Healthy Living

Q&A: Keeping Kids Safe in the Sun

Jun. 1, 2018

Before heading out to enjoy the warm weather and soak up some sunshine, check out this advice from UR Medicine Primary Care's Dr. Michael Gavin for protecting kids from too much sun.mother putting sunscreen on toddler

Health Matters: Why protect children from sun exposure?

Gavin: Sun exposure—especially burns—in the first 10 years of life can, in part, determine one’s risk for skin cancer. 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.

Health Matters: What about tans?

Gavin: You may think a tan looks healthy but tanned skin is damaged skin. A tan is our skin’s response to injury. When skin becomes injured by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, it produces more pigment (melanin).

Health Matters: Which sunscreen is best?

Gavin: Look for sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) between 15-50 and both UVA and UVB protection.

High SPF sunscreens may provide false security. SPF mainly protects against UVB (skin burn) radiation, not UVA (deep-tissue penetrating) radiation. UVA is what likely causes skin cancer.

Stick to zinc oxide-based sunscreens if possible and avoid products containing oxybenzone. Oxybenzone can seep into the skin and cause estrogen-like effects, similar to BPA. There are also concerns that it may cause cancer and other issues.

Avoid retinyl palmitate products, which can speed development of skin cancer.

Spray sunscreens, though easy to use, make it easy to miss areas and have inhalation risks.

Health Matters: What if it’s cool and cloudy?

Gavin: UV rays, not the temperature, cause the skin damage. Clouds will slightly filter some UV rays, but they will not block them. Kids still need protection with sunscreen.

Health Matters: Can I take my infant in the sun? What about sunscreen for babies?

Gavin: The best approach to protecting infants younger than 6 months from UV exposure is to keep them out of direct sunlight. Babies have less mature skin (less melanin) that has a higher risk of damage when in the sun.

Dress infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn.

It’s generally not recommended to put sunscreen on babies; it may not offer adequate protection and may increase their exposure to the chemicals in sunscreen.

If you do notice your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.

Health Matters: How else can I protect my children from sunburns?

Gavin: Unprotected skin can be damaged by UV rays in as little as 15 minutes, but it might take up to 12 hours to notice this in the skin. If skin is starting to change color, it may be burned by the next morning. To prevent more damage, get out of the sun.

Always pack sunscreen in your child’s bag if they are going to participating in sports, camp, or other outdoor activities. Make sure to put it on them before they leave the house and reapply it often.

Avoid tanning lotions that often contain ingredients that are not safety tested nor are they protective from the sun.


Michael Gavin, M.D.


Michael J. Gavin, M.D., cares for adults and children at UR Medicine Primary Care - Bushnell's Basin and new pediatric patients are welcome. Call (585) 758-0800.