even more protection by making the UVA and UVB protection last longer. But you still have to reapply them often to maximize safety in the sun and reduce the risk of sunburn.
  • Younger skin is more susceptible to sunburn and sun damage. Your child's skin is still developing.
  • A child's body surface to volume ratio is also much different than adults. So the symptoms and consequences of a sunburn are much more severe.
  • If your child's sunburn is accompanied by grogginess, vomiting, fever or chills, then they may have sun poisoning. If these symptoms are present, you should take your child to the emergency room or call your doctor for advice.
  • A tan is a sign of sun damage. So even if your child doesn’t burn – but gets tan – they’re still damaging their skin.
  • Avoid the noonday sun, when it’s at the highest point in the sky.
  • Wear clothing that offers a SPF of 30 or higher.
  • You can also buy a fabric softener that adds some SPF protection to your clothing.
  • Use products with zinc oxide because they don’t actually penetrate the skin, but create a protective coating.
  • New FDA rules mean that sunscreens can no longer say “water proof” – they’ll say “water resistant.”
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CYNTHIA:  Hi, I’m Cynthia Guava for howdini.com. If you’re a mom you’ve probably spent part of every summer chasing after your kids with sunscreen. But are you really protecting their sensitive skin from the sun’s damaging rays? Dr. Doris Day is a dermatologist and author, and she is here to help us all be smarter about the sun. Dr. Day thank you for being here with us, what are the two biggest and most common mistakes parents make when trying to protect their kids from getting a sunburn?

DR. DAY:  Well the two main things, they count too much on sunscreen alone to protect their children’s sensitive skin. And two is that they don’t apply the sunscreen enough.

CYNTHIA:  What is the SPF number you recommend that they use?

DR. DAY:  For children, and actually adults as well, I recommend a SPF of thirty or higher. It takes about a shot glass amount to cover the entire body. That’s for an adult, for a child you probably need a little less, but that’s a good gauge to go by. And also, when you look at the sunscreen look for both UVA and UVB protection, and hat means that you are protecting against all the damaging rays of the sun. There are new sunscreens out now that also photostablize, that means they have a little extra protection. These are ingredients like Helioplex and Neutrogena products, Mexeril and the Anteleose la Roche per say, or Avotryplex in Banana Boat.

CYNTHIA:  You’ve just mentioned a couple of names there; can you just explain what they mean and what they really do?

DR. DAY:  What these ingredients do, they are all very similar. What they do is stabilize the UVA and UVB protection, to make it a little bit stronger, and make it last a little bit longer. So you still need to reapply it regularly. But with these ingredients you know that your getting a broad spectrum, longer lasting protection, so it adds just a little bit more to what your using.

CYNTHIA:  Are young kids more susceptible to getting sunburned then teens or adults?

DR. DAY:  Younger skin is more susceptible to the sunburn; also they’re more susceptible to the damage of the sun. So there skin is still developing and growing, and also what called the body surface to volume ratio is very different then in an adult. So if they have a severe sunburn the symptoms and consequences can be much more severe then it would be for an adult. If you have a child who is sunburned, and you see that they have a change in their mental status, if they’re more groggy, or they have fevers or chills, if they’re vomiting or not quite themselves, they’re not eating well, that’s a much more serious condition. That might be a sign of sun poisoning, and should be addressed right away by going to the emergency room, or calling your doctor for further advice.

CYNTHIA:  If kids get a tan but don’t burn, is that still ok for their skin?

DR. DAY:  A tan is a sign of sun damage. So in order to create a tan your skin has to be damaged, and that stimulates those pigment-forming cells called malignancies, to make more pigment to protect the skin cells. So in order to tan, you’re damaging the skin. Tanning in not a good idea, and it should be avoided if possible.

CYNTHIA:  I see that you have several products here, tell us about them?

DR. DAY:  So there are lots of sunscreens that are packaged for children, a lot of times they contain ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They are a little more opaque, they are thicker and you can see them a little more on the skin. And these are nice because they don’t actually penetrate the skin, they just create a protective physical coating, and helps protect against the sun damage. Others contain specific UVA and UVB protection, and the FDA is coming out with some rulings to change the labeling so you can’t say waterproof anymore. In the future they are going to change that, it can say extremely water resistant, but not waterproof.

CYNTHIA:  Dr. Day thank you for that helpful information. I’m Cynthia Guava for howdini.com    

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meet theexpert
  • Dr. Doris Day

    Dr. Doris Day Dermatologist Doris Day is a board certified dermatologist who specializes in laser, cosmetic and surgical dermatology. She's clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU Medical Center and author of the book Forget the Facelift (Penguin/Avery). more about this expert »

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