Memorial Day marked the unofficial start to summer. Most swimming pools are now open, which means kids are going to be spending more time outside. This is the time of year that we need to reiterate the importance of sun protection. It only takes one episode of blistering sunburn to increase a child’s risk of future skin cancer. More than half of a person’s lifetime ultraviolet (UV) exposure typically occurs during childhood and adolescence.
Even though overexposure has negative consequences, some exposure to sunshine is important. Sunlight reacts with the skin to promote metabolism of vitamin D, which promotes metabolism of calcium. Children without sun exposure are at increased risk of developing bone disorders like rickets due to calcium deficiency. Besides, it is fun to be outside in the sun. The key is effective sun protection, which unfortunately, is practiced by less than one-third of U.S. youth.
Sun Protection Recommendations:
BABIES YOUNGER THAT 6 MONTHS are not yet protected by melanin and should avoid direct sunlight. Sunscreen should only be used on babies if protective clothing and shade aren’t available.
- Your baby should wear lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs completely, as well as a wide-brimmed hat. Also, be sure to use a carriage or stroller with a canopy or hood. If you sit outside, find a shady spot or put up an umbrella.
CHILDREN OLDER THAN 6 MONTHS should dress in cool, comfortable clothing that covers the body. Clothes with a tight weave provide better protection than a looser weave. Hats that protect the face and sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays also should be worn.
- If possible, limit sun exposure during peak intensity hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use sunscreen on your child, SPF15 or greater. Look for the UVA ‘Star’ System on the container; one is the least effective and four is the most. Remember to apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going outside so it can absorb and work optimally. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Make sunscreen part of the routine and keep it handy in your child’s locker at school or sports equipment bag.
TEENS often know tanning is unhealthy, but try it anyway because of peer pressure. Sun lamps at tanning salons emit harmful UV rays that are as much as 15 times stronger than the sun. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports laws to ban minors from going to tanning salons altogether.
- Self-tanners are an alternate option, but must always be used along with a sunscreen. Let your teen pick out a hat, swimsuit cover up and sunglasses.
PARENTS, your children are watching you. Remember your sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and sun-protective clothing. You should set a good example because you are the best teacher.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services, mercy.net.