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Prepping For the Summer: A Parent’s Guide to Sunscreen and Bug Spray

With warmer months upon approaching, your children are likely spending more time outside. Time spent outdoors is wonderful for a child’s development, as time spent in the sun and surrounded by nature has been known to improve a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health. 

However, too much exposure to the elements can negatively impact your child’s health. It's important that, as a parent, you are well-informed on how to protect your kiddos from the harmful effects of time spent outdoors. 

In this blog, we’ll explore two of the greatest preventative measures you can take to protect your children’s health in the summertime: sunscreen and bug spray. With these tools under your belt, you can rest easy knowing your kiddos can have a safe and fun summer. 

Sunscreen: Not Just For Summer 

When do you wear sunscreen? 

If you are like most people, you probably only apply sunscreen when the weather is scorching hot or when you know you’re going to be outside for a long stretch of time. However, the sun’s UV rays can cause damage much more easily than you think! In fact, you can get sunburn even on cloudy days and during the winter

Especially with young children, you want to protect their skin from sun damage as much as possible. To help you feel as well-informed and knowledgeable as you can about your childrens’ sun exposure, let’s discuss ways to maximize their protection from the sun’s harmful rays during the warmest months of the year. 

Why Is Sunscreen Important? 

Sunscreen works to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. The sun emits two types of rays- UVA and UVB. Each of these types of rays has a different wavelength, with UVA light waves being longer than UVB. Because of this, UVA waves can do damage to the middle layers of your skin, while UVB waves typically harm the outer layer of your skin. 

This is where sunscreen comes in! The active ingredients in most sunscreens work to block a majority of the sun’s harmful rays from penetrating your skin. This reduces visual signs of aging, risk of sunburn, and decreases your risk of developing skin cancer later on in life. 

While you probably shouldn’t be too worried about signs of aging in your young children, a huge part of your job as a parent is to take care of their physical health as much as you can. When you prioritize proper sunscreen use with your children, you do your part to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer later on in life. 

Additionally, teaching your children to take care of their skin helps them create a healthy habit early on in their life! If you teach them to be conscientious of their skin’s health while they are young, they are more likely to continue to take care of their skin as an adult. 

When to Apply

How often do you apply sunscreen? 

The average American applies sunscreen once before heading outside for an extended period of time, but then does not reapply at any point. Oftentimes, even those who do reapply often aren’t reapplying sunscreen often enough. 

Additionally, most people think they only need to apply sunscreen on extremely hot days. However, sun damage can begin with a UV index of 3 or higher, and your risk is especially high between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when sun exposure is the highest. These conditions are incredibly common at any time of year, not just the summer! 

Reapplying your child’s sunscreen in a timely manner is especially important because their skin is so much more sensitive and even more thin than an adult’s. Therefore, the sun’s harmful effects can be even more intense for them than they are for you!

If your child is going to spend more than 20 minutes outside and the UV index is 3 or higher, you should apply sunscreen before they go outside and then reapply at least every two hours. If your child’s skin gets wet, either because they are sweating or swimming, you should apply more frequently. 

Additionally, if your child is younger than 6 months of age, they are too young to wear sunscreen because their skin is too sensitive for it. You should keep them out of the sun as much as possible; if you are in a situation where you absolutely cannot keep them out of the sun, try to keep them in a shaded area and make sure they wear clothing that will protect them from the sun, such as a hat. 

If it’s so important to apply sunscreen any time the sun is out, then why don’t more people apply sunscreen in the winter? Simply put, most people tend to spend less time doing outdoor activities in the wintertime. If you are taking part in outdoor winter activities, such as skiing or snowboarding, you absolutely should wear sunscreen and you should still reapply every two hours just as you would in the spring or summer. 

What to Look For In Sunscreen

When choosing the optimal sunscreen for your children, try to find one that meets the following qualifications: 

  • Broad-spectrum: We previously mentioned that the sun emits two types of rays that are harmful to human skin- UVA and UVB. For protection from both, find a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum!

  • SPF 30 or more: To adequately block out dangerous radiation from the sun, the minimum SPF you need is 30. 

  • Water-resistant: If your kids are going to be sweating or swimming, a water-resistant sunscreen keeps you from having to reapply more than every two hours. 

If your sunscreen meets these qualifications, congratulations! You’ve picked a great sunscreen for your children. Sunscreens usually are mineral or chemical in composition, and can either be applied in the form of a spray or lotion. These qualities tend to be more of a preference, though– pick whatever is best for your family’s needs!

Treating Sunburn

Let’s face it– we all make mistakes! If you forgot to reapply your child’s sunscreen or they stayed out in the sun for longer than you thought they would, it’s possible your child has developed a sunburn. 

A mild sunburn will usually go away on its own in a matter of days. However, there are some steps you can take to help minimize your child’s discomfort and heal their sunburn efficiently. These steps include: 

  • Fluids: If your child has a sunburn, they’re also most likely dehydrated, too. For the next few days after the sunburn, make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids. 

  • Pain relief: If your child’s sunburn causes them pain, you can offer them acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain. Be sure to follow the dosage guidelines on the back of the bottle and do NOT exceed the recommended dosage.

  • Aloe vera gel: Apply aloe vera gel to the affected areas. Not only does this have a cooling effect on the skin, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties that help the skin repair itself more quickly. 

Symptoms of more severe sunburn include fever, nausea, headache, chills, and blisters. In the case of a more severe sunburn, you’ll want to contact your provider and seek medical attention for your child. 

By making sure your child wears the right amount of sunscreen at the right times, you can help keep their skin healthy even in the hottest summer months! 

Bug Spray

Aside from sunburn, another factor to consider when protecting your child from the elements is how to protect them from insects. Not only can insect bites be a source of major discomfort for children, but some insects- such as mosquitos and ticks- can carry serious illnesses, such as West Nile virus, malaria, Lyme disease, and more. 

Therefore, whether you’re sending your kiddos out into the backyard to play or heading to the park as a family, you need to know how to protect your child from bug bites to keep them happy, comfortable, and healthy. 

DEET: Busting the Myth 

Bug spray is a highly debated topic among parents because of the most common active ingredient- DEET. For many years, there’s been controversy on whether DEET is safe for humans or not.

Most scientists agree that DEET in any concentration of 30% or less is safe to use on children and adults alike. In fact, DEET has been shown to be safe to use on children 2 months and older. It’s important to note that some bug sprays go up to 50% in their DEET concentration; however, 30% is the highest recommended concentration of DEET. 

The two most common concentrations of DEET found in bug spray are 10% and 30%. Bug sprays with a 10% concentration of DEET are effective for about two hours, while bug sprays with a concentration of 30% typically last for about five hours. Keep this in mind when choosing a bug spray for your kiddos– if they’ll only be outside for about an hour, you can confidently choose a bug spray with a lower DEET concentration. 

Other Alternatives

If you are still skeptical of traditional bug spray, there are natural mosquito repellants you can try with your family. Although these methods usually are not as effective as bug spray, some other methods of outdoor pest control include: 

  • Wearing clothing with full coverage, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants

  • Citronella

  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (DO NOT USE on children 3 years or younger)

While we believe that bug spray is both safe and the most effective form of insect repellent, if using bug spray with DEET is something you don’t wish to do with your family, we recommend you implement one or more of these methods to repel insects and keep your children safe. 

Safe Summer Fun

Spending time outdoors brings a lot of joy and cherished memories for a lot of families. By implementing the safe and regular use of sunscreen and bug spray into your summer routine, you ensure that these summer memories stay fun and light for your children. 

Although most sunburns and bug bites don’t have serious long-term consequences on their own, the worst-case scenario can result in long-term skin damage or even a lifelong chronic illness. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s sun exposure or a bug bite they may have gotten when playing outside, be sure to contact your pediatric provider

Your provider can help you make informed choices about sunscreen and bug spray, and they can also address any concerns you may have about bug bites or sunburn. Together, let’s help keep our kiddos safe as they play outside this year! 

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