By Dr. Paul Weiner
Now that summer is here we all enjoy spending more time outdoors and erasing the memories of
what seemed to be a never ending winter. Outdoor activities are a great way to encourage exercise
for kids and families. But with increased sun exposure we should take time to remind everyone
about the importance of sun protection. One quarter of our lifelong sun exposure occurs during the
childhood and adolescent years. We know that sunburns increase the risk of skin cancers, so let’s
review the recommendations for good sun protection to minimize the risks of skin cancer later in life.
Every blistering sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer. They are also very uncomfortable so prevention is the best plan of action.
Here are some great recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding sun protection:
Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight. Find shade under a tree, an umbrella, or the stroller canopy.
When possible, dress yourself and your children in cool, comfortable clothing that covers the body, such as lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats.
Select clothes made with a tight weave; they protect better than clothes with a looser weave. If you’re not sure how tight a fabric’s weave is, hold it up to see how much light shines through. The less light, the better.
Wear a hat with an all-around 3-inch brim to shield the face, ears, and back of the neck.
Limit your sun exposure between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when UV rays are strongest.
Wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection. Look for child-sized sunglasses with UV protection for your child.
Sunscreen can help protect the skin from sunburn and some skin cancers if used correctly, but should not be used as a reason to stay out in the sun longer. Sunscreen should be broad spectrum which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Look for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to 30. It is unclear if SPF greater than 50 offers any extra protection. Try to avoid sunscreens with the ingredient oxybenzone because of concerns about mild hormonal properties, but as a rule of thumb, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all. Consider sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide for sensitive areas such as the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears, and shoulders. These products usually stay visible on the skin even after you rub them in.
Put sunscreen on 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. This will allow enough time for it to absorb into the skin. Make sure to use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet and hands and rub it in well. Most people use too little sunscreen so make sure to apply a generous amount.
It’s best to use sunscreen whenever you or your child spend time outdoors. You can even get sunburn on cloudy days because up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can get through the clouds. Also, UV rays can bounce back from water, sand, snow, and concrete, so make sure you’re protected.
Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel.
Sunscreen can be used for babies younger than 6 months but only on small areas of the body, such as the face, if protective clothing and shade are not available.
Despite our best efforts, sunburns may occur. Here’s the best way to treat them:
Give your child plenty of fluids such as water or 100% fruit juice to replace lost fluids.
Apply cool compresses to help your child’s skin feel better.
For pain relief give your child pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Keep your child out of the sun until the sunburn is fully healed.
Call the doctor if your baby is younger than 1 year and gets sunburn. For older children, call if there is blistering, a lot of pain, or fever.
Remember, most people can sunburn no matter what their skin color is. Everyone needs to take steps to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. And finally, remember to set a good example by practicing sun safety yourself.