Shining Light on Summer Skin Care

Building sandcastles at the beach, playing Marco Polo at the pool, hiking and exploring your local park or venturing on adventures further afield – summer spells outdoor fun.


All that fun also means sun exposure and pesky bugs, which take a toll on a child’s delicate skin. Follow these tips to keep your child’s skin free from sunburn, dry patches and bug bites.



How do I protect my kids from the sun?


Minimizing direct sun exposure is the best way to protect children from the sun’s rays. Lightweight, long-sleeved clothing, a wide-brimmed hat (to include shade for the sensitive skin of neck and ears) and sunglasses when outdoors offer the most effective protection. Stay in the shade during the sun’s peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Adding sunscreen is an important component of sun protection. Follow these guidelines for effective coverage:
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to cover all exposed areas of the body. More is better: don’t skimp on covering up.
  • Put on sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors as it can take 30 minutes to start working.
  • Don’t save sunscreen for sunny days. Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays (the rays that cause sunburn, skin damage, cancer and future wrinkles) can pass through the clouds.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after a dip in the pool, even if you are using a water-resistant product.
  • Babies under 6 months of age should avoid all sun exposure and direct sunlight. Dress your little one in lightweight clothing and a hat with a brim.



There’s a huge choice of sunscreens. How do I pick the right one?


The countless rows of sunscreens at the drugstore, each touting different features, can be overwhelming. Here’s a quick guide to what to look for:


Bet on broad-spectrum. Choose a product that says broad-spectrum on the label. That means it will protect against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays – both harmful to the skin. Currently, the sun protection factor (SPF) listed on sunscreens in the United States only refers to protection from UVB light; there is no accurate measurement for the included UVA protection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is introducing UVA regulations for sunscreens this summer; they will become mandatory by the end of this year.


SPF demystified: Every product contains slightly different ingredients and each combination translates into a different SPF. For everyday use, a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 is generally enough. An SPF of 30 or higher is best for kids who are active outdoors for longer periods of time. SPF 15 sunscreen blocks out 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, SPF 30 protects against 97 percent and SPF 50 against 98 percent. So any SPF higher than 50 (or even 30) does not offer much additional protection.


Use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for young children and those with sensitive skin. Sunscreens with these ingredients, such as Blue Lizard Suncream SPF 30, DuraScreen SPF 30 and Neutrogena Sensitive Skinblocker SPF 30, physically block the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin. They are best for infants or young children or if you or your kids have sensitive skin or eczema. Chemically-based products that absorb the sun’s rays and dissipate them as heat are effective and safe for older children and adults without skin sensitivities.



My child’s skin is really dry. What type of moisturizer will help?


In our dry California climate, regular moisturizer can help avoid skin dryness, rough patches and itchy discomfort – and is essential if your child has eczema. Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) is cheap and effective, but greasy. Cream or ointment-based moisturizers, like Aquaphor, are best.


Don’t be tricked by products marketed specifically for babies. Instead, choose creams that are free of fragrance and dyes, to avoid skin irritation. Look for creams that come in tubs or squeeze bottles for the best moisturizing results. Lotions in pump-based containers are thinner and not as effective. Moisturize twice a day. If your child continues to experience very dry and itchy skin, talk to your doctor about other treatment options.



Bugs seem to love my kids. What’s the best way to ward off mosquitoes?


Wearing long sleeves and pants is the best preventive measure. Applying an insect repellant containing 30 percent or less DEET to any exposed skin once before going outdoors will provide additional effective protection. Avoid the areas around the eyes and mouth. DEET insect repellants are not suitable for babies under 2 months.


If you’re heading to an area that has lots of mosquitoes this summer, make sure you always sleep under a mosquito net. Bring plug-in repellant products for the bedroom to ward off those pesky critters and use small, lightweight repellant products that you can clip on to your clothes if you want to avoid using bug spray.


Manisha Panchal, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Clara Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician. 

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