We know there are many benefits of getting outside, breathing fresh air and having the chance to play. Exposure to natural sunlight is also recognized as a major potential source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
However, while we enjoy the outdoors, we need to make sun protection an essential part of our daily parenting routine.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage the skin in as little as 15 minutes, after all, and just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.
And because a significant amount of the sun’s damaging rays (roughly 70 to 80 percent) can come through clouds or fog, sunscreen is crucial — even on overcast or chilly days.
That’s why I recommend families take the following precautions:
How to protect children from the sun
- Avoid high-intensity hours: The best defense against the sun’s damaging rays is avoidance. Have children play in the shade and avoid exposure to the sun’s strongest rays of the day, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If in direct sunlight, protect skin with a hat and lightweight, long-sleeved clothes.
- Be SPF smart: The number found on every container of sunscreen stands for “sun protection factor.” According to the Food and Drug Administration, SPF is related not only to time spent in the sun but also to the amount of sun exposure. The higher the SPF, the more protection it provides. Today, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that kids use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Use lotion instead of spray: While any form of sun protection is better than none, lotion generally provides a thicker and more even coating on skin, giving more protection. Also, the inhalation of spray sunscreen has become a recent concern, and it should never be sprayed or worn near a flame, as it may contain flammable ingredients such as alcohol.
- Slather sunscreen on all skin tones: While it is true that people with dark skin are not at as great a risk of sunburn as those with lighter skin, everyone benefits from the protection of sunscreen.
- Keep infants covered: Babies 6 months and younger are thought to be even more susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays. Avoidance and covering up are the primary recommendations for babies at all times. When that isn’t possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying just a little bit of sunscreen to exposed areas such as faces and the backs of their hands.
- Use protective eyewear: Everyone’s eyes will benefit from the protection offered by sunglasses. Make sure you wear a pair with at least 97 percent protection against both UVA rays (the ones that cause spots, wrinkles and possibly skin cancer) and UVB rays (which lead to burns and skin cancer).
Taking simple precautions can help make fun in the sun safer for your family. Keep plenty of sunscreen and protective gear on hand and enjoy the season!