Sunscreen and Bug Spray

Summer is almost here! It’s time for swimming, boating, fishing, and playing outside! When I think back to my childhood growing up in Mobile, I often think about those long summer days, playing without a care in the world and wonder if I ever thought to put on sunscreen or bug spray. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. But times have changed, and we have to protect our children better. It’s estimated that before the age of 18, we have almost 80% of our lifetime sun exposure. And this exposure puts us at a significantly increased risk of not only sunburn, but skin cancer as well. Let’s talk about some ways to protect your child.

For infants less than six months, always dress them in lightweight long pants and shirts with a brimmed hat, even if the sun exposure is thought to be short. I can think of plenty of times when my family’s short trips to town end up as half day marathons and long times out in the sun.  It’s OK to use sunscreen on infants on exposed areas as long as you avoid the palms of the hands (ingestion risk) and use at least an SPF of 30 or greater.

The times when you are most likely to feel the sun’s damaging effects are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and that is of course the time when my kids play outside. So avoid that time when you can, but if they go out, apply at least SPF 30 waterproof sunscreen every 2 hours, especially after swimming or hard play. Hats and sunglasses are a good idea as well and keep those kids hydrated! Remember, our children learn and mimic what we as parents do, so put on sunscreen yourself and be a good role model. Finally, remember that a higher SPF doesn’t always mean better protection! All sunscreen needs to be applied frequently to actually work!

Another question I frequently get from parents is about bugs and bug spray. The biggest concern today, in addition to bites and itching, is the transmission of disease. While rare, these illnesses can affect people of all ages, especially children. One of the best ways to prevent bug exposure is to limit their growth, so check your property for any standing water and dump it out. And try to avoid exposure in the evenings when the bugs come out.

When it comes to bug sprays, I get a lot of questions about DEET vs. natural products for protection. While low amounts of DEET are safe for your infant and child, some people prefer to use other products. Remember, just because a product is “natural” doesn’t mean it can’t be toxic, especially if ingested. When compared head to head, most of the natural products were inferior to those containing DEET, especially in length of effectiveness. So whatever product you choose to use, follow the directions and use only what you need. For the most part, the higher the DEET concentration, the longer it lasts. For example, a concentration of 4-5% will last around 90 minutes. Most of the natural products last only 10-20 minutes, so reapply as needed and avoid exposure if possible. Also, don’t use combo bug repellent and sunscreen products because the bug repellent tends to lower the SPF.

So enjoy the weather, but enjoy it safely. Please refer to cdc.gov and aap.org for further resources and talk to your child’s doctor if you have questions.

Robert L. Rux, M.D.

Robert L. Rux, M.D. is a Board Certified Pediatrician at Magnolia Springs Pediatrics. Originally from Mobile, he attended medical school at The University of Alabama School of Medicine (UAB) and completed residency at The Children’s Hospital of Alabama (UAB). He is married to Jaime and has three children, Adler, Walker and Mary McAtee.

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