Summer has arrived and with it, vacation time. Along with all the other problems that moms are swamped with when preparing for a trip, there’s the choice of sunscreen. Do the beach and the mountains mean different protection is needed? Cream or spray? Which sunscreen is suited to my child?
The sun has finally taken over the miserable weather and the sunny season has begun. It’s time to let our kids take off their jackets and long pants and let them out into the sun. Remember, though, that protection against the sun should never be overlooked. Irede Dello Iacono, head of paediatrics and allergology at the Fatebenefratelli di Benevento hospital says that “when choosing sunscreen it is important that you consider everything from the conditions related to altitude, the geographical area that you are in to the eventual presence of reflection from water, snow or sand. You should also take into consideration the weather conditions, for example if it’s windy or cloudy, this can amplify the risk of burning as it lowers the perception of heat. Whether it be in the mountains, at the beach, in the country or in the city, if a child is exposed to the sun then their skin should be protected. When choosing a sunscreen, you should consider that children’s skin can vary with regards to phototypes.”
There are four different phototypes:
- Phototype 1: extremely sensitive with high risk of burning and will never tan. This group includes children with very light skin, red or very blonde hair, light-colored eyes and freckles. Time spent in the sun should be very short and limited to very early and very late in the day.
- Phototype 2: sensitive. Similar characteristics to the previous group but a little less sensitive. The attitude towards sun exposure should be equally as strict.
- Phototype 3: lightly sensitive. The skin turns quite an intense red but only before tanning and will gradually turn brown. This includes children with darker skin, brown hair and dark-colored eyes. They can be gradually exposed to the sun and a medium protection filter is sufficient.
- Phototype 4: not sensitive. The skin will never burn and tans very quickly and intensely. This includes children who have an olive-brown complexion, black hair and very dark eyes. They can be exposed to the sun for longer than the others, even without photo-protection however they are still not exempt from any long-term damage
From what age can you start to expose children to the sun and what time of day is best?
The American Academy of Paediatrics recently released a set of guidelines regarding safely exposing children to the sun. The first recommendation is that infants under 6 months should be kept out of any direct exposure. They can be in the shade, under an umbrella or in the stroller with the cover on and they should be wearing light clothes that cover their arms and legs as well as a hat with a large brim that protects the neck from burning. For all children, irrelevant of age, it is advised to avoid sun exposure in the middle of the day, from 10:00 to 16:00, and then proceed with gradual exposure for short periods of time.
What sunscreen is best, cream or spray?
As a rule, before applying sunscreen, it should be tested on a child’s back to determine if they’re allergic or hypersensitive to it. Choosing a cream or a spray really comes down to personal preference, even though some forms are better suited to specific parts of the body. Creams, for example, are best for people who have dry skin and are generally better for protecting the face. Sprays are convenient, especially for children because they are quicker to apply, but you need to be aware of wind direction as this can cause insufficient application and risk of inhalation. They should never be sprayed directly on to the face, spray it in your hand and then apply it.
What is the correct way to apply sunscreen?
First of all, it is important to remember that creams should protect against both UVB and UVA, with a protection factor of at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor). Despite common beliefs, the additional benefits of sunscreen with 50+ SPF are limited. Sunscreen takes 30 minutes to be effective. It should be reapplied every 2 hours and always after getting wet, even if the label says ‘water resistant’. It should be noted that the sun does also filter through clothes and umbrellas so sunscreen should also be used on those who are in the shade.