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How can I protect my child from the sun?

The sun is finally shining again! You and your kids can now spend more time in the sun. There is plenty of fun to be had, but don’t forget to protect yourself and your little ones from the harsh rays. Kids’ skin is more delicate and more sensitive to damage than adults, and just a couple of serious sunburns can significantly increase your little one’s risk of skin cancer later in life. 

Kids don’t have to be at the beachside, lakeside, or poolside to get too much sun. Here is how you can protect your child’s skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun when they’re outdoors.

Why is sun protection crucial?

A bit of time in the sun isn’t bad for you. When your skin is exposed to the sun, your body makes Vitamin D, which helps the body become more efficient at absorbing calcium that is used to strengthen bones. Most people only need to spend a little time in the sun to get the vitamin D they need (plus, most of your vitamin D needs should be met with a well-balanced diet and/or supplements)

Too much unprotected exposure to harsh UV rays from the sun can result in skin damage, immune system suppression, eye damage, and skin cancer.

How to protect your kids’ skin

1. Cover up

    One of the most effective ways to protect your child’s skin is to cover up. When possible, have your little ones wear long-sleeved shirts or dresses and/or long pants made from lightweight materials to allow airflow. Go for clothes that are made from tightly woven fabric for increased protection.

    A wet T-shirt offers significantly less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors are known to offer more protection than their lighter counterparts.  If you’re planning to spend time at the pool or beach, consider having your kids wear swim shirts or rash guards for additional coverage from UV rays.

    For additional coverage during outdoor events, bring along a pop-up tent or a wide umbrella that your kids can play under.

    2. Apply sunscreen

    According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), all children – regardless of their skin tone – should wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Whatever your sunscreen brand preference, make sure it’s broad-spectrum (this simply means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) and, if kids are spending time playing in or near water, is water-resistant. 

    Make sure you apply sunscreen generously for 30 minutes before stepping in the sun. Re-apply frequently especially after swimming, perspiring, and toweling.

    For kids younger than six months, if shade and protective clothing aren’t adequate, use a minimal amount of sunscreen with SPF15 on small areas, such as the back of the hands and face.

    3. Seek shade

    UV rays from the sun are the strongest from 10 am to 4 pm, so try as much as possible to limit sun exposure for your kids during this time. If they're outside during this time, keep them in a shaded area. Keep in mind that this might still not offer full protection, so sunscreen should still be worn.

    4. Invest in a couple of hats

    Choose hats that shade the scalp, face, neck, and ears for ultimate protection. Try to get your little one used to having a hat on. Start as early as possible with lightweight, breathable soft hats that fold easily while your baby sleeps. Keep them in place with a Velcro chin strap. Broad-brimmed hats or hats that have a legionnaire flap offer more protection.

    5. Buy them sunglasses

    Sunglasses protect your little one's eyes from damage caused by UV rays. Sun exposure can lead to a burned cornea, and over time can cause cataracts to develop. Ensure the sunglasses you go for have a recognized safety standard mark for UV protection.

    6. Double-check medicines

    Some medicines can make the skin more susceptible to damage from UV rays. Ask your pediatrician or pharmacist if any prescription and over-the-counter medicines that your child is taking increases sun sensitivity. If that is the case, make sure you take extra precautions to stay protected.

    How do sunburns occur?

    Part of the light that is radiated to the earth from the sun consists of invisible UV rays.

    • UVA rays cause the skin to age and wrinkle, and they contribute to the development of skin cancer. These rays easily penetrate through the ozone layer, so they constitute the majority of your sun exposure.
    • UVB rays are just as dangerous, causing sunburns, cataracts, and immune system suppression. They may also contribute to skin cancer.

    UV rays react with a chemical in the skin known as melanin. Sunburn will occur when the amount of UV exposure surpasses what can be protected against by melanin. 

    - Is your child turning pink?

    The sun’s harsh rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. However, it can take up to 12 hours for the skin to start showing the effect of sun exposure. So, if you notice that your little one’s skin appears “a little pink” after a day out in the sun, it may be burned the next day. Keep your child out of the sun to prevent further sunburn.

    - Is a suntan okay?

    Tanning is damaging to your skin. If you notice a change in the color of your little one's skin after playing outdoors, this is an indication of some degree of damage from UV rays.

    - It’s cool and cloudy. Is sunscreen still necessary?

    Even if it's cool and cloudy outside, kids still need sun protection. Keep in mind that UV rays, not the sun's temperature, do the damage. The presence of clouds does not block UV rays; it filters them, and sometimes only slightly.

    Final thoughts

    A moderate amount of sunshine is good for everyone, including kids. It provides vitamin D, which is essential for good health, plus it helps to promote better sleep – which is just what you need when you have energetic young kids! However, spending too much time in the sun can have irreversible damage to your skin. This is why it's crucial to protect your child from the sun's UV rays to not only prevent painful sunburn but also reduce their risk of developing skin cancer.

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