Most American parents know that sunscreen is important for their children, but there are gaps in their knowledge of its proper use, a new survey finds.
The majority of the more than 1,100 parents of children aged 5 to 12 said they’ve at least sometimes used sunscreen on their kids, and that sunscreen is very important in preventing sunburns and skin cancer.
However, the survey found that 11% of parents don’t have a specific minimum sun-protection factor (SPF) they use and 3% said they don’t use sunscreen for their child.
Parents said they consider several factors in deciding whether to use sunscreen, including how long their child will be outside, what their child is wearing, their child’s complexion and skin tone, whether their child will be around water and how hot it is.
Nearly half of parents take into account whether it is a sunny or cloudy day, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan.
“Parents should be aware that UV rays from the sun can reach their children on cloudy and hazy days, not just on bright and sunny days. Children need protection, regardless of the amount of sunshine,” poll co-director and pediatrician Dr. Gary Freed said in a university news release.
The survey also found that parents decide whether to reapply sunscreen based on the situation: 81% said they’d try to reapply within two hours if their children were playing in the water, 50% if not playing in the water, 25% if it was a cloudy day, and 20% if their children were playing in shade.
“The majority of parents understand the importance of using sunscreen, but they may not always use a high enough SPF or reapply as often as they should to protect their children’s skin,” Freed said.
To be effective, sunscreen needs to be reapplied every couple of hours and even more often if children are in the water, he explained.
Parents should use broad-spectrum sunscreens with a minimum SPF of 15 to 30, and try to limit their children’s sun exposure during the peak intensity hours of between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Freed advised.
“Parents may believe their children are adequately protected from the sun but if the SPF is too low or they’re not reapplying often enough, kids are still at risk of sunburns,” he said. “Sunscreen is a key preventive tool against burns and skin cancer, but it must be used properly to be effective.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on sun safety and protection.