Here Comes the Sun: Summer Safety Tips for Kids
Playing outside is a great way to keep kids active during the summer. However, outdoor fun also leads to increased sun exposure. Without proper protection, children are vulnerable to a variety of short- and long-term skin, eye and immune system issues. Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of health problems such as cataracts and skin cancer later in life.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and also one of the most preventable. See below for sun safety guidelines that can reduce your family’s risk of skin damage and other sun-related health hazards.
- Check the Index: The negative effects of sun exposure are attributed to ultraviolet radiation (UV) that reaches the earth’s surface through two types of rays, ultraviolet A (UV-A) and ultraviolet B (UV-B). UV-B rays can damage the DNA in the skin cells directly and is thought to be the major contributor to most skin cancers. UV-A rays contribute to skin cell aging and can cause indirect damage to cell DNA. UV-A rays are also linked to long-term damage which leads to wrinkles. As UV radiation is not related to temperature, you must be mindful that it is still possible to get sunburned even on a cool and cloudy day. The Environmental Protection Agency provides a daily forecast of the expected UV intensity in your area. You can check this index with the weather forecast every day to stay informed and prepare accordingly.
- Spread on Sunscreen: Sunscreens shield skin by absorbing and reflecting UV rays. The sun protection factor (SPF) of these products indicates the relative amount of defense provided against UV-B rays. Some brands, classified as broad-spectrum, protect the wearer from both UV-A and UV-B rays. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. Remember that sunscreen wears off and must be reapplied at least every two hours, as well as after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
- Cover Up: Clothing and accessories are an important barrier to protect skin from harmful overexposure. Long sleeves and skirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are encouraged. Sunglasses that wrap around and have the American Optometric Association’s Seal of Acceptance are ideal. Keep in mind that a standard, colored t-shirt has an SPF of less than 15 and this value decreases when clothing is wet.
- Seek Shade: Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible for long periods of time. This is especially important during the peak hours of the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the World Health Organization estimates UV radiation is at its strongest. Seek shelter under an umbrella, tree or canopy.
- Pay Attention: Unprotected skin can be damaged by UV radiation in as little as 15 minutes, but it may take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect. It’s probably time to head inside if you notice that your child’s skin is turning slightly pink or showing signs of sun exposure, as this may become a more severe burn later on. Also watch out for fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, less-frequent urination and a lack of tears when crying as these may be symptoms of dehydration or other heat-related illnesses, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Stay Informed: Many people think that it is much safer to use a tanning bed, booth or salon than to tan outside in the sun. The truth is, there is no difference in the amount of skin damage UV rays cause whether it is indoors or outdoors. All UV rays, regardless of their origin, can contribute to blisters, burns, wrinkles, rashes and dark spots, as well as most skin cancers.
About the Author: Dr. T. Jann Caison-Sorey is a pediatrician, adolescent medicine physician and senior medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
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