Sun Smart: Safety Tips for Parents and Kids

In moderation, sunlight is healthy. It’s a great source of vitamin D, for example, and it gets kids out of the house for plenty of good exercise.

But too much sun can have serious health consequences. It takes only 15 minutes for unprotected skin to be damaged by the sun’s rays.

Even a minor sunburn is painful, but a bad sunburn is truly miserable. It can also have implications on health many years down the road. “Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life,” warns the Centers For Disease Control.

Here are some tips to enjoy the sun safely:

SEEK SHADE

The sun’s ultraviolet rays are the strongest and most harmful during the midday, so try to plan indoor activities during that time. If your child does play outside during the hottest part of the day, be sure there is plenty of shade nearby, and that they seek its shelter most of the time.

WEAR PROTECTIVE CLOTHING

You can also protect the skin with long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and long skirts. Darker clothes provide more protection than lighter ones.  For a bit more cost, parents can purchase clothing with SPF and UV protection.  However, wearing clothes with built-in sun protection doesn’t mean you get to skimp on the sunscreen.  Be sure to follow the care instructions for the garment so it retains its sun-protecting power for as long as possible.

And don’t forget about protecting the head! An appropriate hat does the job very well, but baseball caps don’t do much good. Find a hat with a brim that goes all the way around the head, so that it shades the scalp, face, ears and neck.  A minimum 3-inch brim recommended. The ears are a common place for skin cancers to appear later in life because they often get overlooked when applying sunscreen or choosing sun protection.

The eyes can also be damaged by UV rays, so be sure that your child wears sunglasses. Check the label for information on the level of UV protection that it provides. You want as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.

DON’T GET A TAN!

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid harming the skin is to avoid deliberately lying in the sun or in a tanning bed. Tanning remains very popular, but tanned skin is damaged skin, and it should be strongly discouraged.

ALWAYS USE SUNSCREEN

Choose a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and UVA and UVB (broad spectrum). For the best protection, apply it 30 minutes before going outdoors. In addition to arms, shoulders and legs, remember to put it on ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet.  Check out the Environmental Working Group for environmental and human friendly brands at ewg.org.

SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS FOR INFANTS

A baby’s skin is more delicate and thinner than an adult’s skin, and therefore it burns and irritates more easily.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants avoid sun exposure. They should be dressed in lightweight cotton clothing with long sleeves and long pants, plus a sun hat with a wide brim that shades the neck to prevent sunburn.

Due to the risk of heat stroke, babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct and indirect sunlight. The shade of a tree, beach umbrella, or stroller canopy will suffice.

When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 30 SPF (sun protection factor) to small areas, such as the infant’s face and the back of the hands. For babies younger than 6 months, sunscreen may be applied to small areas of skin uncovered by clothing and hat. Be sure to cover all exposed areas of a baby’s skin, including the face, back of the hands, back of the neck, tips of the ears, and tops of the feet.

If an infant gets a sunburn, apply cool compresses to the affected area.