Avoid these common mistakes to protect your child from the sun

sunscreen mistakesWe asked Dr. Gerald N. Goldberg of Pima Dermatology for advice on how best to protect our children from the blazing Arizona sun. Dr. Goldberg is board certified in both pediatrics and dermatology. 

1. Not applying sunscreen in spring, fall and winter

Really is there any time of year where sunscreen isn’t necessary at this latitude for you or your children?

Ideally, we are providing examples and modeling of good sun safe behaviors for our children from a young age. Daily application of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher is ideal. This latitude provides tremendously intense ultraviolet exposure for much of the year. Worst times are late spring through early fall and midday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the UVB (“burning rays”) are most intense.

2. Assuming the shade will be enough to protect from the sun

Shade is not totally protective since there often are considerable reflected rays and filtered rays through partial shade. The same is true for cloudy days where filtered UVB light can still cause sunburn.

3. Using any old sunscreen

Not really. It’s best to look at labeling when considering if your sunscreen is up to snuff.

Broad-Spectrum: Blocks the UVA (“aging, wrinkling rays”) and UVB (“burning rays”).

Water-Resistant: Retains blocking power for 40 minutes of water immersion or “very water-resistant” if it retains protective effects after 80 minutes of being in the water.

An SPF (“sun protective factor”) of 30 or better is recommended. The FDA no longer allows “number chasing.” No sunscreen can be rated higher than SPF 50 or simply 50+. The SPF factor means that if it takes 15 minutes to burn in the June midday sun without sunscreen, with a sunscreen of SPF 10, it takes 15×10 or 150 minutes to burn with sunscreen SPF 10 in place. The FDA also no longer allows “sunblock,” “sweat-proof” or “waterproof” on labels.

Remember to check for the expiry date on your sunscreen too, old sunscreen won’t do!

Contrary to some written statements, sunscreens are relatively safe when applied properly. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are some of the best sunscreens since they truly reflect dangerous rays of both the UVB and UVA types. There are no substantiated claims of problems with toxicity or absorption of nanoparticles leading to a danger to health. Vitamin A, at reasonable doses, has been used for years to boost the immune system and to protect against cancer development. The more complex question is Vitamin D. Some modest amount of sunlight exposure (a few minutes a day unprotected) is probably fine on modest body surface areas to maintain good vitamin D health. If levels are low, the recommendation is to take a vitamin D oral supplement daily, and not to seek more sunlight to improve one’s vitamin D status.

4. Not using enough sunscreen

The most common error is inadequate application. Studies show that the average person puts on about 25-30 percent of the quantity necessary to achieve the stated SPF rating. A shot glass full of sunscreen is a fairly reasonable amount to apply for full-body protection. This is the other reason why SPF 30 or more is recommended – because of “sloppy” application.

5. Not allowing enough time

The next most important issue is taking time to apply sunscreen before activity. The sunscreen needs to bind to the skin to be effective, so try applying it 10 to 15 minutes before activity. Also, when using many products in the morning, apply sunscreen first to bind to the skin whenever possible.

6. Not reapplying sunscreen

Have you applied sunscreen again after swimming, hiking or just hanging out? Failure to reapply after being in the water or sweating; both can wash off sunscreen. Always reapply after water immersion or activity with significant perspiring.

What are the top three things parents can do to protect children from sun exposure?


A= Avoid the sun midday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

B= Block the sun with sunscreen

C= Cover up with sun-protective hats and clothing (including swim shirts when in the pool)



Leave a Reply

Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
%d bloggers like this: