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Ask the Pediatrician: How much sunscreen do kids need and how high should the SPF be?

Dr. Sheilagh M. Maguiness, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

Q: How high should the SPF be in the sunscreen I use on my children, and how much do they need when we’re at the pool for a few hours?

A: Warm, sunny days are wonderful. Children and adults benefit from spending time playing and exercising outdoors, but it's important to do so safely.

Help your family have fun in the sun while avoiding harm from those rays. Sunscreen can help protect the skin from sunburn and skin cancer — but only if used correctly. Keep in mind that sunscreen should be used for sun protection, not as a reason to stay in the sun longer.

What to know:

— Use a sunscreen that says "broad-spectrum" on the label; that means it will screen out both UVB and UVA rays.

— The broad-spectrum sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. More research studies are needed to find out if sunscreen with more than SPF 50 offers any extra protection.

 

— If possible, avoid the chemical sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone because of concerns about mild hormonal properties. Remember, though, that it's important to take steps to prevent sunburn, so using any sunscreen is better than not using sunscreen at all. It’s also best to use a cream or lotion-based sunscreen rather than an aerosol spray.

— For babies, young children, and for sensitive areas of the body, a mineral, or “physical” sunscreen is a very safe choice. Mineral-based sunscreens contain the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and are recommended as safe and effective by the FDA. There are many great choices available, including those that are fragrance free and hypoallergenic.

How to apply sunscreen:

— Use enough sunscreen to liberally cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet and hands. Apply under swimsuit straps as well because straps can shift while swimming. Rub in thoroughly.

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