As school comes to a close, your family is probably ready to get out to the beach or the pool and enjoy the summer sun. While spending fun times outdoors do not forget the importance of protecting their skin and eyes from sun damage. It is important to teach sun safety early, as experts estimate that 80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure occurs before aged 21 years.
The best protection for your littlest family members aged 6 months and below is to avoid outdoor activities during the hours of 10:00AM and 4:00 PM when the UV rays are the strongest. It is best to keep young infants in the shade as much as possible, as they are also more vulnerable to the heat than older children. Remember that young infants haven’t developed the ability to sweat quite yet. It is best to dress them in loose, cool clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Don’t forget to put hats on to cover heads and protect the eyes. As a general rule, sun screen is not recommended for use on infants under 6 months of age. Given the fact that small infants have a higher surface-area to body-weight compared to older children and adults, the risk of exposure to chemicals in sunscreen is greater for infants. However, there may be areas that are simply difficult to keep covered, such as backs of hands, tops of feet or lower legs. If this is the case, small areas may be treated with sunscreen that is washed off soon after coming indoors.
For older babies and children, ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen, which protects from UVA and UVB rays, is recommended. Look for a product with SPF of 25 or higher. It is unclear whether sunscreens with SPF greater than 50 have additional benefit. For sensitive skin, products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are good choices.
The way you apply your protection may be more important than the SPF number, in fact. Be sure to apply the product at least 15 minutes before exposure and rub it in well. Remember to apply to ears, necks, noses and tops of shoulders. Sunscreen works best if reapplied frequently—ideally every 30 minutes but at least every hour.
Protecting your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays is also an important step that is often left out. This is best done by using a wide-brimmed hat (at least 3 inches in order to cover the face and neck). Sunglasses are also important for the whole family. Wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection. There are many child sized sunglasses on the market for your little ones. Encourage kids to use them and provide soft straps to keep them in place, if needed.
Talk to your teens about the importance of protecting their skin for a lifetime. Although the ‘tan’ may be desirable now, avoiding wrinkles, skin discoloration and skin cancer is much cooler in the long run! Teens often underestimate how susceptible they are to sunburn, with only 4% in one study published in the journal Pediatrics saying that they ‘burned easily’. The main reasons teens cited as being resistant to sunscreen were that they ‘rarely burned’, that sunscreens were ‘messy to apply’, interfered with a ‘good tan’ or they ‘just forgot’. Many experts agree if teens had more information about the effects of skin cancers such as malignant melanoma, or about the effects of sun on premature aging, they might be more likely to comply.
Making sunscreen use a priority from early childhood so it is routine, modeling the use of sunscreens yourself and talking to your teens about the importance are great reminders. Put a bottle of sunscreen next to their toothbrush as a cue. Be sure that your teens have plenty of easy-to-apply sunscreen when they head out to the pool, but also remember to place a bottle in their gym bag for outdoor sports practice. Help them choose products labeled ‘non-comedogenic’, which means that it won’t clog pores and cause breakouts. Remind your teenager that many acne medications, such as topical retinoids and oral antibiotics, make them more likely to suffer from sunburns. It is important to choose a moisturizer for daily use that includes an SPF, as well.
If, despite your best efforts, your family still suffers from a painful burn, there are several things you can do to ease the discomfort. First, be sure to keep your child well hydrated and replace fluid losses with extra fluids. This is an important component of burn protection, and sunburn is no exception. You may use cool water or compresses on the skin. Pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be helpful. Keep your child out of the sun until a burn is completely healed. If your child is under 6 months, call our office for advice. For older children, please contact us if there is blistering of the skin or fever.