Dr. J. Hibler, Board-Certified Dermatologist at Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute, Answers Our Questions on Sun Safety for Kids
It is the time of year when the weather is turning a little warmer, nature is blooming once again, our children are spending more time outside playing, taking advantage of sports, and perhaps starting to plan the next vacation with the family. As always, we want to make sure that our children are safe and healthy. We asked Dr. Hibler from Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute to answer some questions about how to best protect our children from the harmful effects of the sun.
Q: What sun protection essentials do I need to pack for my kids?
A: On top of the obvious is sunscreen for everyone, UPF clothing is a super handy way to get the benefits of sunscreen without having to reapply every one-to-two hours. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and it is the rating given to clothing for broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, only 2% of UV rays can go through UPF clothing, whereas up to 20% can pass through regular clothing, significantly increasing the risk of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation has excellent information about choosing appropriate clothing for sun protection. Lastly, a wide brim hat is essential to protect the ears, side of the face, and back of the neck.
Q: Is sunscreen safe for my infant? What type of sunscreen do you recommend? Any sunscreens we should avoid?
A: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding the use of sunscreen products in infants younger than six months and keeping them out of direct sunlight. However, when adequate clothing and shade are not available, a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF can be applied to small areas, such as the infant’s face and the back of the hands. I would recommend physical/mineral blockers such as titanium and zinc-based products over chemical blockers, which are actually banned in some locales due to the damage they can cause to coral reefs. This type of sunscreen is also better for delicate, sensitive skin. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for children six months and older.
Q: What do I need to keep in mind when applying sunscreen on my child? How should it be applied, and how much?
A: Basically, you want to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, including the back of the neck, ears, hands, and feet. Re-apply about every 90 minutes or more often if your child is swimming or playing in the water. A thin layer that rubs and absorbs completely without it being visible is all you need.
Q: Does my child need to wear sunglasses?
A: We do recommend sunglasses. Chronic direct and indirect (reflection from water, snow, etc.) can cause damage to the eye, and children’s eyes are more sensitive to light. Not all glasses protect from UVA/UVB rays, so check the labels. Wrap-around styles offer better protection, and polycarbonate lenses are best since they are impact-resistant and block both types of rays.
Q: Isn’t sun exposure necessary for my child to get vitamin D?
A: Yes, exposure to natural sunlight is important for vitamin D. Approximately 15-20 minutes several times a week is enough to get the benefits of natural sun exposure.
Q: What causes sunburn?
A: Too much natural sunlight causes oxidative stress on the skin cells, which leads to radiation toxicity, and results in excess inflammation that presents in the form of redness, blistering, and irritation or pain. Over time, chronic sun exposure can damage the skin cells, which can lead to skin cancer. Sunburn is a known risk factor for skin cancer, and that damage can start as early as childhood.
Q: We have been out in the sun – What should I do if my infant gets a sunburn? Do I need to call the Pediatrician?
A: Not necessarily. Mild burns can be treated with moisturizers, aloe, and hydrocortisone. Make sure to keep your child hydrated by giving them water or fruit juice. If the burn is severe enough to cause pain, fever, or blisters, then a visit to the doctor might be needed.
Q: At what age should I start scheduling yearly skin exams for my child?
A: That kind of depends. For example, a direct family history of melanoma would necessitate family members to get checked for melanoma and other skin cancers regardless of age. If a child has a history of several blistering sunburns, routine or yearly skin exams should be considered. Like other healthcare screenings, a lot of it depends on risk factors.
Q: If we are not going to the beach on our vacation, do I still need to be cautious about UV exposure in the mountains?
A: Absolutely. This is a no-brainer. The UV index here in the mountains can be higher than many other beach locales, which makes sunburn, and the risk of skin cancer even higher. You can get a sunburn, chronic sun damage, and skin cancer from chronic unprotected sun exposure at pretty much any geographic location and at any time of the year regardless of weather conditions.
About the Dermatology Provider
Dr. Hibler works at the Incline Village location of Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute. He believes in treating the whole person, not just a specific symptom or condition. His specialties are medical, pediatric, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology. To book an appointment with Dr. Hibler online, click here.
Bringing you patient-centered, world-class dermatological care with 10 locations in the Reno-Tahoe area. Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute specializes in Medical Dermatology, Mohs Skin Cancer Surgery, and Cosmetic Dermatology.
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