There’s a small window of time between wrestling your wiggling kids into a snowsuit and wrestling them into a coat of sunscreen. Ah, those quiet, carefree moments in a parent’s life.
But like broccoli and brushing their teeth, wearing sun protection — whether it’s lotion, spray or cover-ups — is an important part of children’s (and adults’) overall health, and worth the whining.
“You want to put it on 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside to give it time to be absorbed into the skin,” suggests Dr. Debra Pruzan-Clain of the Dermatology Center of Stamford. “People don’t put on enough. Go for thicker coats.”
Equally important, says Dr. Paul Juan of Valley Pediatrics in Greenwich, “is limiting exposure to the sun, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and wearing sun-protective clothing — those are even more important than sunscreen.” And that goes for babies younger than six months, most of all. “The best products will include zinc and titanium,” he adds. “It is better to use creams that are applied to the skin as opposed to sprays, which may get inhaled and be absorbed through sensitive lung tissue.”
Okay, but what if the worst happens — that painful, angry red skin on your child’s back that screams “Ouch!” (Along with possibly “Yikes, I have to stop checking e-mail/chatting with friends/reading about The Bachelor and be better about applying sunscreen throughout the day.”) “Many parents are embarrassed to bring their child in for a sunburn,” says Juan. “Most often I’ll receive a phone call regarding treatment.” What he recommends for mild burns are “cool compresses with equal parts water and milk, applied to the sunburned area for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool baths are helpful, not ice-cold. Avoid bath oils and perfumes because they may cause reactions, and avoid lotions that contain topical anesthetic medications because they may cause sensitization and subsequent allergy to that medicine. You may also offer ibuprofen to your children.”
Regardless of a child’s age, don’t over-stress that burn. “The media has really scared people. Sunburns happen, but the random ones are not the biggest cause of skin cancers down the line,” says Pruzan-Clain. “You can find all sorts of statistics for the correlation between sun damage as a child and adult skin cancers, but the truth is, the occasional sunburn is not going to have a significant impact. People who sustain continuous sunburns over a long period of time are at a greater risk.”
The following sunscreens are currently rated among the safest by the Environmental Working Group — an environmental watchdog organization that reviews thousands of products for toxins and health hazards:
Protects against UVA and UVB rays and is made with zinc oxide, sunflower seed oil and olive oil. It instantly protects the skin (in case you didn’t remember to apply it 20 minutes ago).