What SPF sunscreen protection do I need?

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Answered by: Christopher, An Expert in the Healthy Living 101 Category
Studies show that 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 18. Sunshine is good for children, as it gives off vitamin D that helps to strengthen their growing bones. But severe childhood or adolescent sunburns have been linked to the development of melanoma later in life. That’s why it is so important to protect your children from sun damage. Staying out of the sun when it is at its strongest and most damaging, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., is one solution. But that’s not always realistic. And with the dizzying array of sunscreens, you may not even know which product is best for your kids.



Check the numbers

Check the sun protection factor (SPF) number on the label. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that cause sunburn. UVB rays are responsible for causing most skin cancers because they damage the DNA of skin cells.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests broad-spectrum sunscreen, which shields your child’s skin from both UVB and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. UVA rays are linked to premature aging of the skin. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after you or your child have been swimming or have perspired heavily.



Take extra care if your child has pale skin or light colored hair, as they are more susceptible to skin damage. Something a little stronger than SPF 15 is recommended.

As for whether to use creams, sticks, or sprays, the choice is yours. Some work better for different skin types and body parts. For instance, a spray may work better for feet whereas a stick or cream may be better for the face.

Protecting infants

Placing an umbrella or blanket over your baby’s carrier can provide some protection from the sun. Also, dress infants in protective clothing and hats and use sun shields on car windows.

There is no evidence that sunscreens are harmful to infants, and kid formulas aren’t essential for little ones either. As with adults, toddlers and children, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are preferred because they are not absorbed by the skin and are known to be safe for infants.

Be clothes-minded

Try cover-up clothing on your children, including broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses. But when it comes to blocking UV rays, not all fabrics are created equal. A typical white T-shirt, for example, has an SPF of about 3. Choose tightly woven fabrics in darker colors. To determine how protective an article of clothing is, hold it up to a window and see how much light passes through. The same is true for hats — if you can see through it, so can the sun.

Special sun-blocking clothes are also available. These clothes have a label listing the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). A garment with a UPF of 20 will let only 1/20th of the sun’s UV rays pass through.

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