Did you know that our skin naturally provides us with some form of sun protection? Depending on how fair or dark your natural skin is, our skin is able to protect our bodies from anything as little as 5 minutes to 30 minutes worth of exposure to the sun’s rays.
The best sun protection is obviously to stay out of it, but would you really when temperatures are at their heights in summer and the pool just looks so inviting? To sunscreen or not, jump here to check out our complete guide to the best sun protection your child can have.
Couple of ground rules and myths to consider
Rule 1. Stay out of the sun from 11am to 3pm
Regardless of the tone of your skin, you should keep away from the sun when the sun’s rays are their harshest at noon, although you should keep away from the sun in general between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in summer. If you live near the equator, the sun’s rays hit you intensely throughout the entire day.
Rule 2. Five minutes
The skin on children is extremely prone to sunburn and can burn after 5 minutes of sun exposure.
The skin on our babies and children are so delicate that we should minimize exposing them to the sun, period, even though you will find that online articles typically cite 5 minutes as the maximum length of time that their skin can be exposed to the sun. If you can’t help but let your child enjoy outdoor activity, you should be wary even of the SPF. Theoretically, the maximum length of time that your child can be safely exposed to the sun without burning is his or her natural threshold for sun in mins * the SPF number.
SPF: stands for Sun Protector Factor. It is a measure of how long you can theoretically remain in the sun without burning yourself and you would use it by multiplying the SPF number by the length of time your skin can be safely exposed to the sun. Consult the Fitzpatrick scale to get this latter number.
For example, your baby can theoretically be exposed to 5 * 30 (due to the SPF 30 label on the bottle of your store-bought sunscreen), that is, 150 mins or two and a half hours! If that sounds too incredible to be true, it is! Please only expose your child to spurts of sunshine in duration of 20 or 30 minutes, and make sure they take lots of juice or water breaks in the shade.
Myth 1. If I slap on sunscreen on my child, he or she will be adequately protected
Yes, if he or she is covered from head to toe in layers of the thing! To be adequately protected you will need A LOT of sunscreen, probably half the bottle? Don’t forget to reapply after coming out of the water.
Myth 2. I just need to look for water resistant sunscreen and that’ll do the job
I have bad news. The effects of sunscreen are very much reduced, by as much as 50% after being immersed in seawater, according to research. As for the “water resistant” bit, it is a half lie.
Sunscreen manufacturers in the UK are allowed to label their sunscreen product as “water resistant” as long as up to 50% of its SPF is retained after the product is immersed in tap water
That’s right. They don’t even have to test using salt water. Sunscreen manufacturers in the US and in Australia label their products as water resistant as long as up to 50% of their SPF are retained after the products are immersed in tap water.
Myth 3. Sunscreens are universal
Here’s where you have to know where to look. The SPF on sunscreens manufactured in the US and in Australia are the SPF after immersion (in water). The SPF on sunscreens in the UK are the SPF before immersion. All things being equal, anything more than SPF 30 may not work as well as you’d imagined. Tests conducted on actual people of various skin tones have proven that sunscreens up to SPF 30 are just as effective in preventing sunburn as sunscreens of SPF 50.
UVA rays ramps up premature aging of skin and UVB rays is responsible for sunburn and DNA damage i.e. skin cancer
Sun protection is not only for the weekend, a vacation, swim-time or noon only. It is a daily routine that is as critical as checking that the food your child consumes comes from a clean and reliable source. You can even get sunburnt in winter – this is something I learnt from Conni Jurmo. So definitely use sunscreen when it is sunny throughout all seasons of the year and if you are going swimming or skiing.
As long as you are plan to enjoy outdoor activities, every parent is responsible for shielding themselves and their children from potentially harmful effects of the sun.
Step 1. Look up UV index
Step 2. Beware bright surfaces and elements such as sand, water and snow
Step 3. Wear sunscreen and reapply regularly
Step 4. Wear wide brimmed hats, etc
Step 5. Take frequent breaks in the shade
Step 6. Use a reflective umbrella
Step 7. Use UV protective film or window tint
Download EPA’s mobile app if you live in the US and/or UVI Mate if you live within or outside of the US. The former provides forecasts while the latter provides UV readings at the time of look up.
I like UVI Mate for its usability and practical advice. UVI Mate forecast calculation is based on the publications of The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) of New Zealand. It gives you pretty handy UV Index readings.
A UV Index of under 5 means moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure and anything 6 and over implies that you will require sunscreen, sunglasses and sensible time away from the sun.
You can indicate your skin tone in the app so that UVI Mate customizes your readings for precise SPF and Time to Burn hints. If you allow location reading and notifications on UVI Mate, it will alert you of risks from the sun right where you are at. The location readings are quite precise, down to a few hundred metres. I live in Singapore and the app picked up the difference in location when the train that I was in crossed over from Kembangan to Bedok!
At the time of writing, I am issued a code red alert meaning that I am in a place with a very high UV of 13.5, and to make sure that I seek shade, shirt, sunscreen and a hat!
There are a few features in the app that are payable, such as 6 hour forecasts and that means use of UVI Mate’s database. If you’re planning ahead, it may be worthwhile paying for this $8.98 upgrade.
According to the Colorado Melanoma Foundation, residents of Colorado have the highest UV exposure in the United States due to higher elevation, lack of a protective atmosphere, over 300 days of sunshine a year and a passion for the outdoors. Tourists visiting Colorado’s skin resorts receive up to 80% additional UV radiation as these reflect off the snow and onto the skin and eyes.
Sea water can dramatically reflect sunlight at different angles. The calmer the body of water, the more light gets reflected. The closer the sun is to the horizon, that is at sunrise and sunset, the more light bounces into your eyes and onto your skin. According to a study by dermatologists of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, being surrounded by water is one reason why the epidermis of Australians in general, age by as much as two decades faster than landlocked Europeans. If you are planning for activities by the beach, set up your picnic mat in the shade farther away from the sea and have your children building sandcastles with their backs facing the sea.
Most of us know the rule to reapply sunscreen after exiting the pool or after much perspiration. But how you wear sunscreen also matters – do not leave out the tops and backs of your ears, the base of your neck, and the top of your feet. Apply extra layers on your shoulders and across the top of your back. Make sure you slather more on the top of your arms rather than underneath of your arms. In addition, you should wait 20 minutes after applying sunscreen before exposing your children to the sun.
In fact I recommend that you watch this short 2:24 min clip that will help you gain new insights as to how you should help your child apply sunscreen.
Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit member organization that works side by side with consumers for truth, transparency, and fairness in the marketplace, recently rated the best sunscreens one could stock up for summer this year.
Coppertone WaterBabies Pure & Simple Mineral Based SPF 50 Lotion ($8.97 for 6 ounces, or $1.50 an ounce, awesome for babies with very sensitive skin).
Thinkbaby SPF 50+ Lotion ($16.78 for 6 ounces or $2.80 an ounce, good quality ingredients inside hence the posh price).
True Natural Baby & Family Unscented Lotion SPF 30 ($30.77 for 3.4 ounces or $9.05 an ounce, unscented, soy-free, GMO-free etc!).
These came up tops for babies and children. Prices shown are from Amazon.com but products are also available on iHerb. Both Amazon.com and iHerb.com support international shipping (hooray!)
If you’re quite prudent and would rather use organic sunscreen, here is a great home made version from the folks at DIY Natural. The recipe calls for use of zinc oxide powder and you can easily get that from iHerb. I would leave out the essential oils if you’re keen to use this sunscreen on your baby.
If you want to minimize the application of sunscreen because your child absolutely hates it getting into their eyes with their perspiration or if your child has sensitive skin, or if your child hates gooey stuff on their face in general then I would definitely recommend covering up.
Thankfully in this day and age you can wear swim shirts fashionably (the loose version of rash vests) while being nowhere near any body of water. I think we can safely agree that kids generally get away with most things i.e. bad fashion!
Most children won’t be too bothered with a swim shirt that covers up their arms, neck and belly. Some of them may even let you put on a hat for them. In planning for protection from the sun, we often miss the back of their legs and the tops of their feet. If you are not applying sunscreen to these places make sure you cover them up with lightweight clothing and covered shoes.
White is the best color to reflect sunlight and heat. This is the reason why houses in Greece and ancient Rome were painted white. If you take my advice in taking frequent breaks when you’re out, be sure to scuttle to the comforting shade of a white building or white tower, etc.
As a rule of thumb, have your children take a break once every hour, or in-between activities. Entice them with cool juices, fruit, snacks or finger sandwiches. Breaks are a great time for children to have their perspiration wiped away and sunscreen reapplied.
If I had my way, I would design an umbrella with solar cell fabric so that the umbrella can give me shade, a gentle breeze and charge my gadgets while I’m out in the sun.
What’s available in Amazon these days is an umbrella made by the folks at UV-Blocker. UV-Blocker begun as an original beach umbrella designed by Ronnie Walker, wife of Russ Walker, so that her husband could enjoy quality beach time with the family after being diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma cancer. The umbrella not only protects its users from UV rays, but can also helps reduce temperatures in the shade by as much as fifteen degrees. Its patented design provides better airflow and stability by allowing wind to pass through the upper and lower canopies. You may view the benefits of the UV-Blocker beach umbrella in this short clip.
UV-Blocker’s compact portable umbrella is available on Amazon.com.
UVA rays can penetrate glass such that indoor workers receive 10% to 20% of the total yearly UV exposure that outdoor workers receive. From research by the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Philadelphia, it was shown that drivers with left-hand drive developed more skin damage on the left side of their bodies, while those with right-hand drive developed more damage on the right. These phenomena was due to streaming in of UV rays through the drivers’ windows. It’s that scary.
If you have already lined glass windows at home and in your car with UV protective film, bravo! By doing this, you have screened out almost 100 percent of UVA rays without reducing visibility if you’d used the transparent UVA-filtering type.
Question: How long can my child stay in the sun so that his or her body makes enough Vitamin D?
In general, your body makes Vitamin D only if your unprotected skin is exposed to adequate sunshine. The following apply to children or adults alike.
By adequate, I mean exposing your bare skin to the sun when it is very nearly overhead i.e. the dreaded noon time (!)
In addition, if there are many clouds in the sky or if you are under shade or follow one or more of the seven steps above, you will shield your skin from being exposed to UVB rays and your body will not be able to produce Vitamin D.
UVB rays are the ingredient for your body to produce natural Vitamin D.
Since we are on this topic of the fierce-some sun, my personal recommendation would be to stay away from the sun during most of the day.
As a rule of thumb, your natural threshold to sun exposure according to your skin tone that I will show you in the Fitzpatrick scale below, is the sweet spot before too much exposure to the sun.
If you need more Vitamin D due to medical reasons, seek your doctor’s advice before taking Vitamin D supplements.
Questions: What is my threshold for unprotected sun exposure? What’s the Fitzpatrick scale?
The Fitzpatrick phtotype scale is a commonly used, 6-tier classification of a person’s skin tone developed in 1975 by Havard Medical School dermatologist Thomas Fitzpatrick, MD, PhD. Use this scale to determine how long you can expose yourself to moderate sunshine.
Question: How bad are kiddie sunglasses – the type that kids typically are attracted and parents can easily afford?
If your child does not pull off the sunglasses off or his or her face, you’re a pretty fortunate parent! You will just have to make sure that the sunglasses are labelled that they block off UVB rays, and even most of UVA rays if possible. Stay away from sunglasses without any labels and even with sunglasses on make sure children take breaks in the shade so that they don’t over-squint and have early myopia on their hands.
With everything, the more we do something, the more we form a habit out of it. Sun protection is definitely one habit we need to practise everyday of our lives, especially as we’ll like our children to form these habits too.
Write me your unique methods of sun protection, I’m interested to learn from different methods used throughout the world!