How To Choose The Best Sunscreen For Your Kids

"How do I choose the best sunscreen for my kids?" is one of the most common questions I get in the office each summer.  As parents, we always want to do what's best for our children, and most of us by now have heard that excess sun exposure causes skin cancer.  Over the past few years, conflicting messages have emerged from some media sources and websites regarding whether or not sunscreens are safe. As a dermatologist and a mother of two young children, this issue is very dear to me, and I'd like to address some of the misinformation out there by writing about this topic, and by helping you select the best sun protection for your little ones.

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Is Sunscreen Dangerous?

Are sunscreens safe?  Every year at this time I start to field questions like these.  Much of this appears to stem from the Environomental Working Group’s annual report on sunscreens, in which they describe the “dangers” of using various sunscreen ingredients.  Their website is rife with graphic, red and orange hazard signs, as well as health warnings, features that lead some of their visitors to the very mistaken conclusion that sunscreens are somehow more dangerous than sun exposure.

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What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is primarily a measurement of the protection a sunscreen provides against ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.  An SPF is the ratio between the time it takes for the skin to redden or sunburn to start (known as the MED or minimal erythema dose) in skin protected with sunscreen and the MED in unprotected skin.  For example, if it takes 20 minutes to develop redness without sunscreen, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 might prevent reddening for 15 times as long...about 5 hours.

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