Free to wear sunscreen

Now that it is hot as heck outside, it is time for L to slather on the sunscreen. Although we Indians have a darker shade of skin and are less prone to obvious burns, we are also susceptible to sun-related burns. The thought is that darker skinned individuals can be even more susceptible because they ignore sunscreens and can sustain longer term sun damage to skin. With the amount of time that my little one likes to be outside (i.e. all the time), I definitely keep sunscreen on hand, noticing that his chubby little arms are already starting to get nicely browned, only a few weeks into summer. A few days ago I had the sunscreen in my purse and I put it on before dropping him off at daycare. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention.

Limiting sun exposure:
Now, we all need Vitamin D, which is produced when our skin is exposed to UV B rays, but selecting when to be exposed to the sun is an important choice.  Most pediatric texts on sun exposure recommend avoiding direct exposure between 10am and 4pm — to avoid the sun when it is shining the most directly and prominently. But remember that depending on where you live, you may need to alter those hours; use the “shadow rule” to help guide you.  The shorter your shadow, the more direct exposure you are getting to the sun, so try to limit your sun time outside to when your shadow is long!

First line of defense:
When thinking of personal sun protection, one must always consider the first line of defense: clothing, hats, and sunglasses. No, one must not dress a child as a desert dweller, and you don’t want to overheat your child, but they are on to something in other countries where they cover skin to protect from the sun’s rays – physical barriers such as woven fabrics are the best way to shield skin from UV rays.

As far as sunglasses goes, my optometrist informed me that most polycarbonate lenses produced these days should provide adequate UV protection, so it is just a matter of picking a style that works for you.  Hats, a more important item to select carefully, should be as wide-brimmed as possible to really help shade the face.

Select sunscreens carefully:
First rule of thumb is that children under 6 months should not use sunscreens; after that point you should use whatever is tolerable and fits your child’s needs the most.

When recommending sunscreens for babies (and anyone with sensitive skin) I tend to recommend ones that have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients.  These ingredients prevent sun damage by reflecting ultraviolet rays and are considered “physical” sunblock. Because they are not absorbed by the skin they are considered safer for people with sensitive skin, but when applied properly they will probably make your skin look pale and whitish – because that is the sunblock itself doing its work. Think of “Zinka,” the blue sunscreen from the 1980s.

Other “chemical” sunblocks prevent sun damage by absorbing UV rays. Although some of these are used in children’s sunblocks, these are the ones that are more likely to be allergenic. Some sources on the web effectively show the different ingredient types and compare the two categories:

Here is another article on sunscreens for sensitive skin and a nice new pediatric dermatology blog which has a wonderful entry called Suncreen 101.  I haven’t tried all the recommended brands before and some of these articles mention brands I haven’t heard of. For myself and my son I use Neutrogena sensitive skin sunscreens (or the equivalent store brand) because it seems to be easiest to find and least allergenic, but it definitely creates that filmy pale appearance on the skin and has a chalky texture.

As far as “SPF” selection, this stands for sun protection factor, or the amount of additional time that a sunblock gives you before you will get a burn.  A sunblock with SPF 15 should increase your ability to stay exposed to the sun by 15 times compared to the normal exposure that would produce a burn.  So if you or your child usually gets a burn in 15 minutes, an SPF 15 sunscreen would give you 15 x 15 or 225 minutes in the sun prior to getting a burn. But anyone who has used sunscreen knows that this isn’t completely true, and that an SPF 70 sunscreen won’t actually prevent a burn in that same person 1050 minutes (or 17 and a half hours) into exposure to the sun.  Just go for something that is at least SPF 30; beyond that SPF does not work well to help you identify how long a sunscreen will last.  And the most effective sunscreen is the one that is reapplied frequently, especially after water exposure, which tends to remove the suncreen from the skin.

Happy summering, everyone!  And sorry for the delay in posting . . I’ve been trying to create a video blog and it has (1) been hard to do at all and (2) more difficult to perfect!  But it may be ready soon!