Summer Skin Care for Kids (cont.)

"We've found if you teach kids early on to protect their skin, they'll continue as they get older," says Adelaide Hebert, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at The University of Texas Medical School in Houston (another near-tropical city with plenty of sunshine).

At Galveston Beach, in backyard pools, and at sports fields, "it's easiest to get smaller kids to wear protective clothing," Hebert tells WebMD. Everything's colorful these days, which makes it fun to wear protective shirts. "The little bitty kids love to wear those surf suits and swim shirts. My son puts his shirt on, a little bit of sunscreen, and he's out in the pool in minutes."

When it comes to older kids and teens, sunscreen and cover-ups are just as important, even though getting that tanned look is as popular as ever. But, adds Hebert, tanning booths are strictly taboo. "It's true, a tan is a healthy look. The only safe way is a sprayed-on 'mystic tan' or one applied with a lotion, such as Coppertone, Clinique, Ban de Soleil. There are lots of self-tanners out there. Suntanning and tanning booths are just not safe."

Rules for Smart Summer Skin Care

Some basic sun protection rules will help you keep your children safe.

Rule No. 1: Stay inside or in the shade between 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Midday, when the sun's rays are strongest, babies and children should stay indoors, or out of the sun at least. Even on cloudy, hazy days, protect against the sun. "There's more risk of sunburn at the beach, because of water reflection and wind," adds Hebert.

Rule No. 2: All children are at risk. While pale kids are most likely to burn, darker-skinned children can also burn if they stay in the sun too long.

Rule No. 3: Dress your kids in protective clothing. This, even more than sunscreen, is the best weapon against too much sun. "Babies younger than 1 year, before they are mobile, need to get as much sun protection as possible from their clothing -- long cotton pants, long sleeves," says Connelly.

  • "You want to decrease the surface area that is exposed to the sun. Sunscreens will work to prevent sunburn -- but you have to reapply them every 30 minutes. It's not easy to get kids to come in from the water that often." More clothing tips:
  • Sun-protective swimwear is an excellent option. The colorful two-piece swimsuits and one-piece "wet suits" are made for all kids and covers up to elbows and knees, providing the equivalent of UVF 50+ protection. The swimwear is made from lightweight, tightly woven synthetic that is still "breathable." These are available online, in sports stores, and stores like Target.
  • Cotton T-shirts also prevent sunburn, but not if the T-shirt is white. White allows the most sun penetration. Bright or dark-colored clothing, such as blues, reds, greens, and yellows (including socks) offer more protection than pale colors. Also, when white T-shirts get wet, they offer virtually no protection, says Hebert.
  • Sunguard is a chemical dye that can be applied to clothes (like summer whites) in the washing machine, says Connelly. The "dye" drenches clothes in a UPF (ultraviolet protective factor) of 50+ that remains on the fabric for up to 20 washes. Both Sunguard and RIT clothing dyes are made by the same company. Find them in grocery stores like Publix and retail stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Eckerd.