We spoke with the experts to find out why sun protection is essential for the whole family – and how to do it right.
By Lisa Mesbur
While everyone benefits from proper sun protection, it’s particularly important to ensure that the youngest members of your clan are shielded from the sun’s rays.
What’s more, “95 per cent of sun exposure occurs before the age of 18, and we know that one blistering sunburn in childhood doubles your risk of malignant melanoma later in life,” says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett.
The bottom line? Start protecting your kids from the sun as early as you can – and make it a habit.
“Studies have shown that especially up to age 18, the amount of sun we receive and the number of sunburns we get will have a direct impact on the likelihood of (skin) cancer over our lifetime,” says Dr. Ari Demirjian, a dermatologist at The Private Dermatology Clinic of Montreal and assistant professor of medicine at the McGill University Health Centre.
Find some shade
When protecting babies’ skin from the sun, your first line of defense should actually be staying out of its harmful rays. Experts recommend keeping little ones out of both direct and indirect sunlight and covering skin with sun-protective clothing, including big hats, whenever possible.
“Sunscreens are not safe to use on kids under six months because they haven’t been tested on children that young,” notes Toronto-based paediatrician Dr. Susan Coombs.
Instead, keep them shaded and dress them in sun-protective clothing. “When you’re on the beach, one umbrella over your infant isn’t enough. You’ve got to have one over the baby and one on the side the sun is coming from,” she says.
“I recommend no sun exposure under the age of two,” Kellett adds. “Babies should wear sun protection every day when they’re out – and don’t forget their hands, feet and the back of their necks.”
In fact, it’s wise for adults to heed the same advice. “Know that whatever sunblock you use, you will never get 100 per cent coverage,” Kellett says. “It’s often a false sense of protection. So of course you should use sunblock, but you should also seek shade between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wear sun-protective clothing and a hat.”
Slip into sunscreen
After six months of age, sunscreen should be a regular – and year-round – part of your family’s skincare regime.
For wee ones who’ve never worn sunscreen before, it’s a good idea to test it first. “Make sure that whatever you use doesn’t cause a rash,” says Coombs. “Put a little on the baby’s chest or tummy and watch it. If nothing happens, great – use it always.”
When choosing a sunscreen for both children and adults, it’s essential to pick one with broad spectrum protection.
“You want UVA and UVB blocking and an SPF of 30 or higher,” stresses Kellett. A good rule of thumb for application? “If you’re swimming, apply more often; if you’re sweating, apply more often; if you’re out playing tennis or out in the sun in late-morning or early-afternoon, apply more often. Every couple of hours, you should be applying something,” Kellett says. “When you apply also depends on altitude, time of year, time of day, what you’re doing – all that stuff.”
If you’re looking for a total sunblock that has fewer chemicals than conventional sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both good options, especially for kids. “They’re a bit pasty, but the technology has made them more cosmetically acceptable – and they basically reflect the sunlight,” explains Demirjian.
Tip: Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to heading outside and reapply it about every two hours (and more frequently if you’re active or swimming).
Apply, rub in & repeat
From sensitive-skin lotions to sweat-resistant sprays, there’s a sunscreen to suit everyone in your gang.
Thankfully, if someone in the family does end up with a sun-burn, there are several effective remedies to get it healing fast.
For milder burns, reach for extra fluids, cold compresses and aloe vera. “Over the years, aloe vera has been most efficient in decreasing inflammation from burns,” says Demirjian. “Look for a product that has a high concentration of, or is made exclusively from, aloe vera, not mixed with other types of vitamins – for example, vitamin E. My suggestion is to go with as pure an aloe vera as possible.”
Don’t forget to keep things covered up until the burn heals. “A simple redness will go away in a day or two; a painful redness will take more like four to seven days,” says Coombs. “Anything that’s been altered by the sun becomes more sensitive for quite a long period of time, so it needs extra protection.”
Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen can help as well. “Advil or Motrin are better than others because they’re anti-inflammatory,” says Coombs. If a burn is blistering, a visit to your doctor or dermatologist is essential. “There are medications we can prescribe that are strong and can treat the burn quickly,” Kellett emphasizes. “It really depends on how bad the burn is, but there are treatments available.”