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Why protect against the sun?

In the past, sun exposure was thought to be a healthy benefit of outdoor activity. However, studies have shown many unhealthy effects of sun exposure, such as early aging of the skin and skin cancer.

What kind of damage does sun exposure cause?

Part of the sun’s energy that reaches earth is composed of rays of invisible ultraviolet (UV) light. When ultraviolet light rays (UVA and UVB) enter the skin, they damage skin cells, causing visible and invisible injuries.

Sunburn is a visible type of damage, which appears just a few hours after sun exposure. In many people, this type of damage also causes tanning. Freckles, which occur in people with fair skin, are usually due to sun exposure. Freckles are nearly always a sign that sun damage has occurred, and therefore show the need for sun protection.

Ultraviolet light rays also cause invisible damage to skin cells. Some of the injury is repaired, but some of the cell damage adds up year after year. After 20 to 30 years or more, the built-up damage appears as wrinkles, age spots, and even skin cancer. Although window glass blocks UVB light, UVA rays are able to penetrate through glass.

How can I protect my child from excessive sun exposure?

  • Avoidance. Stay away from the sun in the middle of the day.  Sun exposure is more intense closer to the equator, in the mountains, and in the summer. The sun’s damaging effects are increased by reflection from water, white sand, and snow. Avoid long periods of direct sun exposure. Sit or play in the shade, especially when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.
  • Use sun protective clothing.  Cover up with light colored clothing when outdoors, including a hat to protect the scalp and face. In addition to filtering out the sun, tightly woven clothing reflects heat and helps keep you feeling cool. Sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays protect the eyes and eyelids. Multiple retailers now sell sun protective clothing for adults and children.  Rash guards should be worn during outdoor swimming activity.
  • Block sun damage by applying a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days. If swimming or participating in intense physical activity, sunscreen may need to be applied more often.

How do I select the right sunscreen for my child?

 Infants should be kept out of direct sun and be covered by protective clothing when possible. If sun exposure is unavoidable, sunscreen should be applied to exposed areas (i.e. face, hands)

Choose a sunscreen with a SPF 30 or higher. The protective ability of sunscreen is rated by Sun Protection Factor (SPF) — the higher the SPF, the stronger the protection. Spread it evenly over all uncovered skin, including ears and lips, but avoid the eyelids. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before sun exposure. Re-apply after swimming or excessive sweating.

Most importantly, choose a sunscreen that your child will wear.  New sunscreens are added to the marketplace frequently, and selection of a particular brand is often a matter of personal preference.  Your child’s dermatologist may also recommend specific sunscreens.  For additional guidance in selecting a sunscreen, visit

What about the controversies regarding sunscreens?

Hats, clothing, and shade are the most reliable forms of sun protection.  Few people use enough sunscreen to benefit from the SPF protection listed on the label. Most practitioners in our group continue to recommend and utilize many sunscreen products, including chemical and physical sunscreens.  However, studies show that people typically use about a quarter of the recommended amount.

There has been much news coverage recently about the possible dangers of sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual sunscreen report.  The 2010 report, which received a considerable amount of media attention, cited concerns about a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, found in many sunscreens. Safety testing is far from conclusive, and the FDA continues to investigate whether this compound may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk when applied to skin exposed to sunlight.

Many have also raised concerns about chemical sunscreens, which contain substances such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, benzophenone, and parsol 1789. Some believe that these may be converted into hormones when absorbed through the skin. Some prefer physical agents such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, however efforts to make these agents more sheer and cosmetically acceptable have resulted in formulations that may contain tiny particles known as “nanoparticles.”  Concerns also exist about their absorption.  Most of the above concerns are theoretical, however if you are highly concerned about these issues, you can visit the Environmental Working Group’s website devoted to sunscreen safety: sunscreen.   Most dermatologists remain convinced that the risks of unprotected sun exposure far outweigh the above mentioned theoretical risks of sunscreens. The type of sunprotection used remains an individual choice for each parent.

What about vitamin D?

Vitamin D is essential for many processes in the body, and is important for bone growth in children.  Over the last few years, many studies have suggested an association between low vitamin D levels and increased risk of certain types of cancers, neurologic disease, autoimmune disease and cardiovascular disease.  While dermatologists agree that the sun is certainly a source of vitamin D, we are also uniquely aware it is also a source of harmful ultraviolet radiation resulting in thousands of skin cancers each year.  The official recommendation of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is that vitamin D should be obtained through dietary sources and supplementation rather than from sunlight (ultraviolet radiation).


If you have any questions regarding your skin please contact our DermaBare Aesthetics & Laser Center physicians at 949-545-6600.