Sunny summertime: How do lotions and clothing protect against sunburn?

Sunny summertime. It’s here at last. But what do you need to know to make sure your child is protected while having fun in the sun at the park, the pool or the beach? How do lotions and clothing protect against sunburn? We’ve got the answers. 

How does the skin of children and adults differ?

Compared to adults, a child’s skin is thinner and due to the lack of melanin production babies’ skin can’t tan. They don’t have a physiological sunlight protection. Before three years of age, genetic damage caused by sunlight can’t be repaired. That’s why there’s a strict rule for babies and toddlers: never expose them to direct sunlight and always ensure they wear sunscreen. Our skin’s capacity for absorbing sunlight is often exhausted after just one minute, depending on your skin type. In addition, our skin remembers every exposure to sunrays, which add up over time.

Based on this evidence, can UV damage already be established during childhood?

Only at 15 years the skin is fully capable of complete pigmentation, which means it can tan, as a protective measure. In recent years, the number of skin cancer cases has risen considerably and is a result of increased exposure to sunlight and an increased radiation intensity in the northern hemisphere as well.

According to a study by the Hohenstein Institute (2011) more than 140.000 people in Germany are diagnosed with cancer. The majority is over 40 years old – but the reason development of carcinomas and melanomas can be found decades earlier: around 80% of sun damage develops before the age of 18. Therefore, consistent protection is necessary at any age. Good to know: UV-A radiation, the visible light and infrared light, exist all day, year-round. UV-B rays, potentially cancerous and responsible for sunburns, are worst between 11 am and 4 pm and are more or less prevalent depending on the season.

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Liposomal sun protection, titanium dioxide or a normal sunscreen: which sun protection is best – especially for my child?

We prefer a physiological sun protection that lays on top oft he skin to reflect sunrays like a mirror. It contains ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or silicates that aren’t absorbed by the skin and usually do not cause allergies – as long as the particles contained in the sun screen aren’t below a certain size.

I recommend dressing children appropriately with T-Shirts, hats with neck guard, UV-A sunglasses and ensuring that the stroller has a sun canopy with high UV protection. Kid’s clothing with UV protection is also available.

Liposomal sunscreen is the top choice amongst adults. Chemical filters enter the skin quickly and evenly, don’t stick and don’t rinse off quickly – they are water- and sweat proof, which makes them a top choice with athletes. It’s important to use the sunscreen regularly and in the correct amounts. Use 40 millilitres to cover the body, a teaspoon full of sunscreen to protect the face.

Other innovations are sunscreens with repair-enzymes and vegetable pigments. Because these permeate the skin, they are not recommended for use on infants and children.

Check your consumer association’s reviews for a list of recommended sunscreens.

Back in the 70s everyone used low SPFs, why do we use mostly 50+ today?

Our biological protection against the sun, without getting sunburned, is very short. SPF 10 or lower can be seen as an alibi. Long-term effects of a life in the sun had not been foreseeable 40 years ago. There was no data to understand the effect of UV rays on the skin.

In addition, sunscreen filter systems were unstable and less tolerated by the skin. Roughly every second person over the age of 60 suffers from long-term sun damage. We all know the visible signs of sun-related skin ageing: wrinkles, pigment spots and enlarged capillaries which are most striking where covered meets exposed skin, like the neckline, forehead, ears and forearms.

To prevent this, even young adults should apply more times a day the sun cream. It doesn’t prolong the protection but it’s important to help the skin replenish and regenerate.

Are there more myths around sun protection?

Yes, there are lots. One of them is that you don’t need sunscreen when you’re in the shade or when it’s overcast. You do, because the sun’s rays still have 40% of their strength in the shade, and 60% of their strength on a cloudy day. But the biggest myth is that tanning before a vacation protects you from getting a sunburn. The opposite is true: it actually makes sunburns on vacation more likely.

More information regarding sun protection:

UK health care on sun safety:

UK consumer report on sunscreens:

US consumer report on sunscreens:

US UV index and sun safety: