12 Tips for Summer Sun Safety

Nat King Cole hit the nail on the head when he sang about “those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer.” Life doesn’t always settle down much in the summertime. The season is just as likely to feel “crazy” as “lazy,” especially if you have kids. They’re going to the beach, playing soccer, climbing trees, tumbling across the playground, riding bikes, and more-- bathing in their newfound freedom. They are also bathing in the sun’s rays for much of the day.

How do we keep our kids and ourselves safe while having fun in the sun? Here are twelve safe sun tips from the Ecology Center to help you pick the best sunscreen and more:

1. Consider sun exposure when you plan timing and clothing for outings.

Sunscreen may be the first thing to come to mind to protect yourself from sun exposure. But, sunscreen alone is not enough. According to warnings from The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) we should plan outings and activities before or after the hottest hours of the day (10 am - 4 pm) and wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves and broad-rimmed hats.

2. Stay cool with shade for your skin and shades for your eyes.

Of course, our schedules don’t always allow us to stay out of the sun at midday. Kids (and adults!) won’t always want to wear long sleeves. Therefore, the CDC also remind us to seek shade under a tree or use an umbrella. And always protect your eyes with sunglasses, they say. Wrap-around sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays are best.

3. Know the special needs of infants in the sun.

Protective clothing and shade are especially important for infants under 6 months of age, who should be kept out of direct sun as much as possible. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin. Yet, most sunscreen products also warn against use on children younger than 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concedes, “When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) on infants under 6 months to small areas, such as the infant's face and the back of the hands.”  AAP reminds us that sunscreen takes 30 minutes to be effective and to apply cool compresses if an infant gets sunburned.

4. Watch out for reflective surfaces including water, sand, and even concrete.

Many of us learned as children that we can get sunburned quickly while in the water because of the water’s reflective surface. We should also be extra diligent near sand and concrete (and snow), which can also reflect sunlight and intensify exposure.

5. Apply sunscreen early and often.

For optimal coverage, apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going out and reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or even sweating. “There’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. “All sunscreens eventually wash off.” Look for reapplication instructions on products labeled “water resistant.”

6. Not all sunscreen is the same. Take your time reading labels.

Not all products protect equally, and some may contain ingredients that are harmful to you and the environment. For help on reading sunscreen labels, we look to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which examines sunscreen products and the latest research each year. We’ve distilled EWG’s suncreen recommendations to help you know what to look for--and what to avoid.

7. Buy broad spectrum.

Experts agree we need to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, which cause both short and long-term damage to skin, including increased risk of skin cancer. A trick to remember which rays do what: UVA=aging and UVB=burning.

8. Look for SPF 15 - 50.

The effectiveness of sunscreens tapers off at 50. SPF numbers higher than that don’t offer much stronger protection and can give a false sense of security that keeps you out in the sun too long.

9. Skip skin products with Vitamin A.

Also called retinyl palmitate or retinol, Vitamin A is important in our diet, but it’s not good on our skin. Government data shows “tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams laced with vitamin A,” according to EWG.

10. Avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate.

These are harmful to human health and the environment. These chemicals are synthetic estrogens that can disrupt the endocrine (hormone) system. In the water, they destroy coral reefs. Hawai’i just became the first state to pass legislation banning the sale of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in an effort protect coral reefs from bleaching. According the New York Times,“14,000 tons of sunscreen is believed to be deposited in oceans annually with the greatest damage found in popular reef areas in Hawaii and the Caribbean.”

11. Look for zinc oxide or 3 percent avobenzone or Mexoryl SX.

They protect skin from harmful UVA radiation. Visit EWG’s Sunscreen database for more information on specific products, including EWG’s Best Scoring Kids’ Sunscreens and EWG’s Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens.

12. Don’t use sprays or insect repellent-sunscreen combinations.

Although they may seem convenient, these products aren’t as safe or effective as alternatives. Sunscreen sprays cloud the air with tiny particles that may not be safe to breathe. If you need bug repellent, buy it separately and apply it first.

We hope you enjoy the warm weather and get the best out of the summer sun with these tips. And if you’re a parent, good luck catching your kids before they run out the door!

Published on July 23, 2018