We’re a repeat Angels family, and are now caring for our 3rd foster baby, after adopting the 2nd. We also have an 8-year-old son. Given all this “mom” experience, my question may seem strange, and I’m a bit embarrassed about it.
Our newest baby is the first African-American child we’ve cared for. Summer’s on the way, and I’ve always been very careful to make sure my little ones are well protected from the sun. I usually apply a good sun block before they go outside to play, and re-apply if we’re outside for a longer time.
Should I do the same for our new little one? Does her skin need the same attention? A neighbor told me that African-American skin doesn’t burn – is that true? I want to do the right thing, but I feel silly slathering her with protection she doesn’t need.
Puzzled in Point Loma
That is a great question, and I’m sure you have lots of company wondering about how various skin types respond to sun protection. First, I want to offer a round of applause for your sun vigilance. You’re a great example for moms everywhere, and you get today’s Dr. Mama award. Good for you!
Melanin is the skin pigment that determines whether your skin is light or dark. It is also the first defense against the sun because it absorbs dangerous UV rays before they do serious skin damage. The lighter a person’s natural skin color, the less melanin it has to absorb UV and protect itself. The darker a person’s natural skin color, the more melanin it has to protect itself. BUT, both dark and light skinned kids need protection from UV rays because any tanning or burning causes skin damage.
Your little gal has more melanin than her lighter-skinned siblings, so her risk of sunburn and skin cancer is lower, but it’s not zero and she still needs protection.
You don’t mention her age, but it’s important to note that infants under 6 months have thinner, more sensitive skin and sunscreen is NOT recommended. In these early months, protective clothing and a hat that shades the entire face and neck is the way to go.
For all kids 6 months and older, select an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher to prevent both sunburn and tanning. Choose a sunscreen that says on the label that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. To avoid possible skin allergy, stay away from sunscreens with PABA, and if your child has sensitive skin, look for a product with the active ingredient titanium dioxide (a chemical-free block).
Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before the kids go outside so that a good layer of protection can form. Don’t forget about lips, hands, ears, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Use a waterproof formula, if possible. It will stay put when kids are swimming, and won’t be washed away by sweat. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that all children — regardless of skin tone — wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. And, of course, reapply often.
Don’t forget eye protection! Sun exposure damages eyes, too. It may be hard to get your kiddos to keep those sunglasses on, but if you start young and be persistent it becomes a habit like anything else. If you treat sun protection like seatbelts – non-negotiable – your kids will see it that way, too.