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Published on August 07, 2013

Kids' Summer Safety: Sunscreen and Insect Repellent

Dean Clinic Pediatrician, Kari Hegeman, MD has advice on lathering up your kids for the summer

As parents gear up for the action-packed, fun-filled days of summer, it is wise to remember ‘safety first’.  Many summertime safety questions for pediatricians have to do with sunscreen and insect repellents.

Sunscreen is not recommended for infants less than six months, mostly because those infants have more sensitive skin and are largely immobile so they will stay in the shade if put there, and are a bit more amenable to sun-protective clothing. After six months of age, children should liberally apply sunscreen with SPF of 15 or greater every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

Wide-brimmed hats or sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection are encouraged. Sunscreens with a higher zinc oxide component tend to be less irritating to eyes and sensitive skin.

As for insect repellent, DEET is the most effective mosquito and tick repellent, but should not be used in infants less than two months. 
Older infants and children can use DEET-containing products, avoiding hands, and face, and any irritated or broken skin.  Children should be bathed after use. Application to clothing is also a good way to avoid applying directly to skin.

The recommended concentration of DEET for children is 10-30 percent. Ten percent DEET gives about two hours of protection and 30 percent DEET gives up to five hours of protection. The safety standards do not seem to be dependent on concentration of DEET, so a good rule is to use the lowest concentration needed based on length of time of outdoor exposure.

To avoid tick-borne illnesses, however, consider spraying permethrin (an insecticide) on clothing, and DEET on skin if spending time in heavily wooded areas. Take a few minutes to inspect your child’s body each night, with attention to favorite tick spots such as the head, neck, along the hairline and behind the ears. 

Remove ticks promptly by grasping with tweezers as close to the skin as possible, pulling straight up and out without any twisting motion.  Wash the area, then, with alcohol or antiseptic.

You should call your child’s pediatrician there is any concern that it may be a deer tick, and that it may have been embedded in your child’s skin for more than a few hours. 

If your child is stung by a wasp or bee, remove the stinger with tweezers, or brush off with a blunt knife or credit card, then apply ice or cool compresses to the area. Call 911 if any difficulty in breathing is noted, with or without hives, or if your child has received multiple stings, as that scenario is higher risk for development of shock.

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