With many families enjoying and participating in outdoor summer activities, it is important to take the appropriate precautions to protect children from the potentially harmful effects of exposure to the sun. Although we all need some sun exposure to provide Vitamin D – which helps our bodies absorb calcium for stronger and healthier bones – it doesn’t take a lot of time in the sun to reap this benefit.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. It may, however, take up to 12 hours to see the full effect of these rays on the skin, like tanning, burning and other skin damage.
Skin that may look a little pink today may appear quite burned the next day.
Childhood sunburns are a risk factor for skin cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just a few serious sunburns during childhood can more than double the chance of developing melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer that can potentially lead to death.
In addition to the development of skin cancer, years of overexposure puts children at risk for eye damage, including cancer of the eye or eyelid; cataracts or clouding of the eye lens; and macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in adults.
Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to the sun’s rays, because the lens of their eyes are immature and unable to filter UV light as adults are able to. Although the greatest risk for sunburn is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the greatest risk of damaging the eyes is from 8 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., at which times the eyes receive almost twice the amount of UV light than during the mid-day hours.
Don’t be fooled by cloudy, cool or overcast days. Clouds will not filter out UV rays, which travel through the clouds and reflect off water, sand and even concrete. While windy days may keep the skin feeling cool, it will often have children unaware that they are developing sunburns.
The right precautions today can markedly decrease your child’s risk of developing a suppressed immune system, skin and eye damage, in addition to the development of skin cancer.
To reduce your child’s exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays:
Avoid the strongest rays of the day.
They are most harmful during midday hours.
Wear clothes made from tightly woven fabrics that offer the best protection from UV rays. Whenever possible, it is best to wear lightweight long sleeve shirts, long pants and skirts, in addition to wide brim hats that shade the face, scalp, ears and neck. Although popular, baseball caps do not protect the ears and neck, which should therefore be protected with sunscreen. Darker colors may actually offer more protection than lighter colors and a dry T-shirt is better than a wet one.
Encourage shade activities.
Play under a tree, an umbrella, or tent to help decrease exposure to strong UV rays.
Wear sunglasses. They will protect your and your children’s eyes from harmful UV rays. Bright summer days at the beach, surfing and sailing pose the highest risk for kids, as sand and water will reflect UV light. Exposure can cause photokeratitis – sunburn of the eye – which can lead to a temporary loss of vision. Experts recommend sunglasses that wrap around, fit tight to the face and block out as close to 100 percent of UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the eye, and UVB rays, which affect the cornea and lens. Sunglasses with straps are better for younger children to help keep them on.
Use sunscreen consistently. Apply 30 minutes before going outside. A generous amount – one ounce – of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays is recommended. Remember to apply sunscreen to hands, feet, shoulders, ears and behind the neck. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and sooner if sweating, swimming or exercising. Avoid sunscreens with PABA, which can cause skin allergies. Use a lip balm with SPF of 30 to protect lips.
Check Medications. Some medications can increase sensitivity to UV rays, especially some antibiotics and acne medications. Some over-the-counter medicines can also cause an increased risk of severe sunburn. It is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist if taking medications.
It is important to be Sun Safe and take the necessary precautions to reduce exposure from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Children learn by watching their parents and other adults, so remember to be a good role model, use protective measures and help children develop healthy habits that will enhance their lives in years to come.