Playing outside in the summertime is one of the wonderful perks of childhood, and it’s good for your child’s health, too.
We know there are many benefits of getting outside, breathing fresh air and having the chance to play. Exposure to natural sunlight is also recognized as a major potential source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
However, while we enjoy the outdoors, we need to make sun protection an essential part of our daily parenting routine.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage the skin in as little as 15 minutes, after all, and just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.
And because a significant amount of the sun’s damaging rays (up to 80 percent) can come through clouds or fog, sunscreen is crucial — even on overcast or chilly days.
That’s why I recommend families take the following precautions:
How to Protect Children from the Sun
- Avoid high-intensity hours: The best defense against the sun’s damaging rays is avoidance. Whenever possible, have children play in the shade and avoid exposure to the sun’s strongest rays of the day, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When in direct sunlight, protect skin with a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight, long-sleeved clothes.
- Be SPF-smart: The number found on every container of sunscreen stands for “sun protection factor.” The higher the SPF, the more protection it provides. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone, including children, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Stay on schedule: Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel. Most people don’t use enough sunscreen, so make sure to apply a generous amount. Don’t forget easy-to-miss spots like ears, the tops of the feet and parts in the hair.
- Use lotion instead of spray: While any form of sun protection is better than none, lotion generally provides a thicker and more even coating on skin, giving more protection. Spray sunscreen poses a potential risk of inhalation. It also should not be used near a flame, as it may contain flammable ingredients such as alcohol.
- Slather up no matter your skin tone: While it is true that people with dark skin are not at as great a risk of sunburn as those with lighter skin, everyone benefits from the protection of sunscreen, including the protection it offers against the risk of skin cancer.
- Keep infants covered: Babies 6 months and younger are even more susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays. The best plan for baby skin in summer — and all year round — is to avoid direct sun exposure altogether by covering up with lightweight clothing and sitting in the shade. When that isn’t possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying just a little bit of sunscreen to exposed areas such as their face and the backs of their hands.
- Use protective eyewear: Everyone’s eyes can benefit from the protection offered by sunglasses. Make sure you and, when possible, your children wear a pair with at least 99 percent protection against both UVA rays (the ones that cause spots, wrinkles and possibly skin cancer) and UVB rays (which lead to burns and skin cancer). If your child is too young or won’t wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat can protect their eyes in addition to shading their face, neck and even shoulders.
- Know what to do in case of a burn: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling your doctor promptly if your baby is younger than 1 and gets a sunburn. For older children, it’s a good idea to call if they experience pain, fever or blistering. To soothe a mild sunburn at home, the AAP recommends the following five tips:
- Give your child water or 100 percent fruit juice to replace lost fluids.
- Apply cool water to your child’s skin to relieve pain.
- Give over-the-counter pain medicine as directed/needed (acetaminophen for a baby 6 months or younger, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen for children older than 6 months).
- Only use medicated lotions if your child’s doctor says it is OK.
- Avoid any additional sun exposure until the sunburn is fully healed.
Taking simple precautions can help make fun in the sun safer for your family. Keep plenty of sunscreen and protective gear on hand and enjoy the season!
For more about making the summer happy and healthy, read:
- 6 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick in the Summer
- 5 Ways Working Parents Can Stay Connected During the Summer
- 4 Ways Summer Adventure Club Is Great for Children and Parents
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