It’s easy to brush it off when we forget to bring sunscreen, or we tell ourselves, “I’ll only be in the sun for a little while—I’ll be fine.” Not so! While deliberate tanning (baby oil, anyone?) has become somewhat passé, it’s still possible to get burned by simply being outdoors. And while the burn may fade, the consequences of sun damage show up much later in life, so it is impossible to see how your health—or your child’s—is being compromised. More importantly, it is up to parents to inform our children about sun safety so that wearing sunscreen and protective clothing becomes an everyday habit.
Children are more prone to sun damage than adults. According to the Sun Safety Alliance, children receive three times more sun exposure than adults. Here are some important—if startling—sun safety facts and suggested fixes to protect your family from the dangers of the sun.
Fact: Ultraviolet (UV) rays are the source of 90 percent of skin cancer, and they can lead to eye damage, such as cataracts or macular degeneration later in life.
Fix: Always wear sunglasses with maximum UV lens protection when outside.
Fact: Concrete, sand, water and snow reflect 85-90 percent of the sun’s UV rays, materials that most of us are exposed to in some form or fashion year-round.
Fix: Wear darker, tightly woven clothes, hats and sunglasses during all four seasons.
Fact: The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and sun exposure is greatest from May through August.
Fix: Limit time spent in the sun to mornings and evenings, and reapply sunscreen throughout the middle of the day.
Fact: When the UV index is at its highest, skin can burn in 10 minutes or less! At its lowest, you can still burn within an hour.
Fix: Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and with ingredients like Ayovenzone or Zinc Oxide. Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly over all exposed areas, including your neck, ears and lips. Always reapply after sweating or swimming, even if your bottle says water-resistant.
Fact: When babies are younger than 6 months, their skin has no melanin protection.
Fix: Use a stroller with a protective cover and use mesh window shields in the car to avoid exposure through the car windows. After your little reaches 6 months (and with the okay of your pediatrician), it is okay to apply sunscreen to your baby.
Fact: Just one blistering sunburn can double a child’s risk of developing skin cancer at some point in his or her life.
Fix: Talk to your child’s school about ways to prevent sun damage during recess. See if the school allows sunscreen, hats or sunglasses, and, if not, advise your child to stay in the shade as much as possible.
Fact: 54 percent of children become sunburned or tanned in their second summer, and 22 percent are sunburned or tanned in their first. Those younger than age 10 are more vulnerable to UV damage because of their delicate skin and developing eyes.
Fix: Examine your child’s skin at least once a month for abnormal spots or mole growth. If skin cancer is spotted early enough it can be stopped.