Protecting Kids from Sun's UV Rays Now -- and Skin Cancer Later On

A few serious sunburns throughout childhood can increase your son’s or daughter’s risk of skin cancer later in life, according to dermatologists, skin cancer specialists and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Moreover, kids don’t have to be at the pool, beach, or on vacation to get too much sun. Their skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they’re outdoors — and in South Florida outdoor activities are year-round. After months of mostly staying home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, public pools and beaches have started to open up again as summer family outings become commonplace. (Beaches in South Florida are closing for the long 4th of July weekend.)

More than one-third of adults and nearly 60 percent of children admit they’ve gotten sunburned within the past year, according to the CDC. In a tropical climate, such as South Florida, dehydration is also at play. Because sunburns raise your body temperature, they can dehydrate you and make you feel tired and dizzy. Drinking plenty of water helps to replace fluid losses.

Naiara Braghiroli, M.D.

Naiara Braghiroli, M.D.

“Kids usually are more sensitive, but everybody should protect themselves,” says Naiara Braghiroli, M.D., dermatologist with Miami Cancer Institute. “If a child gets a bad sunburn, they really need to see their doctor because they may need to apply a topical prescription cream. And keep the child well hydrated, because you lose water from the inflamed skin and that can cause dehydration.”

Applying the proper sunscreen more than once or putting on protective clothing are important practices in protecting your child from the sun’s UV rays.

Dr. Braghiroli recommends sunscreens with broad-spectrum coverage, an SPF of 50 or higher, and those that are water resistant (if using it for water activities or in high temperatures). Consult with your doctor regarding sunscreen protection, especially if you or your child has an underlying skin-related health issue or other concerns.

Protect younger children from the sun by keeping them in the shade as much as possible, in addition to dressing them in long sleeves, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Applying the Proper Sunscreen

It is best to wait 20 minutes after applying sunscreen before going out in the sun to allow UV filters to soak into your skin and form a protective layer. Children under one year of age shouldn’t go in the sun at all.

“I know that sometimes putting sunscreen on kids can be a battle,” says Dr. Braghiroli. “They don’t wait for 20 minutes.  A great option is using protective clothing, like a long-sleeve shirt. It helps a lot because the area of skin that is covered is protected, and you don’t need to worry about applying sunscreen under the clothing. You still need to put sunscreen on the face and the hands and any exposed areas.”

Types of Sunscreens

There are essentially two types of sunscreens: ‘Physical’ and ‘Chemical’ blockers. Physical sunscreens work like a shield, sitting sit on the surface of your skin and deflecting the sun’s rays, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). They contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide — both of which have been deemed safe to use by the FDA. Dermatologists say you should use this sunscreen if you have sensitive skin.

Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s UV rays, says the AAD. These products contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. This list includes the two ingredients that purportedly harm coral reefs: oxybenzone and octinoxate. These formulations tend to be easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue. The FDA has stated that there is “insufficient safety data” on most of these chemicals.

“The FDA doesn’t approve chemical sunscreen because some studies show that your skin absorbs that chemical sunscreen and you can find it in the bloodstream days after it was applied,” explains Dr. Braghiroli. “The (physical) sunscreens are recommended because it forms a barrier that reflects away the UV sunlight.”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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