When spending the day at the beach, we try to pack the necessary items: a towel, an umbrella, sunglasses, and most important – sunscreen! While most of us bring along a tube of sunscreen, many get wrapped up in the fun of the sun and forget to reapply, especially children. According to the Mayo Clinic, only a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. So what do you need to know about choosing sunscreen? Check out these sunscreen Q & A’s:

What do I need to know about sun exposure, UVA and UVB rays?

Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D and helps our bodies absorb calcium. However, while we all need some exposure to the sun, repeated exposure may cause damage to our skin. Teaching your child about the dangers of sun damage can proactively help them prevent skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, suffering one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing potentially-deadly melanoma later in life. The UVA rays from the sun may cause the skin to show signs of aging such as wrinkles. UVB rays are known to cause sunburns and may also cause damage to the eyes. Both UVA and UVB rays are connected to melanoma, one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer.

According to the CDC, unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun in as little as 15 minutes and it could take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of the sun’s exposure. This means that if your child’s shoulders or nose are looking a little pink today, it could develop into a full burn by tomorrow. While many take pride in their suntan, any form of change in the color of skin, including a tan, is a sign that skin cells have already been damaged by radiation from the sun.

What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?

Many are not aware that there is a difference between the way sunscreen and sunblock work. When sunblock is applied, it sits on the top of the skin to act as a barrier between the UV rays that cause damage and your skin. Sunscreen, however, penetrates the skin when applied and absorbs the UV rays before they are able to cause damage to the skin. Because sunscreen is formulated to protect against UVA and sunblock is formulated to protect against UVB, you should choose a form of protection that contains a mixture of both sunblock and sunscreen. When looking for a sunscreen, look for products labeled “broad spectrum.” The CDC recommends parents look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that offers both UVB and UVA protection.

What is the difference between face sunscreen and body sunscreen?

The skin on and around our faces, necks, and hands are more sensitive and vulnerable to the sun. While using a regular body sunscreen may protect you from getting a sunburn, there are sunscreens that are specifically formulated to better protect these areas from damage caused by UVA or UVB rays. A facial sunscreen may also better protect against wrinkles, sunspots, and signs of aging.

What do I need to know about ingredients?

Sunscreens may be made either organically or inorganically. Organic sunscreen is made to absorb UV radiation by converting the rays into heat. Organic brands of sunscreen typically contain PABA derivatives, cinnamates, salicylates, and benzophenones. Inorganic sunscreens, however, usually contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and work by reflecting and scattering the UV radiation. Most sunscreens contain a combination of organic and inorganic ingredients.

Sunscreens may also be designed to protect against elements other than the sun. Some sunscreen may contain bug repellent. Because it is recommended that you not apply bug repellent more often than every six hours, you should reapply a sunblock without an insect repellent every two hours of sun exposure.

How often should I reapply?

While there is no formula for determining how much sunscreen is needed, the CDC recommends reapplication every two hours. Kids often get sunburn when they are exposed to sunlight for longer than expected. Be sure to always have a tube of sunblock handy and reapply frequently. Even if your child is spending the day hiking, or outdoors in general, they need to use a form of skin protection. Children may still receive serious burns when the weather is cloudy or overcast as UVB and UVA rays are still present.

Fun in the sun is not dangerous to your child as long as they take the proper sun safety precautions to keep their skin healthy and baby soft. Be sure there is always a tube in easy reach, and teach and encourage them to always reapply!

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