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Summer is just around the corner, which means lots of outdoor activities for families in sunny Southern California.  Although outdoor activities are fun and healthy, sun exposure can cause permanent damage to the skin.  Did you know that your risk of skin cancer doubles if you have had five or more sunburns?  That is why sun protection for children is so important from the start!  Here are some tips to help keep your whole family protected.

The best protection is to avoid the sun.

  • Try to keep everyone covered in light, comfortable clothing.
  • Keep babies less than 6-months old in the shade whenever possible with a stroller canopy or a tree’s shelter.
  • Use hats to keep sun off of the face and use sunglasses to protect the eyes (and look how cute they look in shades)!
  • Limit outdoor activities between 10 am and 4 pm – time when the sun is at its strongest.
  • If you will be swimming, look for bathing suits that have SPF 50 built in.  TargetTM sells rash guards for the boys and cute shirts and bottoms for girls.  My kids only wear these and they never get sun under their bathing suits!

The second best protection is sunscreen.

There seems to be a lot of controversy about sunscreen these days.  Since it’s well known that sun damage increases the risk of cancer, sunscreen is still very much recommended.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using sunscreens that create a barrier on the surface of the skin.  Look for the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  These ingredients are not absorbed by the skin and therefore do not have affect on a child’s growing body.  For babies less than 6 months of age, these are the best products to use on exposed areas.

  • Always look for products that have broad spectrum UV protection.  Ideally, you want UVA and UVB protection.
  • Look for SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 or more.  This means that it will take the skin 30 times as long to burn from UVB exposure.  SPF does not indicate UVA protection, so be sure the coverage is clearly stated with your product .
  • Besides zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, other ingredients that are safe and effective are avobenzone or MeroxylTM.
  • Creams, lotions, and sticks are the best types of sunscreen.  Be careful with sprays as they can be inhaled and cause lung damage, and always use a spray in a well-ventilated area.

 Ingredients to avoid:

  • Oxybenzone is very effective against UVA and UVB and is approved by the FDA for anyone over 6 months.  However, there continues to be concerns that once absorbed by the skin, oxybenzone can act as a hormone disrupter, which can have negative effects on growing children.  More research needs to be conducted on this ingredient.
  • PABA was initially a very popular ingredient in sunscreen due to its ability to block UVB rays.  However, PABA was found to cause allergic reactions, increase risk of sunburn and cell damage, and discolor clothing.  It also came off easily in water.

My recommendations:

  • My favorite type of sunscreen to use is the stick.  These are convenient to carry, the product does not run into the eyes, and my kids can now apply it themselves!
  • I have used Aveeno Baby NaturalTM and MD Solar ScienceTM.  I also love California BabyTM products and will probably try their sunscreen this summer.
  • Other popular organic brands that I love, like Seventh Generation and Earth’s Best, make sunscreen. 
  • Check out the Environmental Working Group website for more suggestions at www.ewg.org.

Always put sunscreen on before putting on clothes or bathing suits and always apply at least 15 minutes before going in the sun.

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