Penn Herb Wellness Guide

Get Savvy about Your Kids’ Sun Care

Start Now to Protect Their Skin for Life
Get Savvy about Your Kids’ Sun Care: Main Image
Become a ‘sun savvy’ parent by learning about sun protection and teaching good sun care habits

Kids love to play outside in sparkling sunshine at the beach, backyard, or playground, and that’s a good thing. But they also need protection from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight. Experts agree that much sun damage to skin occurs before age 18. It’s people’s sun exposure in their early years that determines their skin cancer risk later in life. This means it’s never too soon to start protecting kids from the sun.

Learn the basics of sun protection for kids

Become a “sun savvy” parent by learning about sun protection and teaching good sun care habits to your children. Young skin is delicate and easily burned so all children, no matter whether they tan easily or not, should be protected from overexposure to sunlight.

  • Keep sunlight exposure to a minimum for babies under 12 months old.
  • Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when rays are most intense.
  • Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15 (SPF15), which blocks 93% of harmful UVB (short wave ultraviolet B rays); reapply every two hours and after swimming to maintain protection. New labeling laws only allow sunscreens that block both forms of UVR—UVA and UVB—to be labeled broad spectrum.
  • Try broad spectrum sunscreens with avobenzone, a chemical doctors consider highly effective in absorbing both long and short wave ultraviolet radiation.
  • If possible, dress children in hats and tightly woven, loose clothing when they play outside and be sure to protect exposed legs and arms.
  • Put dark-colored (white only offers an SPF of about 8), long-sleeved (if possible) T-shirts over bathing suits, or buy bathing suits with built-in sunscreen; change into dry clothes after swimming since wet clothing loses half its UVR protection.
  • Choose wrap-around kid-sized sunglasses that filter out UVR; these don’t need to be expensive, but don’t use toy sunglasses—be sure they have a filter.
  • Remember the shadow rule: If your shadow is longer than you are tall, you probably can't burn in the sun; if it’s shorter than you are, you can.

Take simple steps to establish a daily sun protection routine

Start with easy, everyday steps to teach kids the importance of sun protection and make them as routine as brushing teeth. “We make it part of our 'getting-ready' game,” says Rebecca Staffel of Seattle, Washington, mother of eight-year-old Meg. “She now puts on sunscreen all by herself in the morning.”

  • Apply sunscreen first thing in the morning when getting dressed, or 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, so it can dry and set. This is especially important for chemical sunscreens, which need time to absorb into the skin for full protection.
  • Apply sunscreen to all parts of the body, including ears, eyelids, shoulders, and tops of feet. Try a spray sunscreen to make application extra easy and fast.
  • Pack sunscreen and lip balm sunscreen in your child’s backpack for reapplying during the day.

Also keep in mind that eating an antioxidant-rich diet offers some natural sun protection for the eyes. A recent study associated high lifetime sunlight exposure with age-related macular degeneration in people who do not get adequate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, and zeaxanthin, and found that people who do get enough of these antioxidants were protected.

Don’t forget the D

Keep your sun protection in perspective by remembering that sun exposure is still the best source of vitamin D—essential for building strong bones and muscles, and which has even been shown to protect against certain types of cancer and to reduce the risk of bone loss and falling later in life. The increase in the use of sunscreen and the avoidance of sun exposure have resulted in widespread vitamin Ddeficiency. A moderate amount of sunlight exposure (less than an hour a day, when the sun is not at its most intense) is beneficial—it’s regular, excessive amounts that are dangerous.

For those who aren’t able to safely regulate sun exposure, or have concerns about skin cancer, vitamin D supplements are also an option.

Judith H. Dern is a freelance writer who faithfully applies sun tan lotion after experiencing too many sunburns as a fair-skinned kid.

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