Posted by Marianne Frederick
Summer begins next week. Many schools are already out, and families are beginning to take advantage of the warmer weather with vacations, outdoor activities, and having fun in the sunshine! Sunlight is good for most of us in small doses. It helps maintain good attitudes and gives us the Vitamin D to promote the absorption of calcium we get from food and dairy products that strengthens our bones. And while going to the beach and lying out in the sun may sound like a tempting idea, as parents and caregivers we need to be very careful of young children’s exposure to the sun.Not only can over-exposure and repeated sunburns cause discomfort in the present (and wrinkles in later life), but repeated burning by the sun can create skin conditions that are a precursor to skin cancer.
Infants’ and young children’s skin burns quicker than older children and adults’ skin. In young children with fair and sensitive skin, parents need to be especially alert to the possibility of sunburn. Parents also need to pay strict attention to the amount of exposure to the sun children with darker skin receive as the effects of sun burning cannot always be observed at first glance. Children who have light-colored eyes and hair, moles on the skin or a history of skin cancer in their family are at a greater risk for the kind of sun damage that can cause skin cancer. Severe sunburn can happen to any child (or adult) who receives too much exposure to the sun, and bad or repeated sunburn can cause blistering of the skin, swelling, pain and discomfort as with any burn. Parents and caregivers need to be careful to limit young children’s exposure to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B rays (UVB). Here are a few tips to keep kids’ time in the sun safe and fun:
- Limit young children’s exposure to the sun by bringing them inside when the sun is strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and encouraging them to play inside or in the shade when possible;
- Before children go out in the sun, make sure to apply sun screen amply on areas of the skin that are exposed: Noses, cheeks, chins, tops of ears, foreheads, shoulders, arms, hands, backs of necks and backs, legs, ankles and feet. Repeated applications are often necessary when kids get wet. And don’t forget those areas that aren’t used to being exposed… like tummies!
- If you don’t know what kind of sunscreen to use, checking with your pediatrician who knows your child’s skin type is a good idea. (Read the labels and know the ingredients in a sunscreen. Pay attention to the ingredients if your child has any other skin conditions or allergies!)
- When you know your child is going to be out in the sun, you may want to dress them in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing with longer sleeves, so some of their skin at least is covered. If clothing is “see-through”, the sun’s rays can get through, so the less skin you can see, the greater protection their clothing will be.
- Putting a hat or cap on an infant’s or young child’s head will help keep a child’s scalp from burning and it’s good if a cap has a wide brim or sunviser to shade their eyes;
- If you live near the equator where the sun’s rays are strong or at a high altitude where the air is thin, your child will need more protection from the sun’s rays.
- For children 5 years old and under, sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher is better protection in a sunscreen–but to make sure of the best SPF for your child, check with your pediatrician.
No matter where you are under the sun, keep young children’s sun exposure to a minimum when possible and have a great summer!