Doctors Encouraging More Summer Screen Time for Kids During National Safe Sun Week

Doctors Encouraging More Summer Screen Time for Kids During National Safe Sun Week

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MedStar Health’s new safe sun survey shows where Americans are most likely to forget to use sunscreen.

Close up photo of a little girl's face, wearing heart sunglasses, as her mother applies sunscreen lotion to her daughter's face.

COLUMBIA, Md. – Most parents are used to hearing pediatricians discourage screen time for kids, but during National Safe Sun Week doctors are actually asking for more — sunscreen time that is! Keeping skin protected by increasing summer “screen time” is a major theme of the fourth annual National Safe Sun Week, which kicks off on Monday, May 20, and runs through Memorial Day on Monday, May 27. Each year, MedStar Health uses this week to shine a light on the critically important topic of summer sun safety, sunscreen use, and skin cancer prevention, especially for younger children.

According to MedStar Health’s newly released safe sun survey results, only 32% of respondents knew that suffering a bad sunburn as a child is more likely to lead to skin cancer than a bad sunburn in adulthood. MedStar Health conducted the national survey of 1,000 Americans to learn more about the public’s sun safety habits and test its knowledge of skin cancer risk factors and prevention strategies. According to physicians, childhood sunburns pose a greater risk because the sooner skin damage starts, the more likely it is to compound and grow more dangerous over time.

Young woman with red sunburned shoulder

“This is the one area where our kids need much more screen time,” said Allison Larson, MD, physician executive director of Dermatology for MedStar Health. “I have adult patients who spend a lot of time indoors at office jobs and they don’t understand why they are developing skin cancer now. I ask them, ‘Were you sunburned as a child?’ The answer is almost always, ‘Yes.’ This is why it’s so important that we have a plan to make sure our kids are wearing sunscreen during outdoor activities and regularly reapplying.”

Dermatologists generally recommend reapplying sunscreen every two hours for proper protection. Unfortunately, only 32% of survey respondents knew the correct timeframe and only 11% said that they “almost always” wear sunscreen on a regular basis.

A smiling little surfer girl who is having her mother put sunscreen lotion on her nose.

Especially for kids, creating a sun protection plan for the summer can help them get more sun “screen time”:

  • Apply sunscreen every day and reapply every two hours.
  • Remind them to reapply different ways, such as packing sunscreen in their lunchbox.
  • Tie putting on sunscreen to another regular habit, like eating or brushing teeth.
  • Don’t forget the most overlooked body parts: ears, neck, chest, and back of the hands.
  • Replace your sunscreen every year or sooner because it loses its effectiveness over time.
  • Ask your school or summer camp to carve out time to reapply sunscreen.

According to survey respondents, spending time by the water is a helpful sunscreen reminder. Most said sunscreen is “usually” or “always” part of their routine when swimming at the pool, visiting the beach, or boating. However, those good seaside habits do not always extend to potentially skin damaging land-based outdoor activities. Most said they only “sometimes” or “never” apply sunscreen while attending a sporting event (53%), visiting festivals or fairs (54%), running or walking (63%), or driving (77%). 

MedStar Health Sun Safe Week sunscreen awareness campaign in Ocean City, MD

“This is huge,” Dr. Larson said. “We understand that when we’re lounging by the pool or the ocean, we need to wear sunscreen. That’s the right thinking, but it can’t stop there. If a child is running around the neighborhood all day without coverage, a routine summer day playing outside might end up being much more damaging than a few hours at the beach or the pool.”

While most say they remember to use sunscreen at the beach, Dr. Larson says it’s still important that they remember to reapply regularly over the course of the beach day. To help remind them this summer, MedStar Health will again fly planes from Ocean City, Maryland, to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, carrying banners to let beachgoers know it’s time to lather up again.

Event patrons apply sunscreen provided by MedStar Health outside of M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Also, those spending time in the Maryland and Washington, D.C., area this summer should keep an eye out for MedStar Health’s sunscreen towers installed at major events across the region. If visitors forget to bring their own sunscreen, they can grab SPF 30 at the towers for free and enjoy protection from harmful ultraviolet rays.

Additional results from MedStar Health’s survey include:

  • Eight in ten respondents report being badly sunburned at least once.
  • 23% say they have been badly sunburned at least 5 times.
  • Just over half of people under age 40 know that there is no such thing as a “safe” sunburn, while 82% of people over age 40 know this to be true.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with about 80,000 to 90,000 new cases reported annually in recent years.

For more information about National Safe Sun Week, please visit

Sunscreen reminder from MedStar Health
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