Some sun exposure is healthy for kids – but how much is too much?
A little sun can be healthy – and now is the time to enjoy all the great outdoor activities. Sunlight enables the skin to produce vitamin D, but beware of too much sun exposure. It can result in burns and can put a child at greater risk for skin cancer later in life. A mere 15 minutes of exposure to hands, face and feet three times a week will give a child all the exposure he or she needs.
Here are a few tips for safer sun exposure:
- Plan most outside activities in the early morning or late afternoon when sunlight [exposure] is less intense. The sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Be especially careful to protect a child’s skin while at the beach or poolside, or on playing courts. Sand, snow, concrete and water can reflect up to 85 percent of sunlight, thus intensifying exposure .
- Take extra precautions if your family is going to be in the mountains — sun intensity is increased at higher altitude.
- Use sunblock and hats, even on a cloudy day. Clouds only reduce sun intensity by 50 percent, so it’s possible to burn even on a cloudy day. Even a dark-skinned person can burn if out in the sun long enough.
- Dress children in lightweight clothing. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (reference above), clothing offers the best and simplest form of sun protection. Dress children in lightweight long-sleeve shirts and long pants if they are very susceptible to the sun. Choose a fiber with a tight weave. There is clothing on the market that uses fabric designed to be lightweight and provide additional sun protection. Be aware that wet clothing does not act as a good sun filter. Also wearing a hat with a brim (facing forward) can be cooler than going bareheaded.
- Keep infants out of direct sunlight altogether. Infants under six months of age have thinner skin. Dress your baby in lightweight, light-colored clothing and cover your baby’s head with a wide-brimmed hat. It is best to keep young babies under umbrellas or other shelters (but keep in mind that umbrellas will only reduce about half of the sun’s effect).
- Keep infants and older children well hydrated. Frequent breastfeeding for breastfed infants or additional formula for formula-fed infants will keep them from getting dehydrated in hot weather. Water and juices are not recommended for this age group. For older children, plenty of water is always a great choice.
- Use sunscreen for children over the age of six months. Sunscreen provides good protection. “Physical block” sunscreens (containing titanium dioxide and z-coat, an invisible form of zinc oxide) are recommended over “chemical” blocks. While chemical sunscreens or sunblocks (those containing avenobenzone and parsol) are absorbed into the skin and absorb ultraviolet light, physical blocks actually reflect UV light back out into the environment. A sunblock with an SPF greater than 15 is best.
- It’s key to apply the sunscreen at least 20 to 30 minutes before going out into the sun. Use a generous amount of sunscreen, paying special attention to places that burn readily (nose, ears, cheeks and shoulders). This will allow the sunscreen to penetrate through the layers of skin. Remember to reapply sunscreen frequently, especially after a child gets wet from water play or profuse sweating. Use lip balm to protects the lips.
- Use sunglasses for children and infants to protect sensitive eyes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you look for the following information on sunglass labels: “Blocks 99 percent of ultraviolet rays,” “UV absorption up to 400 nm [measurement of UV wavelength]” “special purpose,” or “meets ANSI (American National Standards Institute) UV requirements.”
- Check medications for sun reaction. It’s important to ask your health care provider or pharmacist if a medication your child is taking can cause a reaction when out in the sun. Some medications (such as acne preparations and antibiotics) combined with sun exposure can cause skin reactions.
If your child does get a sunburn:
- Ease the pain. Cool baths can be soothing (showers can be painful).
- Ibuprofen (in children older than six months of age) can help with relief.
- Avoid using petroleum jelly, ointments containing oil, or butter, as they keep heat or sweat from escaping and are difficult to remove on tender skin.
- Avoid using first aid sprays or creams that contain benzocaine as they can cause a painful rash on the burn.
- Contact your health care provider if your child is under six months of age with a sunburn or if your child’s burn has red streaks or pus (yellow fluid) or if he or she seems ill (nausea, vomiting, dizziness).
Following these tips will help your child have more fun in the sun.
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