The Great Coverup

Four families put their sun-safety routines to the test -- and it turns out there's plenty of room for improvement. What could you be doing differently this summer?

Everyone knows how harmful ultraviolet rays can be to a child's skin. But it's worth repeating. "Most skin cancers and precancers, which are likely to develop into tumors, are due to a lack of sun protection in childhood," says dermatologist Anna Paré, M.D., of Dermatology Consultants in Atlanta. "Nearly all of the damage we get, including wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines, is from exposure before age 18." So we asked families to share their sun-protection practices. This is what they're doing right, and what they -- and all of us -- can do to keep our kids safe.

The family

Kristen Williams and her daughter, Lilian

Kristen Duncan Williams, Eliot Shepherd, and Lilian, 5, of Brooklyn, New York

Sun strategy

They use spray sunscreen on their body and stick sunscreen on their face. "Spray was life-changing for me," says Kristen. "I think of my poor parents chasing us around the beach with palms full of greasy lotion and I'm so grateful." They also bring a large umbrella to the beach and place an inflatable pool beneath it; Lilian uses it to house her collection of crabs, shells, and other beach finds.

The challenges

Kristen spends so much time making sure her child is well-slathered that she often forgets to cover herself. She also can't stand the feeling of sunscreen and sand on her hands, making it even less appealing to apply SPF after she's put it on Lilian. While vigilant about sunscreen at the beach, Kristen and her husband did once forget to put it on Lilian before camp. The result was only a minor sunburn -- but it was enough to generate guilt.

What the dermatologist says

"Kristen and Eliot are doing an excellent job keeping their daughter well covered, and having her play under an umbrella with the little pool is a great idea," says Dr. Paré. "But they should use a lotion with an SPF of 30 or higher before they leave the house year-round, to create a first layer on their skin. It's easy to miss spots when you use a spray sunscreen, so I recommend it for reapplication only. As for Kristen's aversion to having sandy, sticky hands, baby wipes should easily take care of the problem."

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