My kids have been desperate for warmer sunnier days so that they can get to the beach and the pool – two of their favorite activities. If ever the weather gets nicer around this town, keep in mind the importance of protecting your child’s skin from the damaging rays of the sun.
Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun can cause sunburn and significant skin damage which leads to increase risk of skin cancer – so proper protection in critical.
The first strategy is to avoid the strongest rays of the day, when the sun is at its highest overhead – typically between 10 am and 5 pm. During these hours try to stay in shaded areas as much as possible and apply sunscreen and reapply it frequently. Clouds do not filter out the sun’s harmful UV rays – so be sure children are protected even on overcast and cooler days.
Another important level of protection is covering up with appropriate clothes to shield skin. Dress kids in fabrics with a tight weave such as Lycra, natural cotton or other fabrics designed specifically to screen out UV rays. Our eyes are vulnerable to the damaging rays of the sun, which can cause burns to the cornea, and long term exposure can lead to cataracts. The most effective way to protect the eyes is wearing sunglasses that have special filters that block at least 99% of both UVA and UVB rays. Sunglasses can be fun for kids, so let them choose the color and style that they like. Hats with wide brims or umbrellas can also be helpful in providing shade.
The most important part of protection is sunscreen. The label should indicate that it is “broad spectrum” to ensure that it screens out both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be water resistant or water proof and long lasting. Water intensifies the sun’s rays so extra protection is critical. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that the sun protection factor (SPF) should be 30 or higher to adequately protect from sunburn, tanning and skin damage. Be sure to check the expiration date on the bottle. For individuals with sensitive skin – avoid sunscreens with PABA, look for ones with the active ingredient titanium dioxide instead.
Application of sunscreen
Proper application is critical for the sunscreen to do its job. Apply sunscreen whenever you or your children are in the sun. Do not skimp – use it generously. Application should be done 30 minutes prior to going outside so that it can dry and provide a good layer of protection. Rub it in well. Make sure not to forget about the lips, shoulders and back of the neck, the ears, areas behind the ears and even the bottoms of the feet. Lift up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen in case the straps shift when swimming or moving. Reapply every two hours regardless of the duration noted on the bottle. Reapply a coat of sunscreen after your kids get out of the water – even if the brand is waterproof.
In spite of our best efforts, some kids will end up with a sunburn. The skin will look red and be hot and tender to the touch. In more severe cases the child may not feel well – sometimes even having lethargy and chills. The skin that starts off being painful, can transition to being tight feeling and VERY itchy. Encourage kids not to scratch, and not to peel of the loose skin. The damaged skin underneath the burn is vulnerable to infection.
Ibuprofen, cool (not cold) bathes, and pure aloe vera gel are all effective at reducing the pain and discomfort. If the itching and swelling become more troublesome, consider over the counter diphenhydramine. Topical moisturizing creams can rehydrate the skin and relieve itching – but avoid petroleum based products which can prevent excess sweat and heat from dissipating.
Until the sunburn is healed, children should be kept in the shade so that the severity of the damage and pain is not increased by further exposure to the UV rays
The summer is a wonderful time of year when families plan lots of outdoor activities, but ending off the day with a case of sunburn can ruin it all. Make sure to protect your kids from the damaging rays of the sun. Wishing you all a fun and safe summer!