Summer Sun Safety
Here comes the sun: Make sure your family is prepared!
Spending time outdoors in the sunshine is one of the great pleasures of summer. But, before you end up with burns and blisters that can lead to a lifetime of damage, arm yourself with some information that will help protect you and your family.
“It’s important for kids to get in the sun, to get outside and play,” says Dr. Robert Wittrock, a pediatrician with St. John Clinic, Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. “It helps vitamin D levels and can help skin conditions.”
However, Dr. Wittrock urges parents to take precautions so that children can safely enjoy the sun. “Sun damage lasts your entire life,” he said. “Even damage in early infancy can affect you until you’re 80 or 90.”
Sun damage can lead to skin cancers, skin aging and rashes that get worse with sun exposure. Dr. Wittrock warns that the worse the sunburn, and the more often someone is burned, the greater the damage. And, if you have a teen who wants to use a tanning bed, Dr. Wittrock says this is a definite no-no. Tanning beds increase damaging rays 10- to 15-fold.
“Malignant melanoma is what we’re trying to prevent,” he said. “You live with it the rest of your life.”
Parents can do a lot to prevent these lifelong problems by taking a few precautions with their children. Dr. Wittrock explains that children younger than 6 months are extremely vulnerable to sun damage. Infants should be dressed to protect them from the sun, including using hats and sunglasses. If there is any exposed skin, Dr. Wittrock recommends using a very light SPF 15 sunscreen.
For children older than 6 months, parents should apply SPF 15, or SPF 30 if children have fair skin. Sun protection is important for everyone, including those with dark skin.
“Only about one-third of children use sunscreen,” Dr. Wittrock said, “and they don’t apply it as liberally as they should. Apply an ounce worth for the entire body, and wait 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two to three hours, or every one to one-and-a-half hours if swimming or sweating.”
Dr. Wittrock explains that there are two different kinds of UV light, A and B, and B is the most dangerous, so look for a sunscreen that protects against both. Sun lotions with titanium oxide or zinc oxide create an extra barrier against the sun’s rays. Also, be aware that the hours when UV rays are the strongest are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and clouds do not offer protection from UV rays.
Besides using sunscreen, Dr. Wittrock says that clothing works to protect the skin. “Fabric, fiber and thread count does matter,” he says. “Cover your kids with clothing, especially if you have a fair child.”
If your child does get a sunburn, Dr. Wittrock says to apply cool, wet wraps to the area, and allow it to air dry. Alovera can help with the pain, but if the sunburn is deep and big enough, have your child’s doctor look at it.
“Slip, Slop, Slap!”
- Slip on a shirt. When you are out in the sun, wear clothing to cover your skin. Many companies now make clothing that’s lightweight, comfortable, and protects against UV exposure even when wet.
- Slop on sunscreen. Ideally, about 1 ounce of sunscreen should be used to cover the arms, legs, neck, and face of the average adult. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied at least every two hours to maintain protection.
- Slap on a hat. A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is ideal because it protects areas that are often exposed to intense sun, such as the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.