Tips for protecting Chicago kids from the sun

We all know how important it is to protect our children from the damaging rays of the sun. But with all of the information out there it can be difficult to know exactly what protocol is best. Recently I sat down with renowned Chicago Dermatologist, Dr. Keren Horn, owner of Dermatology & Aesthetics of Wicker Park, to talk about the latest in family sun protection as we head into warmer weather, spring break and the summer.

Q: What can unprotected sun exposure do in terms of long-term skin damage in kids?

KH: Long term unprotected sun exposure can lead to lots of undesired effects such as skin cancer, long term sun damage and early skin aging.

Q: How long is sunscreen good for? If parents have sunscreen left over from last year is that still effective?

KH: The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years. Some sunscreens include an expiration date. If the expiration date has passed, throw it out. If you buy a sunscreen that does not have an expiration date, write the date you bought the sunscreen on the bottle. That way you’ll know when to throw it out. You can also look for visible signs that the sunscreen may no longer be good. Any obvious changes in the color or consistency of the product means it’s time to purchase a new bottle.

The truth is, sunscreen will run out in weeks (not years!) when used daily and in the correct amount.


Q: What sunscreens do you like the best? And do you have different recommendations by age? What SPF do you recommend for children?


KH: My favorite and best method of sun protection for babies under six months of age is total avoidance. Shade, shade, shade.

My preferred method of sun protection for infants over six months and kids of all ages is sun protective clothing such as rashguards, swim shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Seeking shade should also be prioritized, particularly during the sun’s strongest rays between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Sunscreen can be applied to the skin of infants over 6 months, toddlers and kids of all ages not covered by long sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. The three non-negotiable elements to look for in a quality sunscreen are:

1) Broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection

2) An SPF of 30 or greater

3) Water resistance

A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. Higher number SPFs block slightly more, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays. High-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs. Therefore, regardless of the number, it should be re-applied approximately every one to two hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days, and most importantly during times of heavy sun-exposure, such as after swimming or sweating.

Sunscreens that contain physical blocking agents such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (in concentrations above 4 percent) are my preferred protection for all ages. These non-chemical minerals are less likely to cause irritation to sensitive skin, making it the ideal choice for infants and toddlers. Some examples of my favorite sunscreens for all ages include EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 (physical only), EltaMD UV Sport Waterproof SPF 50 (combined physical/chemical), Badger Sport Sunscreen Stick SPF 35 (physical only) and Vanicream Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin, SPF 60 (physical only).

  Q: Is it necessary for kids to wear UV sun protective clothing?


KH: Yes!

Q: Should kids always wear hats and sunglasses?

KH: Yes!

Q: How important are rashguards?

KH: Incredibly!

It is nearly impossible to apply and reapply the appropriate amount of sunscreen in the correct time intervals to keep skin safe and protected. Rashguards and swim shirts provide ongoing protection. Utilizing sun protective clothing to protect the bulk of sun exposed skin also allows for more reasonable and easy-to-succeed sunscreen application and reapplication of the much smaller areas not covered by clothing (e.g., face, hands, lower legs).


Q: How much sunscreen do you recommend being applied? I feel like sometimes I lather it on my kids, which adds to their resistance in wanting to comply.

KH: Unfortunately, no one seems to use enough sunscreen. Sunscreen should be generously coated to all skin areas that cannot be covered by clothing. Most people only apply 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. And, unfortunately, the UV protection indicated on the product label will be meaningless if less than the recommended amount of sunscreen is applied. The guideline of “one ounce, enough to fill a shot glass”, is the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body. Depending on your body size, this amount of sunscreen should be adjusted.

Q: Do you only have to apply sunscreen on sunny days?

KH: No. Sunscreen, or a daily moisturizer with SPF, should be applied every day you are outside. The sun emits harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays year round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.

Q: Are the sprays as effective as the lotions?

KH: Spray sunscreens, though found to be very convenient for parents, are relatively controversial. The FDA is currently investigating the risks of accidental inhalation of spray sunscreens. And, current FDA regulations on testing and standardization of sunscreens do not pertain to spray sunscreens. The agency continues to evaluate these products to ensure safety and effectiveness.

The practical challenge in using spray sunscreens is that it is difficult to know if you have used enough sunscreen to cover all sun-exposed areas of the body, which may result in inadequate coverage. The one spray sunscreen I do like contains over nine percent zinc oxide, called EltaMD UV Aero Broad-Spectrum SPF 45.

Spray sunscreen should not be applied around or near the face or mouth. Accidental fume inhalation can be avoided by spraying adequate amounts of the sunscreen into your hands and then applying the sunscreen.

Q: What about those powder sunscreens that were all the rage last year?

KH: These are fine! In fact, most of these have a high percentage of zinc oxide in them, my preferred ingredient for sun protection. Overall, the kind of sunscreen you choose is a matter of personal choice. Sometimes, the sunscreen vehicle preference depends on the area of the body being protected. Creams are best for dry skin and the face. Powders are great for reapplying to the face throughout the day so as not to disrupt makeup. Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest. Sticks are good to use around the eyes. There are also lip balms or lipsticks specially formulated with SPF for this often-forgotten-to-be-sun-protected area.

Q: How long should kids wait after putting on sunscreen before they can go in the water? Should they reapply the sunscreen immediately after coming out of the water or are the waterproof/ water resistant sunscreens still effective from their prior application?

KH: Sunscreen should be applied to dry skin 15 minutes BEFORE going outdoors. Sunscreen should be reapplied every one to two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily. Use extra caution (30-45 minute reapplication times) near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

Q: Can parents use the same sunscreen that we’re putting on our kids?

KH: Of course! We are all on the quest for our perfect sun protection arsenal to keep our skin healthy and protected from the sun. Let the search begin!

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