The best ways to protect your kids from the summer sun

suncreen WWondering which sunscreen to pick for your children? Looking for a sunblock that will keep them from getting burned but won't cause them harm in the process?

We consulted with a local pediatrician, a nurse practitioner and a nonprofit organization that researches sunscreen safety for kids to get the lowdown on protecting children from the harmful rays of the sun. Here's what Dr. Ettaly Jobes of Chesapeake Pediatrics in Annapolis; Gwyn Reese, a nurse practitioner with Annapolis Pediatrics; and the Environmental Working Group based in Washington, D.C., had to say.

  1. What's better for kids, cream or aerosol sunscreen? Both Jobes and Reese pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration is still evaluating the safety and effectiveness of aerosol spray sunscreens. According to Reese, other than the concern of your child inhaling the droplets, it's also difficult to tell if you have used enough aerosol spray to protect from sun exposure. If using an aerosol, it's best for a parent to spray it into his or her hand and then apply to the child, both practitioners agree.

  2.  Is there a better brand or ingredient that makes one product superior to another? When choosing a sunscreen, make sure it is broad spectrum — protecting against both UVA and UVB rays, both Jobes and Reese say. Make sure it does not contain oxybenzone, which can have possible hormonal effects, they say. Those that perform the best are mineral-based products with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients, according to the EWG.

  3.  Do the SPF numbers really matter? The sun protection factor (SPF) indicates the percentage of protection from UVB rays, Reese explains. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the sun's UVB rays and SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the rays. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using SPF 15 or higher, and the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF 30 or higher. EWG says to steer clear of sunscreen products with an SPF over 50. No sunscreen filters out 100 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.

  4.  Is there really such thing as waterproof, sweat proof or water resistant when it comes to sunscreen? According to Reese, the FDA has banned use of the terms “waterproof” and “sweat proof” as they relates to sunscreen since the terms are misleading. “Water resistant” indicates that the sunscreen will last 40 minutes in water. The term “very water resistant” indicates that the sunscreen will last 80 minutes in water.

  5.  How often should parents reapply? Parents should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before heading into the sun and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating, both health care professionals agree.

  6.  Is there an area that parents often forget to coat that's crucial? Historically people apply too little sunscreen, according to Reese. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying 1 ounce (enough to fill a shot glass). Don't miss the tops of the feet, tips of the ears, back of the neck, back of knees and the scalp — especially if the hairstyle leaves the scalp showing, such as parts and cornrows, Reese says.

The EWG recently released a list of the best and worst sunscreens for kids. Among the worst were some Banana Boat, Coppertone and even certain Neutrogena products (which also had one product on the best list.) For details visit the EWG's Guide to Sunscreen, ewg.org/sunscreen.

By Betsy Stein

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