Debunking Common Sunscreen Myths for Parents

Girls applying sunscreen in the woods
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Many parents get confused about how to protect their kids from the sun. "Which sunscreen should I use?" "How much do I need to apply?" "When should I use sunscreen?" These are all common questions about sunscreen that parents have.​

To make things even more confusing, many parents continue to believe these common sunscreen myths:

Myth 1 - SPF 100+ Sunscreen Provides 3 Times the Sun Protection of SPF 30

An SPF 30 or SPF 50 sunscreen provides protection against 97 to 98 percent of UVB rays.

While a higher SPF sunscreen might block 99 percent of UVB rays, it is only a very slight increase. Using a high SPF sunscreen might provide more protection for those parents who don't use enough sunscreen and don't reapply it often enough, though.

Myth 2 - You Can't Get a Sunburn on a Cloudy Day

According to the FDA, "Even on an overcast day, up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can get through the clouds." So remember that even when it is cloudy, your kids need sunscreen to avoid getting a sunburn.

Myth 3 - I Don't Have to Reapply My 'Waterproof' Sunscreen

The FDA states that no sunscreen is truly waterproof or sweat-proof, but can instead be water-resistant. All sunscreens, even those that claim to be waterproof, should be reapplied after your kids swim.

Myth 4 - Sunscreen Just Doesn't Work on My Child 

If your kids are getting a tan and you are using sunscreen, then you are likely making one of the common sunscreen mistakes, such as not applying enough sunscreen, not applying it soon enough before your kids go outside, not using sunscreen every time your kids go out in the sun, or not reapplying it often enough.

Myth 5 - My Child Is Allergic to Sunscreen 

It is unlikely that a child would be allergic to sunscreen. Instead, he might be allergic or sensitive to a particular sunscreen ingredient, which can vary between brands, so under the direction of your pediatrician, consider switching to a different sunscreen or sunblock with totally different ingredients and apply a very small amount to one part of your child's body to see if he has a reaction again.

Myth 6 - My Kids Use Sunscreen, So They Are Safe From the Sun 

There is actually a little more to sun safety and protecting your kids from ultraviolet radiation than using sunscreen. These sun safety tips include properly using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, getting your kids to wear sunglasses that offer 99 to 100 percent UV protection, wearing as much protective clothing as possible as well as a broad rimmed hat, seeking shade when it is available, and limiting exposure to the sun when it is strongest—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Myth 7 - My Kids Already Have a Tan, So They Don't Need Sunscreen 

A "base tan" is not a substitute for sunscreen, and remember that there is no such thing as a "healthy tan." Your kids need to use sunscreen to prevent further skin damage from the sun's UV rays.

Myth 8 - I Shouldn't Use Sunscreen So My Kids Will Make More Vitamin D 

There are much safer ways for your kids to get vitamin D than unprotected exposure to the sun's UV rays, including vitamins, milk, and other vitamin D fortified foods.

Myth 9 - My Kids Have Dark Skin, So They Don't Need Sunscreen

Everyone should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to 30 all of the time when they are going to be out in the sun.

Even people with deeply pigmented skin, who rarely burn, should use sunscreen. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity, is subject to the potential adverse effects of overexposure to the sun."

Myth 10 - SPF Measures How Much Protection a Sunscreen Offers 

While SPF does stand for sun protection factor, it is only a measure of the sunscreen's level of protection against UVB rays, which typically cause sunburn. However, it does not take into consideration whether the sunscreen protects against UVA rays, and these UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and cause premature aging of the skin.

Proposed changes to sunscreen labels by the FDA will require a four-star rating system so that consumers can see how much UVA protection the sunscreen offers or whether the sunscreen offers no UVA protection at all. Right now, parents should look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 to 30 to ensure that it offers both UVA and UVB protection.

Sources:

CDC. How Can I Protect My Children From the Sun? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/children.htm

FDA. FDA Consumer Update. Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun: From Sunscreen to Sunglasses. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm049090.htm​  

US EPA. Action Steps for Sun Safety. https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/action-steps-sun-safety​

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