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Summer Sun and Skin Safety for Kids and Adults

Mom applying sunscreen to daughter

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Summer is here again and with it comes the increased risk of sunburn and damage to your skin. To learn how you can protect yourself and your kids from the sun’s damaging effects, we talked to UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Medical Group’s board-certified family medicine physician specialist, Julianne Gatlin, DO, about tips and tricks for staying safe and healthy this summer.

Sunscreen Isn't Everything

The best way to keep your skin safe from the sun is to avoid it altogether. Dr. Gatlin explains, “Don’t go outside during the brightest and hottest hours. And when you do go outside, try to stay in the shade. Wearing sun protective clothing rated 50+ UPGF or higher is better.”

Things to Know About Sunscreen

“The SPF protection from sunscreen is a bit misleading,” says Dr. Gatlin. This kind of sunscreen is called a chemical blocker. SPF only blocks UVB light that will give you a sunburn but the UVA which damages the skin cells long term isn't blocked at all. To block out UVA, your sunscreen needs to include zinc or titanium, which is called a physical blocker because it reflects the light.

When choosing a sunscreen, you should buy one that has at least an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Properly applied SPF 30 blocks about 80 percent of the UVB light.

Aerosol or spray sunscreens may seem convenient but come with their own set of risks. The components in chemical blockers are very often toxic and should never be used on the face or inhaled. They also have a high alcohol content and shouldn't be used if you or your child has eczema as it will aggravate the condition. That said, if it’s all you have you should still use it rather than exposing yourself to the raw power of the sun.

Water-resistant does not mean waterproof. Sunscreen comes in two varieties of water resistance, water-resistant and very water-resistant. Standard water-resistant sunscreen lasts in water or sweat for up to 40 minutes while very water-resistant sunscreen will last up to 80 minutes. Being in water or being sweaty are essentially the same when it comes to sunscreen so be sure to reapply as necessary depending on the variety you're using.

Babies aged six months and younger should not be in the sun since their bodies haven’t yet developed the ability to cope with it; therefore they should not wear sunscreen. If your newborn infant must be out in these conditions, be sure to check the ingredients for toxins and use a sunscreen with zinc or titanium.

Proper Application of Sunscreen

“It’s very important that you apply the sunscreen correctly. Otherwise you can have very inconsistent results,” says Dr. Gatlin. She continues, “By putting it on wrong you can cut its benefit in half or more.”

When applying sunscreen, always try to err on the side of too much versus too little. Dr. Gatlin recommends using 12 ounces of SPF 30+ sunscreen containing a UVA physical blocker like zinc or titanium, making sure to cover every part of you that will be exposed to the sun and reapplying every 1-2 hours depending on your activity.

Treatment for Sunburn

Mistakes happen. Sometimes you'll miss a spot and get a sunburn. Here’s the best way to treat it:

  • Apply aloe or other cool, light lotions and be sure to avoid any heavy occlusive ones that contain ingredients like Vaseline. These can increase the heat rather than cool the burn
  • Drink plenty of water that body needs to recover
  • Take cold baths
  • Take ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medication

Skin Health Checkups

Even with proper protection and diligence, you should still have your or your child's skin checked once a year. If you have a family history of melanoma, be sure to visit a dermatologist. Keep a close eye on birthmarks, too.

We’re Here to Help

Julianne Gatlin, DO, is a board-certified family medicine physician with UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Medical Group. She cares for babies to older adults and is accepting new patients at her office located at 329 Remington Blvd., Suite 200, in Bolingbrook.

Call 630-759-4800 for more information or to schedule an appointment

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