The SPF number tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning if you apply the sunscreen, which acts as a "block" to the sun's rays (hence the term "sun block"). For example, if your child would burn after 20 minutes of sun exposure, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 gives him 15 times the protection. In this example, the child will be protected for up to 5 hours:
20 minutes x 15 SPF = 300 minutes (5 hours)
For kids age 6 months and older, select an SPF of 15 or higher to prevent both sunburn and tanning. Choose a sunscreen that states on the label that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays (referred to as "broad-spectrum" sunscreen). To avoid possible skin allergy, avoid sunscreens with PABA, and if your child has sensitive skin, look for a product with the active ingredient titanium dioxide (a chemical-free block).
In order for sunscreen to do its job, it must be applied correctly. Be sure to:
Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Even 1 day in powerful sun can result in a burned cornea (the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye). Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts (clouding of the eye lens, which results in blindness). The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses.
Not all sunglasses provide the same level of ultraviolet protection; darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick eyes into a false sense of safety. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring that they provide 100% UV protection.
Not all children enjoy wearing sunglasses, especially the first few times. To encourage kids, let them select a style they particularly like; many manufacturers make fun, multi-colored glass frames or frames embossed with cartoon characters. And don't forget that kids want to be like grown-ups. If you wear sunglasses regularly, your kids may be willing to follow your example.
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