August is the time to enjoy water play, games at the park and trips to new or favorite destinations. However, sunburn, pesky bugs and dry, itchy skin can spoil your fun. So before setting off on your next outdoor adventure, here are answers to some common questions
What’s the best way to protect kids from the sun?
Stay in the shade as much as possible during the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Lightweight clothing including long-sleeved tops, long pants, sunglasses and a hat with a broad rim offer the best protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
Sunscreen is an important part of the equation. Make applying it part of your family’s daily routine. Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds. Follow these steps to get the most effective protection from sunscreen:
- Apply enough: It takes about one ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover the exposed areas of an adult’s body – a little less for a child depending on his or her size. Be generous when you put sunscreen on your child, and don’t forget the ears, the back of the neck, hands and feet. Also, apply lip balm with an SPF (sun protection factor) regularly.
- Apply in time: Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, as it takes about that long for a sunscreen to start working.
- Reapply frequently: Liberally apply sunscreen every two to three hours or after swimming. Sunscreens wash, rub and sweat off easily. Don’t trust claims such as “waterproof,” “sweatproof” or “all-day-protection” listed on the sunscreen packaging. You’ll still need to reapply at regular intervals for the sunscreen to be effective.
There’s a huge choice of sunscreens. How do I pick the right one?
If your child has sensitive skin or eczema, look for products that list either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide in the active ingredients list. These ingredients physically block the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin. Chemical-based products absorb the sun’s rays and dissipate them as heat. These types of sunscreens are also effective and safe for children and adults without skin sensitivities. Here’s a quick guide to what’s important in a sunscreen:
- SPF: The SPF number on the sunscreen product indicates how long you can stay in the sun without risking sunburn. This is calculated by comparing the amount of time it takes to get sunburned without protection compared to how long it takes to get sunburned while wearing sunscreen. For example, if it takes 10 minutes for unprotected skin to burn, wearing an SPF 30 sunscreen will extend the time “to burning” to 300 minutes (five hours).
- Confused by the SPF numbers? Choose a product with at least SPF 30. Higher SPFs can give you a false sense of security. As sunscreens come off easily, you need to reapply every two to three hours anyway, even if you have used a sunscreen with a very high SPF.
- Active ingredients: Rather than trust the claims on the sunscreen packaging, look at the products’ active ingredients list for one or more of the following ingredients that provide the best protection against harmful UV rays:
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium oxide
- Parsol 1789 (Avobenzone)
Teens concerned about acne should look for sunscreens for the face that are oil-free or non-comedogenic and don’t clog pores.
How do I protect my 4-month-old baby?
Babies under 6 months should avoid sun exposure. Instead, use clothing and a broad-rimmed hat to protect your little one. If sun exposure is unavoidable, apply sun block that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to exposed areas such as the face and back of the hands.
What’s the best way to ward off mosquitoes?
Wear long sleeves and pants in areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes. Apply an insect repellant containing 10 to 30 percent DEET to exposed areas of the skin and clothing before going outdoors. Don’t put repellant near the eyes and mouth.
A product with 10 percent DEET provides two hours of protection whereas one with 30 percent DEET will last for five hours. Choose the lowest concentration for the time you need protection. Once you are back indoors, change your clothing and wash off, so the chemical is only on your skin for as long as it is needed.
Although herbal insect repellant products provide some protection against mosquitoes, DEET-based products are the most effective at warding off mosquitoes and ticks. You should definitely use DEET-based products when travelling to countries where West Nile or Zika viruses and other mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent.
Avoid dual-purpose sunscreen/insect repellant products as you will need to apply sunscreen more frequently than is recommended for the insect repellant. This could result in overuse of the repellant chemical. In addition, don’t use DEET insect repellants on babies under 2 months of age.
My child’s skin is very dry during the summer. What can help?
If your child swims frequently in chlorinated pool water, this can be drying for the skin. Remember to always shower with fresh water after a dip in the pool to rinse off the chlorine. Then use a moisturizer right away to seal in the moisture from the shower water.
If your child has dry skin or eczema, he or she should moisturize at least once a day, and twice a day is better. Choose a product containing ceramides. This ingredient is very effective at moisturizing and improving the skin barrier. If your child still has dry, itchy skin or develops a rash, contact your child’s doctor for advice and other treatment options.
Amy E. Gilliam, M.D., is a pediatrician, dermatologist and pediatric dermatologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto and San Carlos Centers. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.