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 there is no such thing as a healthy suntan. A tan cannot protect you from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation. That radiation penetrates and damages any color of skin from light to dark.
One blistering sunburn on a child’s sensitive skin will double their risk of getting skin cancer as an adult. The good news? Using sunscreens can reduce skin damage and the risk of skin cancer by 80%.
Infants under six months should never be in the sun due to their thin sensitive skin. Shield them from the sun’s ultraviolet 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, the risk of retina damage from the sun’s rays is greatest in children under 10 years old. That damage, unfortunately, is not apparent until adulthood. Sunglasses for infants and children should be ones that block out the ultraviolet light to protect those eyes.
Make sure your child knows that sunscreen is a requirement and not an option. Use a waterproof or sweat-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen on all shades of skin, whether dark or light. Make sure that sunscreen has a sun protection factor or SPF of 30 to 50. There is no data showing an advantage to having an SPF over 50.
Apply sunscreen generously to your child. This means applying it every 1.5 to 2 hours. Start 30 minutes before going out into the sun or after swimming or sweating a lot.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology Sunscreens have recently approved sunscreen for use in infants. The recommendation is to put it on their exposed faces and the backs of their hands. This is in a situation where they’re otherwise clothed and in the shade. I still say infants should not be out in the sun, even with sunscreen on.
Another good idea is to do your outdoor activities before 10 in the morning or after 4 in the afternoon. That’s when the sun’s rays are not at their brightest.
If a sunburn occurs, ease the pain with acetaminophen, cool compresses and aloe vera lotion or gel. These can reduce the redness and take the sting out of the burn. Of course, it is much easier to prevent a burn than to treat it.
Hopefully tips like these will bring rays of hope to you when protecting your child’s skin from the sun’s dangers.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.