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Preventing Sunburns & Using Sunscreen in Florida

Posted on Jun 03, 2019

Many children in Florida will spend long hours outside in the hot sun throughout the summer. This week on On Call for All Kids Joe Perno, M.D., medical staff affairs officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, shares information for families to minimize the risk of sunburns.

Although everyone is at risk for sun exposure any time, are certain people and situations high risk?

As you might guess, people with fair skin are the most at risk. However, people of any skin color can suffer sunburns and skin damage. People with many moles are also higher risk, as is anyone with a family history of skin cancer.

Time of day plays an important role as the sun’s rays are the strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is best to avoid extended exposure during this time. Other high-risk situations include reflective surfaces such as water or snow. The risk increases the closer you are to the equator.

In several circumstances, people get lulled into a false sense of security. For example, on cloudy days there are still significant UV rays penetrating the atmosphere, which can cause significant burns. Incidental exposure, as opposed to beach days, tends to cause more sunburns. Most people are very prepared for the sun exposure when heading to the beach but may not be as diligent when at a ball game, park or working in the yard.

So many choices for sun protection, how do you choose?

For children less than 6 months old, chemical sunscreens are not recommended. Parents should limit the sun exposure, cover the child with light clothing or use a barrier sun protection such as zinc oxide. Zinc oxide begins working immediately and is chemical free.

Older children and adults should use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 to 30.  It is important to get one that is broad spectrum, which refers to blocking UVA and UVB rays both of which cause skin damage. Look for sunscreen that is hypoallergenic and fragrance free, especially if your child has sensitive skin. Also water resistance is important, even if you are not swimming.

Choosing sunscreen is only half the battle. You must apply sunscreen liberally to all parts of exposed skin, ideally 15 minutes before going in the sun. Don’t forget the ears, back of knees and neck. You must also remember to reapply about every two hours.

Lastly don’t forget eye protection as sunglasses that block UV rays are important. Hats offer good additional sun protection.

Does a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 provide twice the protection of SPF 15?

No. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 provides protection against 93% of UVB rays, while one with an SPF of 30 provides 97% protection. Keep in mind that a sunscreen with an SPF of 2 only provides 50% protection; so be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to 30. There is not much increased advantage in using SPF 50 or 100. It really only adds about 3% of protection.

Sunscreen Myths:

If I have dark skin or a tan I don’t need to worry about sunscreen. False, you still can burn or get skin damage.

All sunscreens are the same. False, it depends upon SPF, chemical vs. chemical free and broad spectrum.

Lotions, sprays and sticks all work differently. False, all work great. Choose a form that works well for you.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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