Disclosure: Coolibar* provided my family with two kids’ SPF 50+ rash guards and one ladies’ SPF 50+ swim shirt to try. However, all opinions are mine.
Around our house, I’m known as the Sunscreen Nag. I’m a stickler for slathering sunscreen on my kids (and husband!) and teaching them how and why to avoid sunburns. Having had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my forehead at age 32 makes me extra cautious about my sun exposure as well as that of my family.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.”
But, as you probably know from experience, putting sunscreen on kids (and, yes, husbands) is not one of life’s pleasures. Getting squirmy, impatient kiddos to hold still when all they want to do is run outside or leap into the water is no easy task. And husbands, for some reason, seem to believe they’re immune to the dangerous rays of the sun. So, on I nag, fighting the valiant battle to keep my family protected from the sun all summer long.
Over the years, I’ve learned that buying SPF 50+ clothing and swimwear cuts down on our sunscreen application time. That makes for happy kids, a more tolerant husband, and a relieved mom who doesn’t have to nag about sunscreen (as often). My kids don’t mind throwing on a colorful rash guard if means we spend less time applying sunscreen because the 50+ SPF swimwear covers most of their exposed skin.
But, in addition to protective swimwear and clothing, how else can we protect our kids from sun exposure? I asked sun-protective clothing company Coolibar (who kindly sent my kids the rash guards you see here, and me a cute ruche swim shirt to try) and local dermatologist Elizabeth Tichy with Hughes Dermatology some of my burning questions about sunscreens and sun protection for families:
1. What is your best advice for families choosing and applying sunscreen?
Dr. Tichy recommends (demands, really) an SPF of AT LEAST 30. “SPF gives you an idea of how much longer an individual can stay in the sun without burning compared to the same individual being in the sun without sunscreen. An SPF of 10 would allow 10 times as long in the sun before the individual becomes sun burned. An SPF of 20 allows 20 times longer, etc. HOWEVER, receiving full protection from a sunscreen means applying the sunscreen the way it was applied while being tested. I’ve got two words for you: apply liberally. Apply it like you would a lotion to dry skin. At least a full shot glass of sunscreen is required to cover the body of a small adult. 99.9% of consumers do not apply sunscreen correctly, especially the aerosol kind.”
2. Should parents not use spray sunscreens on their children? What age is safe for this type of sunscreen (if any)?
Spray sunscreens are fine to use, says Dr. Tichy, as long as families are diligent in how they are applied. “The downside to spray sunscreens is they are too user dependent and give a false sense of security. You cannot apply spray sunscreen the way your middle-schooler applies their Old Spice (spray and walk through). To obtain the SPF claimed on the can, it must be applied slowly and methodically like spray paint. The skin should glisten and then it needs to dry once applied.”
3. What are some of your favorite sunscreens for families?
Dr. Tichy’s personal favorite sunscreens are by Elta MD because they are very well tolerated by all skin types (acne prone, eczema, sensitive skin, etc). “They do not sting if they accidentally get in the eyes and can be used on infants. Coppertone Sport runs a close second in my book although it is a bit more irritating and needs to dry before you jump in the pool. A good sunscreen will say ‘Broad Spectrum,’ which means it blocks UVA and UVB rays.”
4. Are “organic” or “baby/kids” branded sunscreens better for my child?
According to Dr. Tichy, no. “There are physical blocks (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) and there are chemical blocks (examples are benzophenone, octocrylene, Mexoryl, octisalate, trolamine salicylate, PABA and cinnamates). Organic sunscreens are made of chemical blocks, and since we don’t typically think of chemicals as ‘organic,’ many may not realize what the ingredients really are. As for baby sunscreen vs. regular sunscreen: It doesn’t matter. What matters are the ingredients. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are excellent sun blocks and work on the surface of the skin. They are also common ingredients in diaper creams and are safe in infants. To be absolutely sure your baby’s skin can tolerate a certain sunscreen, apply a small amount to a protected spot overnight. Check for redness or irritation the next day.”
5. How important is sun protection for the eyes? At what age should we begin protecting our eyes from the sun?
A recent survey by Oakley found that 1 in 4 do not know that UV exposure is cumulative can cause macular degeneration, cataracts, and even some eye cancers. Kids should wear sunglasses as often as possible, as early as possible, to protect from damage down the road. When choosing sunglasses for little ones, make sure lenses are shatterproof.
6. Do we have to wear sunscreen on cloudy days? Do we have to wear sunscreen while in the shade?
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clouds on an overcast day. Studies have shown that people forego sunscreen or reapply less often on cloudy days, even though skin damage can still occur.
7. Besides sunscreen, what is the best way to keep families protected from UV exposure in the sun and during day-to-day “running around”?
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothing as the first line of defense against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays because it protects us by absorbing or blocking much of this radiation. The more skin you cover, the better. Coolibar clothing and swimwear promises a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of at least 50 that never washes out, wears out or fades. Paired with sunscreen, sun-protective clothing is the BEST way to keep protected in the sun from head to toe.
Our family’s favorite sunscreen so far this year is Bare Republic Natural Mineral Sunscreen Sport SPF 50 (rated a 3 by the Environmental Working Group). I’m also eager to try Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin SPF 30, which is rated a 1 by the Enviromental Workgroup. If you haven’t checked out the Environmental Working Group’s 2015 Guide to Sunscreens, take a look. It’s a great resource to help you choose the best sunscreen for your family’s needs.
No matter which sunscreen you choose, be sure to apply it as directed (and reapply as needed). And have a sun safe summer!
* Wondering what a Coolibar is? It’s a eucalyptus tree from the harsh Australian outback. It provides relief and protection from the sun’s rays, just like Coolibar’s products.
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