As we near the end of the school year and get ready to welcome the hot and sunny summer months, we begin spending more time outdoors with our children in the warm sun. While minimal sun exposure helps the body synthesize vitamin D in the skin, it is important to remember that too much sun exposure is not good for the body. The more time we spend outside the more we are exposing ourselves and our children to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Children especially need to be protected from the sun’s burning rays, since most sun damage occurs in childhood. In order to avoid sunburns and skin cancer we need to teach our children healthy sun safety habits at an early age.
Sun safety includes seeking shade, using protective clothing and hats, sunglasses, and applying sunscreen. It is also important to note that infant skin is different than adult skin. Babies’ skin is much thinner and is less effective in protecting their body against the sun, and chemicals in sunscreen can be harmful to infants under six months of age.
When a baby gets a sunburn, it can lead to a medical emergency such as dehydration, high fever, blisters, infections, chills, heatstroke, and an increase in their chances of later developing skin cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only using sunscreen on children 6 months and older. When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a small amount of sunscreen on infants under 6 months to small areas, such as the infant’s face and the back of the hands. If an infant gets a sunburn, apply cool compresses to the affected area.
The best sunscreens are those with an SPF of at least 30, and look for the words “broad-spectrum” on the label – it means that the sunscreen will protect against both ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A rays. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors; it needs time to work on the skin. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Sunscreen should be used for sun protection and not as a reason to stay in the sun longer.
Everyone is at risk for sunburn and it is crucial that all family members take part in using sun safe practices, while remembering to still take breaks in the shade. This will help to decrease your exposure to the harmful UV rays.
Although sometimes it may seem safer to just stay indoors during hot days of summer, being outside has been proven to improve mental health for everyone. Have fun and remember to practice sun safety all year long!