Burned by the sun

I think we’ve all been burned by the sun at least once in our lives. Being fair-skinned (though thankfully not nearly as bad as this poor woman), I’ve also been unlucky enough to receive severe sunburns. Twice.

The first time was during the summer following 3rd grade during a summer camp trip to the beach in San Diego, CA. Despite putting on sunscreen initially, I didn’t follow the directions properly, never reapplied it, and ended up with moderate to severe sunburns over my arms, legs, and neck. The second time was during a parade in 8th grade in which I put sunscreen on my arms and legs, but failed to do so on my neck, face, and ears. Those burns blistered and were painful for, if I recall correctly, close to two weeks, and took almost three weeks to completely go away.

And I’ve been heavily burned by the sun on other occasions. Let’s just say that now, in my mid-30s, I keep a very close eye on anything on my skin for early signs of skin cancer.

So I can certainly relate to the story of a 3 year-old boy who suffered severe sunburns even despite his mother applying and reapplying sunscreen. The sunscreen in question, based on the news report, is Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free Sting-Free Continuous Lotion Spray Sunscreen, SPF 50+.

Now there’s something else about this story that needs to be pointed out. The child was at the beach off Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Eastern Shore is at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula surrounded on the west by the Chesapeake Bay, and the east by the Atlantic Ocean. That means the child was playing in surf and salt water.

Yes, that little detail is extremely important.

It has, for as long as I can remember, been recommended that you reapply sunscreen at least twice as often as recommended if you’re in salt water and surf unless you are using a sunscreen specifically formulated for salt water. This means if you have a sunscreen that is “water resistant up to 80 minutes”, which is what the Banana Boat sunscreen in question states, you reapply it every 40 to 45 minutes when playing in salt water, and no less frequently than every hour regardless of whether you’re in salt or fresh water.

Sweat-resistant sunscreens (typically labeled as “sport” sunscreens, but it should say “sweat-resistant” on the label) can withstand salt water a little better, but you should still reapply it more frequently than the label states — about every hour if not more often, every 45 minutes to be safe.

Bear in mind, as well, that no sunscreen is perfect. And even if you follow the directions, there may still be some variables that mean you still get burned. For example, if you don’t reapply the sunscreen properly or often enough (it’s easy to forget or misjudge when you last reapplied), or get adequate coverage on the areas that will be exposed to the sun.

So just pay attention to when and how you apply and how often you reapply the sunscreen, and you should be fine, and any sunburns you do get should be mild and infrequent. Avoid spray sunscreens and stick with lotions, since it is easier to get adequate coverage with lotions.