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Teaching your kids about sun safety

May 09, 2012

The heat is rising, the sun is shining and school’s almost out. That can only mean one thing, right? Time to hit the beach!

Family trips to the beach are one of the best ways to spend the hot summer days- squishing your toes in the sand, listening to the sound of the rolling waves, and watching your kids build sandcastles and play in the water. Sounds like heaven! Whether it’s taking a trip to the beach, spending the day on the boat, or just playing outside, it’s important to practice sun safety.

However, studies show that as kids get older, sun safety becomes less of a priority, and optimal sun exposure during prime hours become more important.

Since when did sun safety become “uncool”? Well, right about when public displays of affection from parents, superman pajamas and cute lunchboxes became uncool, too. In other words, when kids reach their teen years. Teens want to look their best, and to them, that means getting a tan at all costs.

This behavior dramatically increases the risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology states that melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults 25-29 years old, and the second most common form of cancer in adolescents, starting at age 15.

Healthy sun habits need to start at a young age. Proper education and emphasis on health can help prevent young teens from increasing their risk of cancer in the future.

Make shade your best friend.

Try to avoid the strongest rays of the day by planning indoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Cloudy and overcast days are no exception- UV rays can travel through the clouds and reflect off of sand, water, and concrete. If kids are outside during this time, try to seek shade under a tree, tent, or umbrella.

Cover up.

Long pants, long shirts, oversized hat, and sunglasses would be ideal- but that’s just not practical! Let’s try again. How about a t-shirt, long board shorts, or beach cover-up? Sounds like a good compromise! Hats are a great accessory too- they help to shade your child’s scalp, ears, and neck- the parts of the body that often get burned the easiest. Don’t forget about protecting your child’s eyes. Look for sunglasses that have UV protection to help prevent cataracts later in life.

Lather up.

Use sunscreen and use it often. For kids older than 6 months, use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and is at least SPF 30 to prevent burning. Apply sunscreen 15 – 30 minutes before your child goes outside and reapply every 2 hours or after your child has been sweating or swimming. If your child will be near or in the water swimming, use a water-resistant sunscreen and reapply more often. There are also sweat- and rub- proof sunscreens available for when kids are outside playing in the yard, or wiping their eyes often when in the water.

What to do if your child does get burned:

  • Have your child take a cool bath and apply cool towels to the burn to help relieve some of the pain and heat
  • Give your child an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to help reduce itching and swelling.
  • Apply cooling gels, such as pure aloe vera gel, to help relieve body heat and soothe your child’s skin.
  • Do not apply petroleum jelly or butter- this will not allow the skin to breathe. Instead, apply a moisturizing lotion to help keep skin hydrated.
  • Most importantly, keep your child out of the sun until his/her sunburn has healed.
  • Call your pediatrician if your child’s sunburn is severe or blisters develop.
Create healthy sun habits for your child by setting a good example and making sun safety a priority in your home.  Help your child understand why it is important to protect his/her skin from the sun and educate them on the risks of improper sun care.

Let’s hear it. How do you teach your kids sun safety? What habits does your family have to help protect against the sun?