Between reports of adverse reactions to popular sunscreens and complaints that some natural brands don’t work, choosing a sunscreen to protect your kids’ skin can be overwhelming. We went to Amra Dizdarevic, a nurse practitioner with Copeman Healthcare Centre, to find out what parents need to know before lathering up their kids this summer.
Laurel Gregory (Global News): What would you recommend as the first line of defence for parents trying to protect their kids from the sun this summer?
Amra Dizdarevic: Number one is avoiding peak times of exposure so avoid being out between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day. The next sort of area of protection comes with clothing. People often forget that that is something that can be very protective and choosing clothing that maybe has [a] tighter weave — is darker coloured [rather] than lighter coloured as well — is protective too. Hats, obviously sunglasses. Making sure that they have that in place. Then the final layer of protection comes from sunscreen.
With sunscreen, the No. 1 thing is to look for broad spectrum sunscreens which means to cover both UVA and UVB rays.
UVB rays are the ones that are most commonly causing sunburn and they’re also implicated in causation of skin cancer. UVA rays are the ones that are more likely to not cause reddening of the skin associated with sunburn but they are implicated in photoaging and could also lead to skin cancer.
You’re also needing to look at the SPF which is sun protection factor, which tells us how much protection you’re actually going to get from the sunscreen. So, for example, with SPF 15, that provides you with about 93 per cent protection. If you look at SPF 30, it’s 97 per cent protection. And if you go with SPF 50, that’s 98 per cent protection. If you look at the shelves in the market these days, there are some that are even higher than that but that provides negligible additional protection.
LG: Can you break down the ingredients in sunscreen and how they operate with the rays?
AD: There are two different kinds of sunscreens out there. The chemical and the physical blockers. The chemicals, such as oxybenzone [or] avobenzone for example — they are commonly the chemical ones and that means that basically they are helping to protect the skin by absorbing the UV rays. With the physical blockers, they remain on the surface of the skin, and they deflect or scatter the UV rays so their method of action is a little bit different.
It is thought that the physical sunscreens are going to be better for people who have sensitive skin. They are going to lead to less irritation.
Some of the sunscreens these days, because they are broad spectrum, they will mix both chemical and physical. But for people who have very sensitive skin, it’s probably best to go with physical, mineral-based sunscreen. And the ingredients in those sunscreens are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
LG: How much do you need to put on for protection?
AD: I find it is really easy to explain it using the teaspoon rule. otherwise most people will use much less. When you think about one ounce, that’s a little bit more difficult to gauge how much that actually is. But if you think about teaspoons, so one teaspoon for face and neck. One teaspoon each for the front and back part of the torso. One teaspoon for each arm and two for each leg. That ends up being a minimum of six to eight ounces.
LG: When and how often should parents apply?
AD: Usually 10 to 15 minutes before you go outside you should apply them on and then they should be reapplied every two hours — especially if a child is going swimming, right after exposure in the water, after you have towelled off — apply the sunscreen. Some of the sunscreens will say on them that they are water resistant for either 40 or 80 minutes and that’s OK but still, once you’re finished swimming or with sports, you want to reapply it every two hours.
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