HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM SUN DAMAGE
Summer is here! It’s time to get outside, ride bikes, hike and go to the beach. We all love being outdoors, but we need to take precautions to ensure we limit sun exposure. The sun keeps us warm and helps things grow. But it also sends UV rays in the form of UVA and UVB rays. Sun exposure can be both good and bad. It can be helpful in aiding our body in producing Vitamin D. But exposure to these rays can also result in a sunburn. A sunburn is a reaction to exposures to UVA and UVB rays. The sun’s rays are always present but are stronger from April to October and if you are at higher elevations. Most sun damage occurs during childhood making it extra important to protect your child from harmful rays. Chronic exposure and sunburns result not only in damaged skin in the form of wrinkles and sagging skin but also increases your risk for developing skin cancer.
How can I prevent my child from getting a sunburn? The best line of defense is prevention! Prevention includes:
- wearing sunscreen with at least 15-50 SPF in appropriate amounts (1 ounce per application) and with frequent reapplication, and apply even on cloudy days!
- limiting sun exposure between 10am and 4pm
- UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing or thickly woven but lightweight cotton clothing to cover sun exposed areas
- wide brim hats that cover ears, back of neck, chin and cheeks
- sunglasses with 99% UV protection, make sure they fit appropriately and are not to big or too small
- staying in the shade or by creating shade with a beach umbrella, tent
- Being midful that snow, sand, water, and concrete reflect rays from the sun
SPF refers to the Sun Protection Factor. It is a grading system used give a degree of protection against burns. If you normally burn in 10 minutes and you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 minutes, it should protect you from burning for 150 minutes (10 min x 15 SPF).
Your sunscreen can protect you with either a chemical barrier or a physical barrier. Zinc oxide is found in most children and baby sunscreens. It is a physical barrier and the only barrier that the FDA approved as giving extenisve preotection agains UVA and UVB rays.
Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun. It needs to be reapplied every 2 hours or after swimming, sweating or drying off. Pay careful attention to face, nose, ears, feet, hands, and back of knees as these are commonly missed areas.
Your baby and the sun
Babies are more sensitive to the sun rays and sunscreen chemicals due to having thin layers of skin. Because of this we recommend keeping babies out of the sun as much as possible. It is best to keep your baby in the shade and cover their skin with lightweight clothing and a hat. If you can’t avoid the sun, we recommend using a low SPF sunscreen made with zinc oxide. Only apply a small amount to exposed areas including feet and hands. Take care around the eyes as infants can rub the sunscreen into their eyes causing irritation.
Sunburns happen with prolonged sun exposure. Sometimes it can happen in as little as 10 minutes depending on your skin type. Burns can also happen on cloudy days as 80% of UV rays can sneak through the clouds. A sunburn results in red, warm, and painful skin. Severe burns can cause fever, chills, headache, and a feeling of being sick. Most burns are evident 6 to 12 hours after sun exposure and peak in the first 24 hours.
If your child gets a sunburn give fluids, apply cool compresses on the skin, and keep out of the sun. You may give a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for discomfort. After the first 24 hours, the pain should diminish.
If your child suffers a sunburn and is less than 1 years of age or develops significant blisters with or without fever, please call our office to discuss care. Do not apply “-caine” based products like benzocaine and do not pop any blisters.
There are two type of skin cancer. Non-Melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) and Melanoma skin cancers.
Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers:
Non-Melanoma skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. They are the most frequent seen skin cancers but are rarely fatal. They occur on body parts where a person gets maximum sun exposure such as nose and ears. These cancers are very rare in children but are increasing in young adults due to increasing sun exposure.
Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of all skin cancers but it is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The number of Melanoma cases has been steadily increasing for the past 30 years. Rates are increasing rapidly in young white women and is the 2nd most common cancer for women in their 20s and the 3rd most common cancer for men in their 20s. Melanoma is rare in children but can occur in teens and young adults. Often in children it looks different than in adults. It can be pink, pink-white or pink-red, with an irregular border. It will not look like any other mole they have on their body.
People have an increased risk of melanoma if they have light skin and eyes or have a large number of freckles or moles. If you have a 1st degree relative that has melanoma, your risk is higher. Tanning beds also increase the risk of melanoma as well as nonmelanoma skin cancers. It is important to do regular skin checks and be hypervigilant about sun exposure if you have a strong family history of melanoma. With a strong family history or if your child has a large number of moles, you should consider having your child see a Dermatologist for regular skin checks.
Your child’s best prevention against sun damage is limited sun exposure and sun protection starting when they are infants and continuing throughout their lifetime. If you have any questions about sunscreen or sunburns don’t hesitate to call us!
Children’s Health Care of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts is a pediatric healthcare practice providing care for families across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, southern New Hampshire, and the Seacoast regions. The Children’s Health Care team includes pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners who provide comprehensive pediatric health care for children, including newborns, toddlers, school aged children, adolescents, and young adults. Our child-centered and family-focused approach covers preventative and urgent care, immunizations, and specialist referrals. Our services include an on-site pediatric nutritionist, special needs care coordinator, and social workers. We also have walk-in appointments available at all of our locations for acute sick visits. Please visit chcmass.com where you will find information about our pediatric doctors, nurse practitioners, as well as our hours and services.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.