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Mother applying sunscreen to son.

Sun Protection: Navigating the Sunscreen Aisle

Author: CHKD Medical Group, Dr. Laura Charette
Published Date: Monday, May 31, 2021

By Dr. Laura Charette, PDC Pediatrics

As families make outdoor plans to enjoy the warmer weather, many parents will be heading to the sunscreen aisle to navigate an endless number of skin protection options.

Parents often wonder what’s the best sunscreen for their kids? And does it really matter what kind you buy?

The answer, of course, is a little complicated. But yes, it does matter which kind of sunscreen you use. Not all sunscreens protect the same way and some offer better protection than others. Studies show that sunscreen helps prevent three common types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

When it comes to buying sunscreen, make your selection with the following criteria in mind:

Broad Spectrum

Sunscreens that are broad-spectrum products will shield the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Sun Protection Factor

Choose a sunscreen that has a SPF between 15 and 50. Remember that a higher SPF doesn’t mean it provides longer protection. You’ll still need to reapply the sunscreen often, especially when swimming. Also, studies have not shown that sunscreens with a SPF higher than 50 are more effective.

Water Resistant

If you’re going to be swimming or playing in the water, certain sunscreens are formulated to last longer than others around water. That said, all sunscreens need to be reapplied regularly, especially if worn in the water. Be sure to check the label for how long they last when swimming.

Mineral or Chemical?

Another question parents have when it comes to choosing the right sunscreen concerns the active ingredients used in the product. If you’re concerned about using a sunscreen that contains a specific active ingredient, talk to your pediatrician.

Some parents opt for a mineral sunscreen because it is less likely to irritate the skin. Mineral sunscreens, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, prevent sunburn by blocking the sun’s rays.

More Sun Safety Tips

Remember, the best sun protection for babies under 6 months is to keep them in the shade, or under an umbrella, and have them wear a wide-brimmed hat. Sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under the age of 6 months. If you can’t seek shade or use protective clothing to shield your baby’s skin, you can use sunscreen on small areas of the body such as the face, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When having fun in the sun, it’s also important to protect your child’s eyes. The sooner you start protecting your child’s eyes from the sun, the lower their risk of developing future eye problems including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Any child 6 months or older should wear sunglasses while outside. Look for children’s sunglasses that are bendable but unbreakable and offer 99-100% UV protection. Blue eyes are at greater risk for UV damage than brown eyes, so be extra-vigilant.

If you notice any skin changes or unusual growths on your child, please let your pediatrician know. Skin cancers are easiest to treat when caught early.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.