A Day in the Sun

While it may not be a smart idea for Olaf, it’s good for children and adults to spend time playing and exercising outdoors.  It’s important to protect our skin while enjoying time in the sun. While those with darker skin coloring tend to be less sensitive to the sun, everyone is at risk for sunburn and its associated disorders. Children especially need to be protected from the sun’s burning rays, since most sun damage occurs in childhood. Like other burns, sunburns leave the skin, red, warm, and painful. In severe cases it may cause blistering, fever, chills, headache, and general feeling of illness.

Your child does not actually have to be burned, however, in order to be harmed by the sun. The effects of exposure build over the years, so that even moderate exposure during childhood can contribute to wrinkling, toughening, freckling, and even cancer of the skin in later life. Also, some medications can cause skin reaction to sunlight, and some medical conditions may make people more sensitive to the sun.

Some people assume the sun is dangerous only when it’s shining brightly. In fact, it’s not the visible light rays bur rather the invisible UV rays that are harmful. Your child may be exposed to more UV rays on foggy or hazy days when it’s more tolerable to stay outdoors for longer periods of time. Even a big hat or an umbrella is not absolute protection because UV rays reflect off sand, water, snow, and many other surfaces.

Special consideration for babies:

A baby’s skin is more delicate and thinner than an adults and burns and irritates more easily. Even dark-skinned babies may be sunburned. Babies cannot tell you if they are too hot or beginning to burn and cannot get out of the sun without an adult’s help. Babies also need an adult to dress them properly and to apply sunscreen.

  • Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct and indirect sunlight because of the risk of heat stroke. Particularly, avoid having a baby out between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Keep babies in the shade as much as possible- under a tree, umbrella, or stroller canopy. It’s important to note that an umbrella or canopy may reduce UV ray exposure by only 50%.
  • Dress babies in lightweight cotton clothing with long sleeves and long pants and a sun hat with a wide brim.
  • In general, it is not recommended that babies under 6 months use sunscreen except for small areas of skin uncovered by clothing or hats.
  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to heading outside. No sunscreens are truly waterproof, and thus they need to be reapplied every one and a half to two hours, particularly if a baby goes into the water.

Simple rules to protect your family from sunburns:

  • 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 the see how much light shines through. The less light, the better. Or you can look for protective clothing labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF).
  • 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.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • May sure everyone in your family knows how to protect his or her skin and eyes. Remember to set a good example by practicing sun safety yourself.


Sunscreen can help protect the skin from sunburn and some skin cancers but only if used correctly.

How to Pick a Sunscreen

  • Use a sunscreen that says “broad spectrum” on the label; that means it will screen out both UVB and UVA rays
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15-30. More research studies are needed to test if sunscreen with a SPF > 50 offers any extra protection.
  • If possible, avoid the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone because of concerns about mild hormonal properties.
  • For sensitive areas of the body, such as the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears, and shoulders, choose a barrier sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These products stay more visible on the skin even after you rub them in, and come in fun colors that children enjoy.

How to Apply Sunscreen

Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands, and even backs of the knees. Rub it in well.

Put sunscreen on 15-30 minutes prior to going outside to give it plenty of time to be absorbed by the skin.

Use sunscreen any time you or your child spend time outdoors. Remember that you can get sunburn even 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.

Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Because most people use too little sunscreen, make sure to apply a generous amount.

Treating a sunburn

The signs of sunburn usually appear 6-12 hours after exposure, with the greatest discomfort during the first 24 hours. If your child’s burn is just red, warm, and painful you can treat is yourself by doing the following:

  • Give your child water to replace fluid losses
  • Use cool compresses to help your child’s skin feel better.
  • Give your child pain medicine to relieve painful sunburns.
  • Only use medicated lotions if your child’s doctor says it’s okay. Aloe Vera can be cooling to mildly burnt skin.
  • Keep your child out of the sun until the sunburn is fully healed.

If your baby is younger than 1 year and gets sunburn, call your baby’s doctor right away. For older children, call your child’s doctor if there is blistering, pain, or fever. Severe sunburn must be treated like any other serious burn, and if its’ very extensive, hospitalization sometimes is required. In addition, the blisters can become infected, requiring treatment with antibiotics. Sometimes extensive or sever sunburn also can lead to dehydration and, in some cases fainting (heat stroke). Such cases need to be examined by your pediatrician or the nearest emergency room.