It’s summertime and the sun is blazing. Let’s talk about how to protect your skin from the summer sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 1 in 5 adults in the US will develop skin cancer, making it the most common type of cancer. They state that “Even one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma.” The importance of sun safety is critical and should be considered from an early age and continue through adulthood. There are a number of ways you can keep safe and still enjoy the sun.
How can I limit sun exposure?
Blocking the sun prevents exposure to harmful UV rays. Make sure you have a thoughtful plan for prolonged sun exposure. Limiting time in the sun is the best way to avoid harmful rays. The sun is strongest during the hours of 10am and 4pm. During these hours, limit direct sunlight exposure by seeking shade. Remember, you can get a sunburn and expose yourself to harmful rays even on a cloudy day. Keep that in mind as you head out!
There are a number of tools we recommend to help you block the sun:
- Broad brimmed hats: There are really nice hats that use UV blocking material for both children and adults that will protect not only the sensitive top of your head and ears, but also your eyes, face and shoulders. Look for a nice wide hat for optimal coverage.
- Sun shirts: Protective clothing is another great way to block UV rays. There are lots of nice options available for babies, children and both men and women. Long sleeved sun shirts provide nice coverage to the high sun areas on your shoulders, back and arms and allow you to feel cool and comfortable in the summer heat. They dry quickly and make summer sun fun, easy and breezy! Regular clothing provides some coverage, but you can get sun damage through your regular clothes, which is more likely with prolonged sun exposure.
- Umbrellas and pop-up tents: These come with UV protection, as well. They can be found at your local grocery store as well as most sports stores and baby gear shops. They help adults and kiddos catch some shade at the beach or an outdoor event where they may otherwise be stuck under the blazing sun. These tents and umbrellas can adjust with the sun as it moves across the sky and provide continued protection while you are outside and unable to find natural shade. Stroller shades can be adjusted to keep those babes out of direct sun, too!
- Sunglasses: Don’t forget those eyes! Wearing sunglasses provides protection to not only your eyelids, but your eyeballs, too. Protect those corneas, lenses and other sensitive parts. Using sunglasses with both UVA and UVB protection is key not only to skin, but eyes too.
Sunscreen usage for babies, children, and adults
Sunscreen use is a common concern for children and babies. When can you use sunscreen on your baby? There are so many options! Parents of winter and spring babies are ready to roll outside when summer hits and oftentimes are unsure about slathering sunscreen all over that sensitive baby skin.
According to American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if you can avoid using sunscreen until your baby is 6 months of age, this is ideal. It is best to use sun shirts, wide brimmed hats and be sure to keep your baby out of direct sunlight, especially under 6 months of age. If you absolutely cannot, it is advised to use sunscreen sparingly on the face and exposed skin until they are over 6 months old when it is considered safe to use sunscreen. The best choice for babies and all children in general is to keep them in a shaded area and avoid harsh sun exposure.
Once your child is moving and grooving, it is going to be a challenge to keep them safe from the sun’s rays. They are wiggly and picky, and usually slimy sunscreen isn’t on their agenda. The best option for applying sunscreen is at home, before you head out into the sun. Sunscreen works best if applied 30 min before sun exposure. This also eliminates trying to slather lotion on a sandy or already wet child who wants to run and play!
AAP recommends looking for the words “broad-spectrum” on the sunscreen label in order to have protection against both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. Using a zinc based cream on the face, ears, nose, cheeks and shoulders can provide extra protection for high sun-exposed areas. We will talk more about these different types of sunscreens, as they can be confusing!
The best, most consistent coverage will come from a water-resistant sunscreen. Regardless of which type you use, be sure to reapply at least every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or towel drying. No sunscreen is waterproof, and will need to be reapplied often, based on your activities and sun exposure.
For adults, choosing a daily moisturizer with SPF is a nice easy way to get some coverage on your face, ears and neck regularly. You can then add additional sunscreen and protection with prolonged sun exposure.
What kind of sunscreen should I buy?
The most important thing to remember is to sunscreen yourself and your child. A common question is which sunscreen has the least amount of chemicals or works the best. The FDA has proposed that sunscreen becomes more regulated so that consumers are ensured that they are both safe and effective. It is important to read the ingredients and see what works best for you. There are two basic types of sunscreen based on ingredients and how they protect the skin: chemical sunscreen and physical sunscreen.
- Chemical sunscreen absorbs the sun’s rays and may contain one or more of many possible active ingredients, including oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and avobenzone. This type is usually easier to rub in and doesn’t leave a thick film but can be more irritating.
- Physical sunscreen acts by deflecting or blocking the sun’s rays, and includes active ingredients titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. This type of sunscreen is usually best for those with sensitive skin, but doesn’t rub in well. It commonly leaves a white film, but you can find more clear options these days, as it has become a more popular product.
There are ongoing studies to determine if the chemicals in sunscreen are harmful. What we do know is that some studies have shown these chemicals get into the bloodstream because they are absorbed into the skin. More studies need to be done to determine how safe it is to have detectable levels of these chemicals in your body.
Some of the more common chemicals in question are currently being studied. In 2019, the FDA concluded that the risks of using aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, and trolamine salicylate outweigh their benefits, and it proposed classifying them as unsafe. What we do know is that two ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are recognized by the FDA as safe and effective.
How do I find the right sunscreen for my family?
There are many options for sunscreen choices and there are lots of opinions on which ones are best. The best is to be sure to use a sunscreen that is at least 15+ SPF (30+ is best) and keep in consideration that your child may have sensitive skin so it may take a few tries to find the right sun care regimen for you. The AAP recommends about 1 oz of sunscreen per application per child, which can add up quickly.
Once you find a sunscreen you love, make sure you have some with you whenever you leave the house as you may need to slather up on the go. Keep in mind that leaving sunscreen in a hot car can decrease its effectiveness, so try and keep it in a travel bag that comes inside with you and isn’t left out in the sun all day.
If you are looking for some sunscreen options that work well and have low amounts of chemicals, you can check out EWG (Environmental Working Group), who reports on different products with reviews, so you can make the best choice for you and your family.
The Nurse-1-1 team has a few family favorites that we are happy to share (with no affiliation!) Since we know that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are reported as safe, we have stuck to these options:
- Nurse Kim has found Think Baby products work really well for the kiddos. They are also rated as one of the cleanest products by EWG. We especially love the face stick for easy application to those sensitive areas of the face, hair part, ears and chest.
- Badger products are a close second for Nurse Kim’s fam. Their product is a little thicker but works just as great and is just as clean. Sunbum is a newer find and we’ve found the face stick to work great!
- Nurse-1-1 CEO Mike Sheeley’s family loves Blue Lizard sensitive SPF 30+ for the kiddos and Vanicream for Mom, both rated highly on the EWG rating for clean products.
- The Nurse-1-1 Dads prefer spray sunscreen with no brand preference. We have to agree with the Dads that something is better than nothing. The most important thing is to avoid a sunburn!
- Dr. Igor loves to supplement his sunscreen use with a Sundaily skincare gummy, which is thought to decrease sun damage with plant-based antioxidants.
- Marketing Director Bailey sticks to the clean products at BeautyCounter and loves their Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 (they also have daily moisturizer and mist versions available).
We would love to hear which sunscreens you love! Drop us a comment on our Instagram.
Sunburns and skin damage – when should I get checked out?
It is important to try and avoid getting a sunburn in general. Even a mild burn is an indicator that you have sun damage. The more often you burn, the greater the risk for skin cancer. All skin types and colors are at risk for skin cancer with prolonged sun exposure and sun damage. Skin damage can occur over time to everyone, even without a sunburn so it is very important to keep sun safety on our minds all year round.
Any blistering rash or burn should be checked out, especially if it covers more than 20% of your body. If you aren’t sure, call your primary care provider. Also, if you have a sunburn along with a fever, chills, severe pain, extreme thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, decreased urination, or fatigue, you should be seen right away. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are preventable heat-related illnesses. They can occur quickly in the heat even without a sunburn. Learn more about avoiding heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Remember, you can always ask a nurse first if you are unsure!
Skin cancer warning signs include changes in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin lesion, the appearance of a new growth on the skin, or a sore that doesn’t heal. If you notice any spots on your skin that are different from the others, or anything changing, itching or bleeding, it is important that you make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. If you are unsure, we are here to help determine what your next steps should be.
The opinions expressed in Nurse-1-1 Health Center Blogs are solely opinions of the writer. Other than information received directly by you from your personal provider, the health center blog should not be considered medical advice. Read more.