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Sun and Water Safety

Article Contributed By Zest Pediatrics – The Nest Schools Medical Education Partner

Sun and Water Safety

The nice weather has finally arrived and, hopefully, is here to stay! We are all eager to enjoy the outdoor fun that summer has to offer. During this time, it is important to remember what we can do to keep our kids safe in the sun and water, which can help enhance everyone’s enjoyment of the season!

Sun Safety

Skin damage from the sun accumulates over time. Increased protection early in life can prevent future complications and instill good skin protection habits into adulthood.  UVA and UVB rays from the sun cause skin damage, leading to sunburn, early skin aging, and possible skin cancers.  The best ways to protect everyone are avoidance of sun during peak hours- 10a-4p, sun protective clothing including hats and sunglasses with UV protection, and liberal use of sunscreen with any outdoor activities- even on cloudy days!  EVERYONE should practice sun safety, including sunscreen, regardless of skin pigmentation, to protect against the short- and long-term effects of UV ray damage.

When applying sunscreen, use a lot and apply frequently to all sun-exposed skin. If you are not using enough, the product’s effectiveness decreases. Consider the teaspoon rule: 1 teaspoon to each face/neck, each arm, the front torso, and the back torso; 2 teaspoons to each leg. Apply sunscreen at least 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure to allow the protective film to form. Reapply at least every 2 hours or after water exposure or sweating to maximize effectiveness.

There are so many sunscreen products out there it can be difficult to know which to choose for your family.  Here are some points to consider when shopping for sunscreen.

Sunscreens contain light-filtering compounds which are what offer UV protection.  The best products to look for are those that protect against UVA and UVB rays, which will be labeled broad spectrum. 

Active Ingredients:

            The light-filtering compounds zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, known as inorganic compounds, offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays.  They act by reflecting and scattering the UV light rays to protect our skin.  These ingredients are less irritating and can be better for those with sensitive skin. Inorganic compounds show no significant full-body absorption with multiple studies showing penetration only into the superficial layers of the skin. 

            Organic light filtering ingredients most commonly include oxybenzone and octinoxate, among others.  These products do not offer full broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection alone.  They protect our skin by absorbing UV radiation.   There has been evidence in studies of full-body absorption of these compounds.  It is uncertain whether or not this is harmful, but it is possible these ingredients can have some hormonal effects.  If this concerns you, it is probably best to stick with the ingredients for inorganic light filtering- zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  Any sun protection is better than no protection, and in general, all sunscreens have an excellent safety profile. 


            SPF stands for sun protection factor, which measures a sunscreen’s ability to protect against sunburn. The higher the number, the more protection the product offers. SPF 30 offers about twice the protection as SPF 15, so be sure to choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. 

            Water/sweat resistant means it can maintain SPF protection after 40-80 minutes of swimming or sweating. However, it should still be reapplied after getting wet or every 2 hours.

Tinted sunscreens usually contain titanium dioxide and pigments made from iron oxide to provide protection against UV radiation.  The iron oxide can additionally protect against visible light rays which can be useful in those with a hyperpigmentation skin disorder.

Ethanol (alcohol) based sprays can lead to uneven product distribution and inconsistent SPF protection.

Infants younger than six months old have an increased risk of sensitivity due to their immature skin barrier.  Try to keep them covered and shaded as much as possible.  If needed, use a broad-spectrum, inorganic (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) mineral-based sunscreen to decrease the risk of irritation and sun damage.  The immature skin barrier of younger babies can also increase the risk of dehydration if they are in the bright sun and heat for longer periods.  This is another important reason to keep them out of extreme heat and direct sunlight.

Photoprotective clothing can be another important skin protection product.  UV protection factor, or UPF, measures how effective at blocking out UV radiation the article of clothing is.  The tighter the weave of clothing, the more protection. When holding something up, the less light that comes through, the better.  Shrinkage of clothing by washing and drying may improve protection because it tightens the fabric. Don’t forget wide-brim sun hats and sunglasses!

If your child sustains a sunburn, keep them comfortable and hydrated.  Encourage plenty of water or electrolyte-containing fluids.  Keep the skin cool and moisturized but be sure to avoid any scented products. If your child is having significant discomfort or you notice blistering from the burn reach out to their doctor for recommendations.

Take Aways-

  • Look for a mineral based, broad spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.
  • More is better! Apply a lot and apply frequently.
  • Wear sun protective clothing and stay in the shade whenever possible.


Water Safety Tips and Facts

Drowning is a leading cause of death and injury in children 1-4 years.  It can happen quickly, in as little as 1-2 inches of water. 

The best way to prevent drowning is to never leave you child alone near water and be sure you can touch them wherever they are.  Inflatable swim aids, such as arm floaties, can give a false sense of security to parents and children.  Even when using these, be sure to keep your child within arm’s reach.

Having your child take swim lessons can decrease the drowning risk over one year of age.

If you own a pool, be sure it is surrounded on all sides by a fence with a locking gate and consider alarms on doors/windows facing the pool for additional protection.  Be sure to keep toys out of the pool area to decrease the risk of a child wanting to get near the water during non-swimming times.

Have a designated “water watcher” with large gatherings- an adult that is assigned to watch the children in the pool.  Switch off every 15 minutes or so to provide undistracted supervision of children in the water.

Around the yard keep any containers empty when not in use- buckets, wading pools, coolers, water bowls for pets- to avoid accidental tripping and submersion.

Remembering just a few safety tips can make the summer season safe and enjoyable for everyone. We hope everyone has a happy, healthy, and sunburn-free summer!!