Here Comes the Sun: Protect Your Kids from Harmful Rays
I am blessed to be the mother of the sweetest little freckle-faced, red-headed boy ever. Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased. What mother wouldn’t be? But that awry little toothless smile of his melts my heart every time. While I absolutely adore his speckled little cheeks and strawberry locks, the sun doesn’t. Summertime for my little guy can be quite dangerous without all the right UV-blocking gear. One afternoon without sunscreen reapplication can spell disaster. Just ask his father, who has equally light skin and recently had to have skin cancer surgically removed. Yikes! The sun is nothing to play around with for anyone.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), too much unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression and skin cancer. UV rays react with a chemical called melanin that’s found in skin. A sunburn develops when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what can be protected against by the skin’s melanin. The risk of damage increases with the amount and intensity of exposure. A tan is itself a sign of skin damage and does not help protect the skin.
The AAD agrees that every child needs sun protection. The lighter someone’s natural skin color, the less melanin it has to absorb UV rays and protect itself. The darker a person’s natural skin color, the more melanin it has. But both dark- and light-skinned kids need protection from UV rays because any tanning or burning causes skin damage.
Sun Safety Tips
So how can we let our little enjoy that Oklahoma sunshine while also protecting their skin? Here are the key ways to help keep your kiddos safe this summer:
The AAD recommends that all kids older than 6 months — regardless of their skin tone — wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Whatever sunscreen you choose, make sure it’s broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) and, if kids are in or near water, is labeled water-resistant. Apply a generous amount and re-apply often. Use a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to avoid irritating your baby’s skin.
Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day
Try to stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest, usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If kids are in the sun during this time, apply and reapply sunscreen — even if they’re just playing in the backyard. Most sun damage happens from exposure during day-to-day activities, not from being at the beach. Remember that even on cloudy, cool, or overcast days, UV rays reach the earth. This “invisible sun” can cause unexpected sunburn and skin damage.
One of the best ways to protect skin is to cover up. To test if clothes offer enough protection, put your hand inside garments to make sure you can’t see it through them. Swimsuits with long-sleeved rash guards are a perfect solution for sunny days outside. Hats, sunglasses and protective clothing are the best protection for babies younger than 6 months if they must be in the sun.
Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Even one day in the sun can lead to a burned cornea (the outer clear membrane layer of the eye). Sun exposure over time can cause cataracts (clouding of the eye lens, which leads to blurred vision) later in life. The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection. Let kids pick their own pair — many options are fun, with multicolored frames or cartoon characters.
Don’t forget that your kids learn from you. So be a good role model by always using sunscreen, wearing sunglasses, and limiting your time in the sun too. You’ll reduce your risk of sun damage and teach your kids good sun sense.