Sun protection for kids gets more intense

If your kids get sunburned, they're not toast, you are.

Or so a new wave of sun-protection-product marketers are convincing many, particularly older and affluent, parents.

Former top sun-block-protection levels of SPF 50 seem almost outdated this summer with some new sun blocks boasting levels up to SPF 70. Special sun-blocking sunglasses for kids are high fashion this summer, as are swimwear and apparel that block sun rays. Sales of sun covers for baby strollers have quadrupled the past five years.

Sun-protection gear for kids may soon be as common as bicycle helmets, says Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Mom Central Consulting. "A kid's sunburn has become one step away from calling the department of social services."

The driver: heightened parental anxiety over the effects of sun exposure on kids. Parents worry over ozone depletion strengthening the sun's damaging rays. What's more, some baby boomers, finding out they have skin cancer, are eager to protect their kids and grandkids.

There are the stark warnings. One blistering childhood sunburn doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports. A baby's skin is thinner than an adult's, so a baby will burn far more easily, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. The risk for melanoma doubles for those who have had five or more sunburns at any age.

Marketers are responding:

•Sun block. Sun-screen giant Schering-Plough, maker of Coppertone, combined two industry trends this summer with a new, 70 SPF sun block that's in a continuous spray can. "We'll see higher and higher SPF products coming out," says Beth Lange, senior director of research and development.

•Sunglasses. Sales of Baby Banz infant and toddler sunglasses have grown threefold in five years, sales manager Patty Groder says. The $15 glasses, which have a stretchy band for a template, can help protect against glaucoma and cataracts, Groder says.

•Swimsuits and clothes. Flashy prints are big in kid swimsuits and clothing that block ultraviolet rays, says Adam Perl, president of Alex & Me (alexandme.com). Its UV-shielding clothing sales are up 50% this summer.

•Playground shades. Tall shade structures over playgrounds to protect children from the sun have become common in Texas, Arizona and Florida. The market for the giant shades, commonly steel skeletons covered in polyethylene, has tripled in five years, says Mac Viers, national sales manager at Trico USA, which makes shades.

•Stroller covers. Sales of $24 mesh stroller covers that block the sun's rays are bigger in New York City than in Florida, says Rachel Blakeman, CEO of Protect-a-Bub. For moms in Central Park, "It's almost a status symbol."

READERS: Do you feel guilty when your child gets sunburned? What do you use to keep your kids sunburn-free?

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