Your Burning Sun Questions -- Answered
Q. Do I need to be careful even if my child's skin tans very easily? Absolutely. "A darker-skinned child has more natural protection because of the melanin in his skin, but it's only the equivalent of an SPF 8," says Dr. Boiko. His risk of skin cancer is lower than that of a fair-skinned child, but you probably allow him to spend more time in the sun. Even African-Americans can get skin cancer. In fact, reggae legend Bob Marley died of melanoma when the cancer spread to his brain.
Q. Those sun-protective shirts seem so hot. Any good alternatives? Take a look at some of the latest offerings in sun-protective clothing, and you'll be surprised how the fabrics have gotten lighter, softer, and more breathable. "They're the best protection when your child is swimming because even waterproof sunscreen can't stay on for long periods of time in the water," says skin-cancer surgeon Susan Weinkle, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of South Florida, in Tampa.
Another option: Rit SunGuard Laundry Treatment UV Protectant ($20), which increases the sun-protectiveness of clothing and bathing suits.
Q. Is a pricey department-store sunscreen better than one I get at the drugstore? No. "You can choose an expensive product or a generic brand as long as it's at least SPF 30 and broad spectrum," says Dr. Weinkle. "Of course, if you're more likely to use the $25 sunscreen because it feels and smells better, then it's worth it." But if you'll apply sunscreen more generously because it's cheap, then stock up on a bargain brand.
Q. My child always has a tan line by the end of August. Should I really be aiming for no color at all? "Kids should get as little color as possible, but many still get some despite using sun protection," says Robert Brodell, MD, professor of dermatology at Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine. If your child's tan lines show a big contrast, you need to do more to block those rays.
Q. Does sunscreen expire? Yes, and many products carry expiration dates. If yours doesn't, it's probably good for up to three years after you buy it. But if you're applying adequate sunscreen -- about an ounce (two tablespoons) for one's entire body -- you should use several bottles in a season. In fact, a 6-ounce bottle should last a family of four only one day at the beach if everyone reapplies once. If your bottle lasts for months, you're not using enough.
Q. How can I protect my baby? Infants shouldn't be out in direct sunlight because their skin is too sensitive. Protect your little one with a hat and light clothing, and make sure he's shielded in his stroller or baby carrier. Pediatricians now say it's safe to use sunscreen on areas that you can't avoid exposing, such as arms and legs, but keep it away from the eyes and mouth. "Look for brands that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide," Dr. Cambio says. "These are called 'physical blockers' because they aren't absorbed by skin but stay on the surface and act like an umbrella to keep damaging rays out."