Children everywhere are anxious for a little fun in the sun. While that sounds heavenly for parents, there are some things to consider before you send your little (or big) kids outdoors to work off some energy and let them just be kids. You must protect their skin from harmful skin damage and/or potentially deadly diseases like skin cancer. Too much sun exposure could have devastating effects.

Why, you may wonder. Don’t we all need some sun exposure? The short answer is yes, we do get some benefits from sun exposure like an essential vitamin, vitamin D, that helps our bodies absorb calcium for stronger and healthier bones. Where we go wrong is the amount of sun exposure we get. A little goes a long way to reaping the benefits. The good news is that most people get the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy diet and/or taking the proper nutritional supplements.

The downsides to sun exposure include but are not limited to skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer. Age plays no role in whether someone might suffer from any of these adverse effects to UV rays, the ultraviolet light the sun gives off. Even young children can develop these issues.

Sunburns are something many adults never gave a second thought to when they were growing up. It was par for the course for many of us. We lathered on lotions and ointments and created aluminum foil tents to force the UV rays to hit our skin and give us the perfect tan. We never understood how damaging this was to our skin and eyes. We just did it. Our skin peeled. A new layer of skin covered it after a while. We suffered through it and moved on, but now, we know better. We know we don’t want our children to get sunburned.

Let’s look at what exactly causes sunburn and how we can prevent it from forming. The sun radiates light to Earth. Part of that light includes invisible UV rays, as previously mentioned. When those UV rays reach the skin, they cause tanning, burning, and potentially significant skin damage.

What do UVA rays do to us?

They cause premature skin aging and wrinkles and are significant contributors to skin cancers like melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, but they’re not the only harmful rays.

UVB rays also pose a significant danger. They cause sunburns, cataracts, and adversely affect our immune system. They also play a role in skin cancers, most notably, they’re thought to be associated with severe sunburns in people under the age of 20.

The bottom line here is that everyone needs sun protection. The lighter the skin tone, the less melanin the skin has to absorb the UV rays and to protect itself. People with darker skin tones have more melanin, however, every skin tone needs protection from UV rays.

How do you prevent damage?

  • Apply sunscreen all year round. Even in the winter, the sun can cause damage. Use an SPF of 30 or higher and apply it liberally. Use a broad-spectrum formula to protect against UVA and UVB rays. If the child will be in or near water, use a water-resistant formula. Reapply every two hours while out in the sun or in water.
  • Avoid sun exposure when the rays are the strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the northern hemisphere.
  • Cover up with lightweight garments and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Babies under 6 months of age should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Keep them in the shade. If they must be in the sun, dress them in lightweight fabrics that cover the skin, hats, and only a small amount of SPF 15 sunscreen on the exposed areas.
  • Use an umbrella for shade in the sun. Carry a pop-up tent in your trunk or bag.
  • Have your child wear sunglasses to protect their eyes.
  • Have them drink water to prevent dehydration and overheating.

Should your child get a sunburn, treat it immediately with over-the-counter treatments, but be sure to read the labels to make sure it isn’t harmful to children and won’t interact with any medications they may be taking. If It’s a severe burn, contact the child’s healthcare provider.

By: Juliete Garza