Shedding Light on Sun Safety

With summer upon us, parents are hot to ask me about sun protection for their children.  Let me see if I have any bright ideas on this topic.

First it is important to remember that one blistering sunburn on a child’s sensitive skin will double their risk of getting skin cancer as an adult.  The good news is that the use of sunscreens can reduce this skin damage and risk of skin cancer by 80%.

Infants under six months should never be in the sun due to their thin sensitive skin and should be shielded from the sun’s ultraviolent light using a sunshade on strollers or an umbrella on the beach.  Hats, t-shirts, and even infant sunglasses are a must as well.

Speaking of sunglasses, it is now clear that the risk of danger to the retina from the sun’s rays is greatest in children less than 10 years of age even though the consequences are not apparent until adulthood.  Sunglasses for infants and children should be ones that block out the ultraviolet light to protect those eyes.

For sunscreen, generously apply a waterproof or sweat-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater that protects again UVA and UVB radiation.  These sunscreens have even been approved for infants for their exposed faces and the backs of their hands, assuming they are otherwise clothed and in the shade.  But, I would still caution that infants should not be out in the sun rather than be exposed, even with sunscreen on. 

Apply sunscreen liberally at least 30 minutes before going outside and then reapply it every one-and-a-half to two hours or after swimming or sweating a lot.   Even the waterproof sunscreens should be reapplied when your children come out of the water. Sunscreen for children is a must and is non-negotiable, just like sitting in a car seat.

Another good idea is to try to plan your outdoor activities before 10 in the morning or after 3 in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are not at their strongest.

If sunburn occurs, ease the pain with acetaminophen, cool compresses, and aloe vera lotion or ointment to reduce the redness and take the sting out of the burn – but remember, it is much easier to prevent a burn than to have to treat it.

Hopefully tips like this will bring rays of hope to you and your child when it comes to shedding some light – just not sunlight – to protect your child’s skin from the dangers of the sun.

 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids