No matter which theme park you visit from coast to coast, make sure you respect the sun! Health and science writer Avery Hurt sheds some light on the often-confusing products and methods for avoiding sunburn. Here’s the basic advice from the medical experts.
- Choose a sunscreen that is convenient for you to use. Some prefer sprays, others lotions. The form of sunscreen doesn’t matter as much as the technique of applying it. Don’t forget to shield your face with a hat!
- Apply sunscreen a half hour before going out, and be sure to get enough on you. One ounce per application is recommended—that means a full shot glass worth each time you apply. The 1-ounce amount was calculated for average adults in swimsuits; an average 7-year-old will probably take two-thirds of an ounce (20 cc). It’s a good idea to measure that ounce in your hands at home, so you’ll be familiar with what an ounce looks like in your palms. It’s far more sunscreen than you tend to think.
- Get a generous covering on all exposed skin. Then reapply (another full shot glass) every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating. No matter what it says on the label, water resistance of sunscreen is limited. And none of them last all day.
- There is very little difference in protection between 30 or so SPF and 45 or 50 or greater. There is no need to spend more for higher SPF numbers. In fact, it is much safer to choose a lower (and typically less expensive) SPF (as long as it is at least 30) and apply it more often. However, do be sure to choose a product that has broad-spectrum coverage, meaning that it filters out both UVA and UVB rays. As long as the SPF is at least 30 and offers broad-spectrum protection, one brand can serve the whole family. There’s no need to pay extra for special formulas made for children.
- It is best to keep babies under 6 months old covered and out of the sun. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics condones a small amount of sunscreen on vulnerable areas, such as the nose and chin, when you have your baby out. Be very careful to monitor your baby, even if he is wearing a hat and sitting under an umbrella.
- Use a lip balm with an SPF of 15 and reapply often to your own lips and those of your kids. Again, the brand is less important than choosing something that you will use—and remembering to use it.
- Sunglasses are also a must. Too much sun exposure can contribute to age-related macular degeneration (among other things). Not all sunglasses filter out damaging rays. Be sure to choose shades (for adults and kids) that have 99% UV protection. Large lenses and wraparound styles might not look as cool, but they offer much better protection. You may have to spend a little more to be sure you are getting adequate protection, but you don’t want to skimp on this.
- If you do get a burn, cool baths, aloe gels, and ibuprofen usually help ease the suffering. Occasionally, sunburns can be as dangerous in the short term as they are in the long term. If you or your child experience nausea, vomiting, high fever, severe pain, confusion, or fainting, seek medical care immediately.
- Stay hydrated! Make sure all family members drink enough water, especially young children who often forget to drink. Forget about soda drinks, and stick with water—lots of it.
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