It’s summertime, and if you have kids this probably means a lot more time in the sun. From parks to pools, backyards to beaches, your children will romp around in the sun all day if they are given the chance. While you know that sun exposure without protection isn’t a good idea, you don’t want to keep your kids from enjoying their summer. There are many things you can do to protect your kids while still allowing them to have their summertime fun. Read on to find out how to protect that sweet, soft skin so it stays healthy and sunburn free.
As a parent, you know that your job is to protect your kids, especially when they don’t know how to protect themselves. This is true for sun damage. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles their chance of getting melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) later in life. Sun damage is cumulative, starting with your first sunburn. The more sun damage and sunburns you get, the higher your risk of developing skin cancer. Even tans aren’t healthy -- they are the skin’s way of trying to protect itself through the production of extra melanin (the skin’s pigment). Your child’s tender skin is especially sensitive to injury from the sun. While making your child wear extra clothing, take play breaks, and apply sunscreen repeatedly takes extra work, it is highly worth the effort. Think of it as an investment in their future -- inconvenient early on, but with big payoffs later. Plus you’re teaching them good habits that they can carry into their later years of adolescence and adulthood.
The best protection from sun damaged skin is no sun exposure. While this may not be realistic for many of your summertime activities, you can create or find shade for portions of your outside time. Go to the park or playground at a time of the day when there is shade in the play areas. If the play area is in the sun, have your kids take water and shade breaks throughout their playtime. If you’re going to the beach or another location outside where there isn’t available shade, make your own! There are many products on the market that make comfortable areas of shade for your family -- popup tents, large umbrellas, portable canopies. Find one that is easy to put up and large enough to accommodate your family. And when you come back from the beach, you can set up your shade tent in your backyard or on the side of a field during summer sports.
The sun tends to be the strongest from 10 am to 2 pm, especially from noon to 2. If you can plan your activities to be before and after that window of time, you will be avoiding the most dangerous time for sun exposure. This time window is a great time to take a break and eat lunch and rest before going back into the sun. If your kids have to be in the sun between 10 and 2, be especially diligent about applying sunscreen and taking some shade breaks.
It can be difficult to get kids to wear hats and extra clothing. But this kind of protective clothing is an important way to protect your child’s skin. And if you set the expectation early on that your children will wear protective clothing when in the sun, they will be more likely to accept this as their normal routine. As much as possible, have your children wear long sleeves and long pants. You can buy bathing suits with long sleeved tops that allow your kids to feel they are still wearing a bathing suit while also being protected from the sun’s rays. Have your kids wear large-brimmed hats whenever they are in the sun, whether you’re at the park or in the sand. If your kids are old enough, have them also wear sunglasses that protect against UV rays. Eyelid cancer is more prevalent than you would think. Dark and brightly colored fabric tends to do a better job of sun protection, as does tightly woven material. You can hold a piece of clothing up to the sun to see how well it does with sun protection -- if you see light coming through, then UV rays are going to penetrate the fabric. Wet t-shirts offer much less protection than dry clothing. Look for the UPF (ultraviolet protective factor) label on swimwear for your children to ensure they will be getting good protection. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a UPF of at least 30.
Make sure to lather up your kids before they hit the sun. You should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. While both mineral (or physical) and chemical sunscreens work well to protect the skin, many recommend mineral sunscreens for kids because they tend to be better for children’s sensitive skin. Your child can also immediately get in the sun with mineral sunscreen, whereas you need to wait around 15 minutes for a chemical sunscreen to be absorbed into the sun and become effective. Spray sunscreens may be easier to apply on squirmy children, but it is harder to know that you are getting enough sunscreen in the spray form. If you are going to use a spray sunscreen, make sure to spray enough on that your child’s skin is glistening. And you’ll probably want a lotion sunscreen for the face, ears, and parts of the hair. Don’t forget to cover the areas where the clothing might creep up. And re-apply, re-apply, re-apply -- at least every 2 hours and after time in the water. Most people don’t use enough sunscreen. An adult should expect to apply enough sunscreen to fit into a shot glass. Figure out the relative body size of your child as compared to an adult body and apply that much.
Don’t let your guard down on cool or cloudy days. UV rays still penetrate clouds and can do a lot of damage to unprotected skin. It’s the UV rays, not the temperature that harms the skin. Use all of the same protective measures you would on a sunny and/or hot day.
If you start seeing pink on your child’s skin, pull them out of the sun immediately. It takes up to 12 hours for the skin to show the extent of sun damage. So a little pink on your child’s skin today could mean a full blown sunburn tomorrow.
Contact Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. The board-certified dermatologists at Vanguard offer expert advice and treatment for sun protection and any other skin care need you and your family have.