Summer is coming, and with it comes the sun’s harmful rays. Parents are faced with the challenge of protecting our children from sunburns, increasing our children’s outdoor activities for health and fitness, and minimizing the chemicals that our children are exposed to.

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So, how can we enjoy time outside safely?

Infants

  • Infant skin does not produce melanin, which is our natural sun protection. 
  • It is best to keep baby skin covered with a hat, and lightweight clothing and keep them in the shade.
  • At the beach, invest in a large umbrella, or splurge and rent a cabana for the day.
  • If you must use sunscreen, use a natural formulation and use it sparingly and as a last resort.

Toddlers

  • Toddlers are more active and less likely to stay in the shade or under an umbrella.
  • Begin practicing the 3S principle . . . Slop on sunscreen, Slip on a shirt, and Slap on a hat. 
  • Try and spend time indoors during the hours that the sun is strongest. 
  • For swimming, more coverage for swimsuits is better. I like Land’s End for affordable sun protective swimwear that will hold up all summer long.

Older Children

  • Hopefully, by now your children have developed some good sun sense habits, such as wearing protective clothing and a hat when outdoors. 
  • Teach them to apply and reapply sunscreen when needed. 
  • Avoid the temptation to buy spray-on sunscreen as it puts particles in the air that can be inhaled. At this age, stick formulations work well…and don’t forget the lips!
  • Sunglasses are important at any age to block UV rays that can cause vision damage such as cataracts.

What to look for in sunscreen?

 The sun-blocking ingredients of a quality sunscreen will be either zinc, titanium dioxide, Avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These ingredients stay on top of your skin and protect you from the sun without absorbing.

What ingredients should you avoid?

There are several ingredients to avoid in sunscreen including Vitamin A (retinyl palmate) Oxybenzone or added insect repellent.

The higher the SPF (sun protection factor) the better, right?

No, actually a higher SPF is not only not necessary, but it also gives a false sense of sun safety. The recommended SPF is between 15 and 50 depending on your skin type and risk factors.

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We also need to keep our need for vitamin D in mind. The best source of Vitamin D is from the sun. While we want to avoid sun damage, we do not want to create a deficiency (most Americans are Vitamin D deficient. You can request a simple blood test from your doctor to check your levels).

My doctor recommends that we spend a half-hour in the sun before applying sunblock. Now, of course, that half-hour should not be at a peak sunburn time (which will vary by region).

You can find an updated list of the best sunscreens for 2012 here (and there is an app to download for on-the-go use!) 

Remember to follow sun safety rules that include staying out of the sun when it is at its strongest, wearing protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat, and wearing a safe sunscreen when needed! Enjoy your summer!