The Lowdown on Lotion
"It's never too early to start thinking about the risks of sun exposure," says Dr. Lichtenfeld. "Particularly dangerous are the sunburns that occur in young people. These sunburns are linked to increased risk of serious skin cancers (such as melanoma) in older people."
Dr. Lichtenfeld notes that sun protection can worsen as children get older. "Role models for young people, such as movie and TV stars, who promote a tan appearance as a healthy appearance, are actually encouraging their young fans to engage in harmful behaviors." It's important that parents encourage a young child to use sunblock routinely, and she may be more likely to carry the habit into her teen and adult years.
Speaking of habits, are you using sunscreen, too? It's crucial that parents model this good behavior to avoid sending a message that sunscreen is unnecessary as we get older.
Sunscreens, available in lotions, ointments, sprays, gels, creams and sunsticks, work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun's rays on the skin. Your child's pediatrician may have advised you to use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 or higher. An SPF indicates how many minutes of protection the sunscreen offers before there is a risk of burning. For example, when using an SPF 15 product, a person who normally burns after 20 minutes can tolerate approximately 15 times 20 minutes (300 minutes) without burning. Most physicians recommend sunscreens with SPF 15 to 30.
Regardless of which SPF you use, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen designed to block both UVB and UVA rays. Many people think to use sunscreen when they're outside for long periods, but it's important to remember that small, daily amounts of sun damage add up. Additionally, sunscreen does not mean a child can prolong his time in the sun—dangerous rays still penetrate the skin.