You’ve read the statistics before: 80 percent of harmful sun exposure occurs before the age of 18. That’s why you’re careful to slather sunscreen on your child when she’s at the beach or pool. But how sun-smart are you when it comes to the nitty-gritty of deciphering SPFs, picking the best sunscreen or treating a mild sunburn? We guarantee you’ll learn some new facts from our quiz that will help you keep your child’s skin healthier this summer—and reduce her risk of skin cancer later in life.
Take our quiz to find out whether you’re doing enough to protect your child from the sun’s damaging rays.
1. True or False: Babies younger than 6 months shouldn’t wear sunscreen.
Answer: False. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it’s safe for infants younger than 6 months to wear minimal amounts of sunscreen on small areas such as the face and neck. In general, however, the AAP advises that you keep a baby younger than 6 months in the shade of a tree, umbrella, or stroller canopy. “Babies are more prone than adults to sunburn because their skin is thinner and their body’s protective tanning response isn’t developed,” explains Jim Chow, M.D., a dermatologist at the Columbia Skin Clinic, in Columbia, South Carolina.
If you can’t avoid exposing your baby to the sun, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. According to new Food and Drug Administration requirements, which regulated the label lingo for over-the-counter sunscreen products, “broad-spectrum” means the sunscreen has passed a standardized test indicating that it protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays proportionally. UVA radiation primarily contributes to skin cancer and early skin aging and UVB rays primarily cause sunburn. You want to safeguard your skin and your children’s from both, so zone in on the words “broad¬-spectrum.”
2. Which is better at protecting kids from the sun:
- A. Sunscreen that’s waterproof
- B. Sunscreen that’s sweatproof
- C. Sunblock
- D. None of the above
Answer: D. No sunscreens are “waterproof,” “sweatproof” or can qualify as “sunblock.” You won’t get bogged down by those label terms anymore because they’ve been eliminated. That’s because all sunscreens eventually wash off and sunblock overstates a sunscreen’s effectiveness. But you may see the words “water-resistant,” which means that the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. If your child will be sweating or swimming, definitely get a water-resistant sunscreen.
3. Which are more harmful:
- A. UVA rays
- B. UVB rays
Answer: A and B. They’re equally harmful because both types can cause skin cancer and are considered carcinogens. The sun’s penetrating UVB rays also cause sunburn. UVA rays break down the skin’s collagen, leading to wrinkles.
4. Your child is highest risk for a sunburn:
- A. at the beach
- B. at the pool
- C. on a hike in the mountains
- D. at the playground
Answer: A, B and C. The beach, the pool, and the mountains are all serious sunburn spots. In or near the water, everyone gets a double whammy of ultraviolet radiation: harmful rays from above and those reflecting off the water. At high altitudes, the sun’s rays are also more dangerous to your child because they’re more concentrated. The sun is less of a threat on the playground because some rays are absorbed by the dark surface — but children will still get burned if you don’t apply sunscreen.
Remember that your kids can also get burned through a car window or on a cloudy or hazy day if they’re not protected. “You can’t see or feel ultraviolet radiation. But it’s there and it can be powerful,” says David J. Leffell, M.D., a professor of dermatology and surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. As kids get older, they can apply sunscreen themselves. But a recent study in Pediatrics found that while knowledge of skin cancer increases with age, many children and adolescents aren’t bothering to use sunscreen. Keep up the reminders and be a good role model by using sunscreen yourself.
5. Kids need to start wearing sunglasses:
- A. at 6 months of age
- B. at 6 years of age
- C. when they’re old enough to read
Answer: A. Six months of age is a good time to start putting mini sunglasses on your child — if you can get her to keep them on. Pint-size sunglasses that filter out 99 to 100 percent of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays (the label will say so) can help reduce your child’s risk of age-related cataracts. “Your eye remembers the sun damage you get as a child,” says John B. Jeffers, M.D., residency director in the department of ophthalmology at Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia, PA. Ideally, your child’s sunglasses should be made of polycarbonate, a shatterproof synthetic material that can protect her eyes from injury if she trips and falls or gets hit in the face by a ball.
6.True or False: Your child doesn’t need to reapply sunscreen after he swims or sweats if the product he’s using is water-resistant.
Answer: False. “Water-resistant sunscreen isn’t 100 percent water-resistant,” says Dr. Chow. The pool, the ocean, sweat, even drying your child with a towel can wash or rub it off. Your best bet? Reapply your child’s water-resistant sunscreen — or any sunscreen for that matter — every two hours. Reapply water-resistant sunscreens more often than that after swimming or sweating. Read the label and reapply as directed. Avoid sunscreens with built-in bug repellent, which can irritate the skin. And don’t forget to reapply protection to little feet, ears and noses, three highly sensitive and commonly burned areas on kids.
7. True or False: A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 protects your child twice as long as one with an SPF of 15.
Answer: False. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks 96 to 97 percent of the sun’s rays, only two to three percent more than a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 does. Still, if your kids are going to be in the sun for more than a couple of hours, opt for the higher number. “The extra 2 to 3 percent of protection can make a difference,” says Kathleen Behr, M.D., a dermatologist and skin cancer specialist in Fresno, California. But more isn’t better. According to the FDA, products with an SPF of more than 50 haven’t been shown to provide greater protection. That’s why you’ll see that the maximum SPF value on sunscreens is now just “50+.” For the best protection against the sun’s bad rays, look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 to 50.
8. True or False: It takes just four sunburns to increase a child’s risk of skin cancer.
Answer: False. Kids who get even two blistering sunburns may increase their risk of skin cancer later in life, which is one of the best reasons to protect your child’s skin from Day One. “Skin cells have a gene that can get damaged by the sun in childhood, setting the stage for cells to divide abnormally as we get older,” Dr. Leffell explains.
9. The best way to soothe a child’s mild sunburn is to:
- A. apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly
- B. have her take a bath, then put on moisturizer
- C. just leave the skin alone; it will heal faster by itself
Answer: B. The bath will cool your child off, and a basic moisturizer (doctors like Lubriderm and Keri) helps replenish her dried-out skin. To reduce the inflammation, give her children’s ibuprofen within the first 48 hours. And keep her out of the sun until her sunburn is healed. If your baby gets burned, give her juice or water to replace lost fluids and call your pediatrician immediately. A severe sunburn in an infant can be dangerous.
10. True or false: Most sunscreens have a shelf life of:
- A. one year
- B. five years
- C. it depends on the brand
Answer: A. Even if the product that’s been hanging around in your medicine cabinet has a later expiration date on the bottle, it’s best to replace your sunscreen every summer to be sure it’s as effective as possible for your children, recommends Patricia Witman, M.D., chief of dermatology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.
11. The very best way to protect your child from the sun’s burning rays is by:
- A. having her wear a brimmed hat and other clothing that will block out the sun
- B. keeping him in the shade
- C. using a broad-spectrum sunscreen
Answer: All of the above. “Sunscreen is only one component,” Dr. Behr says. Try to keep your child out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is strongest. If this is unrealistic, have him take frequent shade breaks. At the beach, make sure he wears a hat, and have him wear a shirt at least part of the day.
12. It’s a good idea to apply sunscreen to your child:
- A. 30 minutes before she goes out in the sun
- B. 10 minutes before she goes out in the sun
- C. as soon as she gets outside
Answer: A. Because sunscreen needs plenty of time to penetrate the skin, apply a generous amount of sunscreen all over your child’s body—including the areas beneath her clothes—about half an hour before she goes outside. “Kids can burn very quickly,” says June Robinson, M.D., research professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, especially under the summer’s intense rays. And, worse, you can’t necessarily tell when they’re getting fried. Often, a sunburn doesn’t show up until that night or the next morning. And even if your child’s skin does start to look pink while he’s playing in the sun, the damage is already done.
13. True or False: It’s okay to use an adult sunscreen on your child’s skin.
Answer: True. It’s not necessary to buy one sunscreen for you and a separate one for your kids, since adult versions are rarely irritating. “I put the same sunscreen on my children that I use, unless I notice that they have a sensitivity to it,” Dr. Behr says. It’s also fine for you to use the kids’ stuff, since it works as well as the adult version. If your kids squirm or protest when it’s time to put on sunscreen, a children’s product that comes in a brightly colored bottle with a spray or foam applicator might make the process a little more bearable for both of you, but don’t let them spray it on their face.
Sandra Gordon is a mom of two who writes about parenting, health, nutrition and baby products for books, national magazines and Websites. Visit Sandra at www.sandrajgordon.com.