Did you know that by age 18, most teenagers have already accumulated 50% – 80% of their lifetime sun exposure? That’s one reason why it’s vitally important for parents to help ensure that their children are taking appropriate sun safety precautions. This Spring and Summer, you can help protect the health of your children by following some basic sun safety tips for kids, provided here courtesy of KidsHealth.Org:
"Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day
Avoid being in the sun for prolonged times when it’s highest overhead and therefore the strongest (normally from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM in the northern hemisphere). If your child is in the sun between these hours, as many kids are, be sure to apply protective sunscreen – even if he or she is just playing in the backyard. Most sun damage occurs as a result of incidental exposure during day-to-day activities, not at the beach.
Even on cloudy, cool, or overcast days, UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, and even concrete. Clouds and pollution don’t filter out UV rays, and they can give a false sense of protection. This "invisible sun" can cause unexpected sunburn and skin damage. Often, kids are unaware that they’re developing a sunburn on cooler or windy days because the temperature or breeze keeps skin feeling cool on the surface.
One of the best ways to protect your family from the sun is to cover up and shield skin from UV rays. Ensure that clothes will screen out harmful UV rays by placing your hand inside the garments and making sure you can’t see your hand through them.
Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, their skin burns more easily than that of older kids. But sunscreen should not be applied to babies under 6 months of age, so they absolutely must be kept out of the sun whenever possible. If your infant must be in the sun, dress him or her in clothing that covers the body, including hats with wide brims to shadow the face. Use an umbrella to create shade.
Even older kids need to escape the sun. Long exposure can make them feel tired and irritable. For all-day outdoor affairs, bring along a wide umbrella or a pop-up tent to play in. If it’s not too hot outside and won’t make your child even more uncomfortable, you can have him or her wear a light long-sleeved shirt and/or long pants. Before heading to the beach or park, call ahead to find out if certain areas offer rentals of umbrellas, tents, and other sun-protective gear.
Use Sunscreen Consistently
There are lots of good sunscreens available for kids, including formulations for sensitive skin, brands with fun scents like watermelon, long-lasting waterproof and sweat-proof versions, and easy-application varieties in spray bottles.
What matters most in a sunscreen is the degree of protection from UV rays it provides. When faced with the overwhelming sea of sunscreen choices at drugstores, concentrate on the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) numbers on the labels.
The SPF number tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning if you apply the sunscreen, which acts as a "block" to the sun’s rays (hence the term sunblock). For example, if your child would burn after 20 minutes of sun exposure, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 gives him or her 15 times the protection.
For kids age 6 months and older, select an SPF of 15 or higher to prevent both sunburn and tanning. Choose a sunscreen that states on the label that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays (referred to as "broad-spectrum" sunscreen). To avoid possible skin allergy, avoid sunscreens with PABA, and if your child has sensitive skin, look for a product with the active ingredient titanium dioxide (a chemical-free block).
For sunscreen to do its job, it must be applied correctly. Be sure to:
- Use sunscreen whenever your child will be in the sun.
- Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before going outside so that a good layer of protection can form. Don’t forget about lips, hands, ears, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Lift up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them (in case the straps shift as your child moves).
- Don’t try to stretch out a bottle of sunscreen; as a guide, apply the sunscreen generously.
- Reapply sunscreen often, approximately every 2 to 3 hours, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Reapply after your child is sweating or swimming.
- Apply a waterproof sunscreen if your child will be around water or will go swimming. Water reflects and intensifies the sun’s rays, so kids need protection that lasts. Waterproof sunscreens may last up to 80 minutes in the water, and some are also sweat- and rub-proof. But, regardless of the waterproof label, be sure to reapply sunscreen when kids come out of the water.
Purchase Protective Eyewear for Kids
Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Even 1 day in the sun can result in a burned cornea (the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye). Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life (clouding of the eye lens, which results in blindness). The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses.
Not all sunglasses provide the same level of ultraviolet protection; darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick the eyes into a false sense of safety. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring that they provide 100% UV protection.
Not all children enjoy wearing sunglasses, especially the first few times. To encourage kids, let them select a style they particularly like; many manufacturers make fun, multicolored glass frames or frames embossed with cartoon characters. And don’t forget that kids want to be like grown-ups. If you wear sunglasses regularly, your kids may be willing to follow your example.
Ask About Your Child’s Medication
Some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. As a result, even kids with skin that tends not to burn easily can develop a severe sunburn in just minutes when taking certain medications. Fair-skinned children, of course, are even more vulnerable. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the prescription (especially antibiotics and acne medications) and over-the-counter medications your child is taking can increase sun sensitivity. If so, always take extra sun precautions. The best protection is simply covering up or staying indoors; even sunscreen can’t always protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications."
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