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Expert Advice: 7 Sunscreen Safety Tips

May 29, 2019

Warmer weather and longer days mean more time for kids to be playing outside! But if you and your family are going to be out in the sun, especially on a hot day, you need to stay safe. Here are some sun safety and sunscreen tips from Dr. Hannah Renno, a pediatrician at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Applying sunscreen once is not good enough, and especially not after you are already feeling burnt. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours while in the sun.

Use more than you think you need. Most people only use 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen with each application. For the average person, it is recommended to use 1 ounce of sunscreen, the equivalent of a shot glass, with each application. This amount may need to be increased or decreased based on body size.

Already having a tan or darker skin tone is not an excuse to not apply sunscreen. Just because you're not burning does not mean you're not increasing your risk of skin cancer later!

The science of sunscreen. There are two main types: physical blockers and chemical blockers. The physical blockers (zinc oxide and titanium oxide) are preferable because they create an actual thin opaque barrier over your skin. I recommend using broad-spectrum sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays. SPF 30 or higher is recommended. Also, look for a sunscreen that is water resistant, especially if you'll be swimming or sweating a lot. Don't forget to look for a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher, as skin cancer can develop on the lips from chronic sun exposure.

Spray or lotion? The best sunscreen is the one you will use. Any sunscreen is better than skin cancer. So find a product that you and your kids will not mind using. If you can find one of the physical blockers (zinc or titanium oxide) that fits the bill, that's my recommendation.

At what age can I start putting sunscreen on my child? Sunscreens are approved for ages 6 months and up, so infants younger than 6 months should avoid prolonged sun exposure as much as possible. If they are in the sun for brief periods, make sure to use long sleeve clothing and hats that block UV rays, while also seeking out shady areas or an umbrella for extra protection.

In case of sunburn … The first step when you notice sunburn developing is to get out of the sun. To help soothe the skin, you can take cool baths and apply a thick moisturizer. Drink plenty of water to help prevent dehydration. If you have swelling and discomfort, ibuprofen or aspirin may help. If you get a blistering sunburn, you should allow the blisters to heal on their own instead of popping them. If you have blisters covering a large area such as the entire back or if you're having fever, chills or headache, you should seek immediate medical attention.

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