We love sunny days and wish they would never end. However, a long day of unprotected sun exposure can lead to severe sunburn. Sun exposure puts people at risk for skin cancer and premature aging. Most of sun exposure comes during childhood (80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure occurs before they are 21). However, simple measures and common sense lower the risk of skin cancer by almost 78%.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe
Clothing and Fabric Barriers
- Wear protective clothing , including a hat and long sleeve shirt and long pants. Keep in mind that most clothing only has a SPF of 5-9, so you can still get sun damage with a shirt on.
- Limit exposure to the sun when it is at its strongest (10am-4pm). When at the beach, lake or a sunny park, bring along an umbrella or pop-up tent. Or call ahead to find out if these places offer rentals of such items.
Sunscreen Lotions and Sprays
- Use sunscreen daily, even if it is cloudy, since most of the sun’s radiation penetrates clouds and can still cause sunburn.
- There are sunscreens that are safe for children over six months. Choose a sunscreen that offers UVA and UVB protection (referred to as “broad-spectrum” sunscreen) . Use a sunscreen that has a Sun Protect Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply to all exposed skin, especially children’s lips, faces, noses, ears, shoulders, feet, behind the neck, and hands. Apply under bathing suit straps in case the straps shift as your child moves.
- All children need extra sun protection regardless of their skin tone. Darker skin tans more easily than it burns, but tans are also a sign of sun damage . Dark-skinned children can also develop painful sunburns. Use SPF 15 or higher on all children.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun. Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours. Apply thickly, don’t scrimp.
- If your child will be in or near water, use a waterproof sunscreen. Water reflects and intensifies the sun’s rays. Waterproof sunscreens can last up to 80 minutes in the water. Reapply sunscreen when kids come out of the water.
- Consider using a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These physically blockthe sun’s radiation if your child has sensitive skin. To avoid possible skin allergy, avoid sunscreens with PABA.
- Deet , the insect repellent, lowers the effectiveness of sunscreens, so use a higher SPF if you are using a combination product that has both a sunscreen and an insect repellant.
Sun damage to the eye may result in a burned cornea, the clear membrane that covers the eye. Exposure over many years can lead to cataracts later in life. Cataracts cloud the eye and lead to blindness. Sunglasses are the best way to prevent eye damage from the sun. Buy sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection. Most children do not like wearing sunglasses. Let children chose a style they like. Set an example for your child by wearing sunglasses yourself.
Be aware that some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. The medication may cause sunburn to develop in a matter of minutes. Antibiotics or acne medicines make the skin sensitive to sunburn. The best prevention is covering up and staying indoors because even the strongest sunscreen may not offer enough protection. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your child is taking medication.
What Should Children Know About Sun Safety?
Infants and Babies
Infants’ delicate and undeveloped skin burns more easily than that of older kids. Do not apply sunscreen to babies under 6 months of age. Keep them out of the sun. If your infant must be in the sun, dress the infant in clothing that covers the body, and hats with wide brims to shadow the face. Use an umbrella to create shade.
Toddlers and Older Children
Especially in summer and in tropical climates, children need to:
- Wear a hat to keep the sun out of their eyes.
- Wear clothes that cover their arms and legs.
- Ask a parent (or other caregiver) to help them put on sunscreen.
General First Aid Guidelines for Sunburn and Heat-Related Illness
Sunburn often develops after a long day at the beach or park. The child seems fine during the day, but an “afterburn” develops later that evening. The afterburn is often painful and hot. The child may feel sick with chills. Sunburn skin is dry, itchy, and tight. Burned skin peels about a week after the sunburn. Tell your child not to scratch or peel off loose skin because skin underneath the sunburn is vulnerable to infection.
If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Tell your child not to scratch, pop, or squeeze the blisters, which can bring on an infection and scarring.
If your child does get sunburned:
- Have your child take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.
- Aloe vera gel relieves sunburn pain and helps skin heal quickly. Apply pure aloe vera gel (available in most pharmacies or taken directly from within the leaves of the plant) to any sunburned areas.
- For pain, give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Use spray on over-the-counter “after-sun” pain relievers. (Never give aspirin to children or teens.)
- For the most severely burned areas, apply a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone cream to reduce swelling and to moisten the skin. (Do not use petroleum-based products, because they prevent excess heat and sweat from escaping. Avoid first-aid products that contain benzocaine, which may cause skin irritation or allergy.)
- Keep your child in the shade until the sunburn heals. Sunburn on top of sunburn increases the severity of the burn and the increases the pain.
Fainting from heat, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are serious. These heat-related illnesses occur when kids become overheated and dehydrated and are often accompanied by sunburn.
Get your child out of the sun/heat immediately.
- Gently apply cool compresses to the skin.
- Have the child sip cool water or suck ice very slowly.
Call your child’s doctor if:
- your child has an unexplained fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- the sunburned skin looks infected
- your child has trouble looking at light (This may indicate a sunburn of the eye’s cornea.)
Contact your child’s doctor for immediate assistance if your child has:
After treatment is administered, your child will most likely make a full recovery. In the event your child becomes ill, go to the hospital emergency room or contact your doctor.
Have the phone number for your own family doctor handy.
Learn how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.
Use common sense at all times.
Where to Get Help and More Information
If the child is unconscious, not breathing, or has collapsed, this is an emergency.
The American Cancer Society has a wealth of information about sun safety. Test your sun safety knowledge. Take the Sun Safety IQ-Test http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/
This site has lots of information about sun safety for kids: http://www.nsc.org/ehc/sunsafe.htm
Find Today’s UV Index For Your City/Town
Have Emergency Numbers handy. Print out and fill in the Emergency Numbers Sheet that follows the Ten Helpful Hints. Hang it near or behind your front door. Make sure your children, babysitters, and neighbors know where it is.
Before You Go Out in the Sun
10 Helpful Hints :
- Call the beach or park to check on weather conditions. Find out if the facility rents umbrellas, tents, or portable cabanas before you leave. Or bring your own.
- Pack sunscreen that has an SPF 15 or higher. If you will be around or near water, pack a waterproof sunscreen.
- For infants under 6-months, have an umbrella, hat, and other fabric barriers. Never apply sunscreen to children under 6 months of age.
- Pack hats and fabric barriers such as long sleeve shirts, socks, and trousers for yourself and your children if you plan to be out in the sun all day. Even the strongest sunscreen provides only so much protection.
- Pack UVA/UVB approved sunglasses for everyone in the family. Wear them and make sure all family members’ eyes are protected from the sun.
- If you are using sunscreen with DEET, make sure the SPF factor is higher if it is a combination product. DEET lessens the potency of the sunscreen.
- Bring a sun block such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These thick white creams physically block out the sun.
- Bring aloe vera gel/spray or other cooling first aid item in case of sunburn.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to apply to ears, back of neck, back of knees, feet, and shoulders.
- Use common sense about sun exposure. Remember a tan is a sign of the skin damage. Be satisfied with a tinge of color. Taking care now will result in a lifetime of young-looking and healthy skin.