Have a Shot of Sunscreen

By Christina Elston

As a parent, you know enough to grab a tube of sunscreen when your family is headed outdoors. But have you ever thought to also pack a shot glass?

That would be an accurate way to judge how much sunscreen (one ounce) it will take to cover an average-sized adult from head to toe. Fill it three-fourths full and you’ve got coverage for one of the kids. Yet this is much more than most parents currently use on their children.

“The most common mistake is that they don’t use enough,” pediatrician and mom Diane Truong, M.D., says of parents and sunscreen. But it’s easy enough to correct. “Whatever you have on your palm, double or triple it,” she advises.

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher and designed to protect against both UVB and UVA rays. UVB are the “sunburn” rays, while UVA cause skin damage and cancer. Chemical blockers like avobenzone, parasol1789 and meroxyl SX protect skin by absorbing both types of UV radiation.

For small children and babies, Truong, co-founder of MD Moms®, which sells the pediatrician-developed Baby Silk line of skincare products, prefers physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These stay on top of the skin to block the sun’s rays, posing less chance of irritation. They also go to work immediately, rather than requiring a 30-minute soak-in wait.

Clothing (the tighter the weave, the better), hats and sunglasses can also offer protection, Truong says.

What other sun exposure concerns should parents be aware of?

• Remember that you’re also exposed to the sun’s rays in the shade. UV rays can reflect off water, sand, buildings and other surfaces, and also can filter through trees, Truong says. If you’re window-shopping, the sun reflects off the glass. It can come through car windows, as well.

• Be aware of sun exposure on the school playground. “We send [kids] off to school early in the day when the sun is barely out,” Truong says. But at lunch time, they’re going to be outdoors. She advises packing sunscreen in your child’s lunch box so he or she can apply it at recess.

• Protection is equally important for people with darker skin – even though they’re less likely to burn – because they’re just as susceptible to skin damage from UV radiation as anyone else.

More than 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, Truong points out, and 50 percent to 80 percent of our sun exposure takes place before we turn 18. Now’s the time to get sun-serious, especially since it’s now known that just one blistering sunburn in childhood can double a person’s risk for melanoma later in life.

“Skin cancer is very, very common,” Truong says. “And it’s easier to prevent than to treat.”