In case you haven’t noticed, school is out for summer break. Younger family members look forward to days filled with swimming and other outdoor activities. Parents must be aware that just fifteen minutes in the sun can damage unprotected skin. Any change in the color of a child’s skin – suntanned or sunburned – indicates damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Unfortunately, many children have already experienced their first sunburn of the season. Although drinking plenty of water, cool baths and pain medications can lessen the discomfort, families must also be concerned about the long term effects of overexposure to summer sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that just one serious sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of developing melanoma later in life.
Babies under the age of six months should never be exposed to the sun. Other children should avoid direct sunlight during midday hours. Encourage children to play indoors or in the shade when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are the most dangerous. At the beach or in the pool, children should wear a cover-up when not in the water. Wearing a t-shirt over the suit can protect the upper body from sun damage. A hat with a wide brim will shade the face, scalp, ears and neck. A ball cap will help, but the ears and neck are not protected. Sunglasses are recommended to prevent damage to eyes which can lead to cataracts later in life. Shades should wrap around to block as much sun as possible and provide both UVA and UVB protection.
Using sunscreen can reduce skin damage, but will not eliminate it. Be cautious about allowing children to spend more time in the sun than they would otherwise. Choose sunscreen made for kids with at least 15 SPF and both UVA and UVB protection. Apply to all exposed areas of skin at least thirty minutes before sun exposure. Don’t forget the ears, nose, lips and tops of the feet. Reapply all sunscreen, even waterproof versions, throughout the day - especially after swimming or activity that causes excessive perspiration.
The full effect of sun exposure may not appear for up to twelve hours. When you notice that your child’s skin is “a little pink,” sun damage has already occurred. For a baby under one year, treat sunburn as an emergency and call your doctor immediately. For older children, call the pediatrician if they suffer severe pain, blisters, or fever over 101 degrees. Sunburn can cause dehydration so offer children water or sports drinks to replace fluids. Children should avoid additional exposure to the sun’s rays until the skin heals. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. or eXtension website.
Danna Gillett is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for Richland Parish.