A version of this blog post first appeared on Kids HealthLine, courtesy of Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent.
As summer continues and sun exposure increases, review this list of myths and facts about protecting your child’s skin with sunscreen.
MYTH: My child doesn’t have to wear sunscreen if she has naturally dark skin or if she gets a “base tan” early in the summer—after that, she’s protected from skin damage.
FACT: While children with dark skin due to higher melanin production are at a lower risk of the harmful effects of sun exposure, they still need to wear sunscreen regularly to prevent skin cancer. A base tan does nothing to protect children or adults from skin cancer. A tan is the skin’s response to damage on a cellular level—there is no such thing as a healthy tan caused by ultraviolet (UV) light.
MYTH: SPF 30 sunscreen is twice as effective as SPF 15.
FACT: Sun protection factor (SPF) measures how well sunscreen protects against short-spectrum, or UVB, rays. SPF 15 filters out about 93 percent of UVB rays. Higher SPF sunscreens do not provide substantial amounts of extra protection—SPF 30 filters 97 percent of UVB rays, and SPF 50 only filters out 98 percent. The most effective sunscreens protect against two types of UV light—UVB and UVA. Look for labels that say “broad spectrum.”
MYTH: My child only needs to wear sunscreen on vacation or when we’re at the beach—and he never needs to wear sunscreen when it’s cloudy outside.
FACT: It’s true that sunscreen is important while on the beach or during other brief, intense exposures. However, chronic lifetime exposure to UV rays increases your chance of developing skin cancer. Clouds do not provide adequate protection from UV rays—up to 40 percent of the sun’s radiation still reaches your skin when it’s completely overcast. Going outside without sun protection on cloudy days can lead to serious sunburns. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 on exposed skin every day to reduce the effects of UV radiation, including skin cancer.
MYTH: I do not want my kids to have a vitamin D deficiency from using sunscreen. The risks of using sunscreen outweigh the benefits.
FACT: Sunscreen does inhibit vitamin D production, but not enough to have a significant effect in most people. However, regularly using SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your child’s chances of getting skin cancer by 78 percent. Additionally, dietary changes and supplements can make up for a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, orange juice and milk, can boost your child’s vitamin D production. Talk with your pediatrician about other ways to increase vitamin D levels without exposing your child to skin cancer later in life.
To learn more about dermatology services at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent, click here.
This article was reviewed by Mandy Cook, esthetician and massage therapist, St.Vincent Fishers Center for Women’s Health.