I always thought that skin docs stayed out of the sun as much as possible to reduce their risk of getting skin cancer. So I was a little nervous asking Elizabeth Alvarez Connelly, M.D., to go to the beach with me to talk about sun safety. "I take my children there practically every weekend," she told me. A pediatric dermatologist in Miami, Dr. Alvarez Connelly thinks you can let kids enjoy the outdoors -- and never have to deal with sunburn -- if you plan ahead. So sun and sand, here we come!
Her family arrives looking pretty much as I expected: The three kids (Abigail, 5, Lucas, 4, and Matthew, 2) are wearing wide-brimmed SPF 50 hats, ultraviolet protective sunglasses, and sunshirts (aka rash guards) while Dr. Alvarez Connelly is in shorts, a lightweight sweater, and an attractive sun hat. "The water's still a little cold for me to go swimming, but if it were warmer I'd have on my rash guard and sarong," she says. Her mom, who's come along to help watch the kids, is covered up too. The purpose of all this clothing: "The less skin you have exposed, the less sunscreen you have to put on," she tells me, rubbing SPF 50 sunscreen on the legs of Matthew, who's anxious to start playing with his sand bucket.
I thought you were supposed to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you plan to be outside, so I ask why she's doing it now. "That's true for many sunscreens because they need to be absorbed into the skin," she says. "But, the one I use for the kids and myself contains zinc oxide and gives immediate protection."
"What about Matthew's cheeks?" I ask. She says the kids used sunscreen sticks on their faces in the car. "They like applying it themselves, and I just smooth out any clumps and make sure there's enough right under the eyes, which is an area parents tend to forget about." For her own face, Dr. Alvarez Connelly puts on SPF 30 moisturizing sunscreen and moisturizer daily.