How to avoid burns and bites during the summertime

Most would agree that summer is the best time of year to be in Wisconsin. Boating, camping, swimming and festivals are definitely a ritual this time of year. Unfortunately, all good comes with some bad and summer is no different. If not prevented adequately, sunburns and bug bites can quickly turn into a roadblock to your summer plans. Luckily, there are safe and easy ways to ensure these issues become nothing more than a minor speed bump during this season. Following these simple preventive measures may even make your summer better!

Exposure to UV radiation

During these long, hot and sunny days, your child’s skin constantly is being exposed to harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. UV radiation is responsible for sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging. Your exposure to UV radiation can be limited by the following simple steps:

  1. Avoid being in the sun between the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  2. Wear sun protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, shirts with long sleeves, pants with long legs and sunglasses.
  3. ALWAYS wear sunscreen.

Although that last point seems to be one that most people know, it may be the one that most people get wrong. Many times this is because of misconceptions about sunscreens. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now regulates sunscreen labeling to help consumers make more informed decisions regarding which sunscreen to buy.

Sun protect factor has long been the most widely known measurement of how well a sunscreen protects you from the sun. Although SPF does measure a sunscreen’s ability to reduce your risk of sunburn, it tells you nothing about how well that sunscreen can protect you against the sun’s rays that cause skin cancer and premature aging.

The FDA will now test sunscreens to see how well they protect from the sun’s rays that cause skin cancer and premature aging. The sunscreens that pass this test will be labeled “broad spectrum” under the FDA’s regulations. Any broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater will have a label stating that this product may reduce the risk of skin cancer, premature aging and sunburn when used as directed. Until regulations are enforced, consumers should look for a sunscreen that contains one or more of the following ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or stabilized avobenzone. These ingredients have already been proved to protect against these cancer-causing rays.

To make sure you also are adequately protected from sunburn, I also recommend choosing a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or greater. A sunscreen with an SPF above 50 does not offer greater protection than an SPF 50 sunscreen, so those can be avoided. The FDA may forbid the labeling of sunscreens with an SPF greater than 50 in the future.

Using sunscreen correctly

Even though you can now easily find the best sunscreen, you need to use it correctly in order to obtain its benefits. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before exposure to sunlight and should be reapplied at least every 2 hours. Sunscreen should be reapplied more often when you are in the water or sweating. Although the new FDA regulations will forbid the labeling of sunscreens as being “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” there are some sunscreens that maintain a good level of protection in the water or when sweating. These will be labeled as being “water resistant” and will include instructions about how often they should be reapplied.

Remember, these rules and recommendations apply to everyone in the family except those under the age of 6 months. These little ones should be kept out of the sun completely!

Avoiding bug bites

Just as prevalent as the sun in summer are bugs! Bites from insects can result in infections, such as west nile virus and Lyme’s disease, allergic reactions and itching. These can be prevented in one of several ways:

  1. Avoid the peak insect hours (dusk to dawn) and insect hideouts (woods, areas of standing water and near flowering plants).
  2. Avoid scented perfumes and wear protective clothing (long pants tucked into socks, long-sleeved shirts and hats) along with insect repellent when in areas that insect exposure is expected.
  3. Check for insects on the skin after being in areas where insect exposure is expected.

The longest lasting and most commonly found insect repellents are those containing DEET and Picaridin. The higher the concentration of these chemicals, the longer they last. You should check with the manufacturer’s label to know exactly when to reapply these products.

Although both DEET and Picaridin have both been established to be safe for humans when used as instructed by the Environmental Protection Agency, many people have concerns about using such chemicals for repelling insects. There are many alternative insect repellent ingredients such as IR353, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, Soybean Oil, BioUD and Citronella. Many of these are effective at repelling insects, but may need to be reapplied more frequently. Again, I would refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to determine how best to use these products and beware that some natural ingredients have a tendency to cause skin irritation more frequently, so testing on a small area of skin before widespread use is always a good idea.

Remember, these recommendations are for both children and adults. The best way to get your children to follow these precautions is to follow them yourself!

Interested in learning more?

Our Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Clinic in New Berlin is offering a free parent health education program on Wednesday, June 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I will be joining dermatology specialist Sheila Galbraith, MD, to talk about “Avoiding Summertime Burns and Bites.”

Parents will be taught what to know about choosing a sunscreen, when and how to apply sunscreen and what to do if your child gets a sunburn. Our specialists also will share information about how to safely avoid and treat mosquito bites. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. Register at www.chw.org/parentseducation.

~ Brenda Hasse, PA-C, pediatric dermatology physician assistant, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Brenda Hasse, PA-C

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