Coppertone kids

Are tan kids a sign of parental neglect with sunscreen?

LUDWIG@HOME by Howard LudwigSunscreen use has become a ritual among most parents. So much so that suntanned toddlers can create quite a stir at the public pool, splash pad or backyard sprinkler party.

As a parent of two Coppertone kids, I’m often subject to criticism. A comment such as, “Wow, Peter is really tan” is code for, “Do you ever use sunscreen?” or “You know skin cancer is going to kill your children, right?”

Only, I do use sunscreen. A day at the beach or flying kites always begins with slathering SPF 50 all over my 3- and 5-year-old boys. I skip the sunscreen if we’re going from the house to the car, but extended periods of sun exposure always include sunscreen.

But maybe my critics are right. Maybe a tan child is a sign of insufficient sunscreen use. To find out, I called Dr. Kenneth Bielinski, a board certified dermatologist. He came recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Based on your ethnic background, you can still tan through the sunscreen,” Bielinski said.


He went on to say that people with olive color skin tend to suntan easily. These folks used to be the envy of the neighborhood before suntans were looked upon like cigarettes. Nowadays, pale skin is preferred, particularly among parents.

My kids may tan easily, but the general guidelines for sunscreen use still apply. Bielinski keyed me in to a few rules of thumb. First, he advised sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher for most parts of the continental United States. It’s also important to use sunscreen that blocks UVA as well as UVB rays (the SPF rating strictly applies to UVB rays).

He went on to say that applying SPF30 really only provides coverage on the level of SPF15. In other words, the number on the bottle is cut in half or more once applied to the skin. And sunscreen that claims to be “sweat proof” or “water proof” is bogus. These products come off slower than others, but they aren’t impervious to sweat or water.

“There is a lot of confusion from the general public about sunscreen,” Bielinski said.

Most people also apply too little sunscreen. An adult should use one ounce of sunscreen per application. Thus, a typical 8-ounce bottle of sunscreen should consist of only eight applications. Sunscreen should also be reapplied every two hours, “regardless of what the label says,” Bielinski said.

The labels on sunscreen are expected to change next year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new rules for sunscreen manufacturers last week. The changes are expected simplify the information printed on the bottle for consumers.

As far for my tan tots, it’s assuring to know their bronze bodies aren’t a cry for help. And for anyone questioning my sunscreen use, I’ve come up with a clever white lie. The next person that says, “Wow, Peter’s really tan.”

My response is going to be, “Yeah, his mother is Hispanic.”

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