Summer Sun Safety

sunblock on kid

// by Mary-Lauren Eubank

In Florida, nothing is more picturesque than a sunny day at the beach. The bright blue skies and endless stretches of sand make it easy for nature's beauty to mask the dangers of sun exposure, but bare skin can’t hide from North Florida's powerful rays. The reality is that one sunburn can lead to permanent damage, and children, many of whom spend hours outside, are especially prone to sunburns. Skin protection is the key to surviving Sunshine State summers and there are several options when it comes to staying burn-free.

Clothing

The simplest form of sun protection is clothing and fabric is important. Sun protective clothing is given an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), which is the clothing equivalent of an SPF rating of a sunscreen lotion. A standard cotton tee is better than nothing but has significantly lower UPF than the lycra/synthetic fabric blend of a rash guard. Choose cover-ups wisely. Aim to wear an item that has a 40-50 UPF. Rash guards and cover-ups are the best bet for babies under six months old because use of sunscreen is not recommended. Hats and visors are an easy way to shield the head and face.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is the most common skin protection, but due to user error it isn’t always the most effective—especially for kids. Dr. Pearl Kwong, pediatric dermatologist with Baptist Health, says the most common mistake sunscreen users make is failing to reapply. She advises that children and adults reapply at least every two hours. Beach-goers should also be aware that the sand increases the sun’s reflective powers. Dr. Kwong strongly recommends that children use a waterproof sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. It is best to choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that guards against both UVA and UVB rays.

Children are the hardest to protect. Not only are they often hopping in and out of the water—making reapplication mandatory—they tend to be squirmy. Many parents miss sensitive spots like the scalp, tops of the feet and hands while wrestling with wiggly little bodies. One helpful tip is apply sunscreen while a child is in only his or her “birthday suit.” It is also important that sunscreen be applied thirty minutes prior to exposure. Try lathering on the sunscreen at home. Children will be less distracted by the temptations of the pool or beach and the lotion will be absorbed en route.

In the past few years, sunscreen has become a bit controversial. Several groups such as the Environmental Working Group have expressed displeasure with some ingredients found in most sunscreens like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Though most sunscreen chemicals are FDA approved, some are choosing alternatives like homemade sunscreen.

DIY sunscreens have their own set of issues though. It is difficult to determine the SPF of a homemade potion and many recipes use an oil base (like coconut oil) that actually helps rays penetrate the skin. Dr. Karthik Krishnamurthy, dermatologist at Park Avenue Dermatology in Orange Park, cautions do-it-your-selfers. “As everyone probably remembers from high school chemistry, molecules need to be prepared under specific circumstances, even your home lighting or ambient temperature could result in an unpredictable final product.”

To lower the risk of irritation or sensitivity to chemical sunscreens, Krishnamurthy recommends using physical blocker sunscreens, which contain only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Remedies

Despite taking precautions, living in Florida means that you or your child will likely fall victim to a sunburn at some point. Though not ideal, a wide variety of remedies can be applied to lessen the pain. Kwong stresses that the only true remedy “is prevention first,” but says that a topical hydrocortisone cream and some ibuprofen will help lessen the pain. Aloe vera is the old standby because of its natural soothing properties (store it in the fridge for bonus cooling comfort). Applying witch hazel to a moist cloth or covering the burned area in yogurt also provides cooling relief and reduces inflammation. If sunburnt, bar soap should be avoided, as it can add fuel to the fire—no pun intended. ]