How to Protect Your Child's Skin During the Summer

From bug bites to sunburn, summer can be hard on your child's skin.




Tender skin requires tender loving care — especially in warm weather when our kids spend more time outdoors. We asked Anthony J. Mancini, M.D., a pediatric dermatologist and officer of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, for guidance on how to protect our children’s skin while having fun in the sun.

Besides the pain, why is it important to protect children against sunburns?
Dr. Anthony J. Mancini:
Simply put, they’re not healthy. Skin cancer has been linked to a history of sunburns, especially blistering ones, in the first decade of life, and the risk is cumulative over one’s lifetime. The best prevention we have for skin cancer is sun protection.

What’s the best way to prevent sunburn?
Avoid the sun when it’s at its strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, if you can. Seek shade when possible, and wear protective clothing. Apply an SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen before going outdoors. If you’re outside for long periods, remember to reapply every 1.5 to 2 hours (even products that claim to be “waterproof”). It’s important for parents to model how they apply sunscreen to their own skin since kids learn by imitating.

What should parents look for when choosing a sunscreen?
It should protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and the SPF should be at least 30. For children with sensitive skin, there may be less chance of irritation with a “chemical-free” sunscreen, which usually contains a physical blocker like zinc oxide.

What about insect bites—what offers the best protection there?
Insect repellent with DEET concentration between 10 and 20 percent for children over 2 months of age. (It’s not recommended for younger infants.) When applying it to your child’s skin, avoid hands, fingers, and areas near the mouth. Be sure to rinse off with soap and water before bed.

How can parents ease the itch of an insect bite?
You can apply hydrocortisone to the affected areas 2 to 3 times daily. An over-the-counter oral antihistamine may also be helpful.

What does heat rash look like and how should it be treated?
Heat rash presents as small red dots and bumps. It may be mildly itchy, but it resolves over a day or two on its own if your child stays cool. If your baby has heat rash, avoid application of creams or lotions to the skin, as this will only make the process worse.

What other skin problems do you tend to see during the summer?
Ringworm is a common fungal infection that comes in different forms, including athlete’s foot. To help prevent it and plantar warts, have kids wear flip-flops when walking around the pool or using public showers.
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