BONUS: How to stay safe in the sun this summer
Discovery Place Science
Few things are sweeter than summertime with kids… warm days by the pool or along an area greenway (with physical distancing and masks, of course) making memories to last the seasons of a lifetime.
But before you step into the sun’s rays there are a few things you can do to set your children up for a healthy relationship with the sun that, believe it or not, they will thank you for (one day).
Studies indicate that sun exposure in the first 10 years of life partially determine a child’s lifetime potential for skin cancer. So, in other words protecting kids from sunburn and long-term overexposure will reduce their risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
We know, we know, we know… who are these people suggesting a hat for a toddler? We can assure you, we have met many a boss baby that are none-to-keen to be donned with a hat or shading device of any kind. But a hat is a real game changer when it comes to sun protection – and not just any hat will do.
Baseball hats or visors provide little protection for the ears and cheeks and especially the back of the neck.
Look for a wide-brim or ‘bucket-style’ hat. Extra bonus points if you get one with a safety neck strap that snaps and stays in place.
Another thing that may not be top of mind is that a wide brim hat also protects kids’ eyes from UV radiation and may limit the chances of ocular cancers in the future.
The best sunscreen
Choosing the right product for kids’ skin can be overwhelming. Rather than worrying about brands there are certain ingredients you can look for when it comes to sunscreen.
Allison Hanley, PA-C at Lake Norman Dermatology in Cornelius, recommends parents look for mineral sunscreens. “These contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide with an SPF of 30 or higher,” she says.
But just as important as what’s in it, is when to apply it. Make sure to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes prior to hitting the outdoors and be sure to reapply every two hours – even if the label says every four.
Aim for sunscreen that is water resistant and look for ‘broad spectrum,’ meaning it helps ward off both UVA and UVB rays.
Remember, just like milk, sunscreen expires. And, while we are making a milk comparison, it’s also best to store your sunscreen at the correct temperature; at minimum keep containers away from excessive heat.
Dress for the occasion
The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Sunscreens may be used on infants younger than six months on small areas of skin if adequate clothing and shade are not available.”
Long sleeve rash guard shirts are recommended, and many brands incorporate sun protection into their clothes (and long sleeves often keep kids cooler).
While it’s not an either/or situation, wearing sun smart clothing helps protect kids, especially babies’ sensitive skin. It is recommended that infants younger than 12 months use sunscreen and swimwear specifically created for babies.
Also, get your kids some sunglasses to help reduce the risk of UV exposure and protect little ones’ delicate eyelids and surrounding skin. Plus, what’s cuter than a baby in sunglasses?
Timing is everything
It’s tough to juggle nap time and chart the progress of the sun’s orbit, but between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. is when UV rays are most powerful… so think about teaching your kids that the longer their shadow (meaning the sun is not directly overhead) the better the time to play outdoors.
You may also want to start checking not only the weather but also the UV levels for the day. And, remember even when you’re in the shade, like at the playground, UV rays can still reach you.
UV, me and D
Too much UV exposure and we’re talking sunburns, eye damage and potential for skin cancer. But too little and your child’s pediatrician will start throwing terms at you like ‘low vitamin D levels.’
It’s a really good conversation to have with your pediatrician because the average time of each person’s sun exposure to be beneficial is individual. It depends on your skin type, the time of year, where you are in the world and UV levels. One other thing you may want to bring up with your pediatrician is medications, as some medications may increase your child’s sensitivity to the sun.
Make it a summer to remember (for more than just the pandemic!) by using these helpful tips as jumping-off points for teaching your kids valuable lessons about taking care of their skin and staying safe in the sun for years to come.