Safe in the Summer Sun: How to Prevent Sunburn

Something about summer calls us to the great outdoors. The splashing of swimming pools, smoking barbecues, a bright summer sun, lawn sprinklers, lazy hammocks.  Taking stock of the summer involves lots of bathing suits and wading pools for parents, but it should also involve something else: protection from the blazing sun.

About 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18. Even one blistering burn during childhood can increase risks of skin cancer later in life. Fortunately, regular use of a sunblock with a SPF of 15 or higher can lower risk of certain skin cancers by as much as78 percent.

Some children naturally turn red from exertion, so it can be difficult to determine if a child is getting sunburned. The best mode of defense is to get into the habit of applying sunblock anytime your child will be outdoors for any extended period of time, usually 15 minutes or more. The effects of the sun on the skin often don’t manifest themselves until hours later, so don’t assume you’re out of the woods if your child is outside for 20 minutes and shows no signs of reddening.

The sun’s rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. so try to keep your child out of its exposure during those hours. Keep an eye on your shadow and that of your child. The shorter the shadow, the more intense the sun. If you see no shadow at all, get in the shade. If you must be outside during these peak hours, take all precautions necessary to protect the skin.

prevent sunburnSeeking shade is advisable anytime your child is outside in the summer, even if it the sun isn’t at its absolute highest intensity. Shade structures like trees and umbrellas provide year-round protection so if you have an outdoor deck where children spend a lot of time, make sure you incorporate some kind of shade scenario. Trees don’t provide 100 percent protection but they can block about 60 percent of the sun’s rays.

When using sunscreens, be sure to get broad-spectrum products that block both UVA and UVB rays. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) should be at least 15. Ideally, sunscreen would be used daily, even when the clouds are out. Believe it or not it’s possible to experience skin damage even on cloudy days. Sunscreen should be applied liberally, evenly and frequently.

Summertime offers countless opportunities for outdoor fun, but there is nothing fun about sunburns or other skin damage. It may seem like a hassle – both for you and your child – to apply sunscreen before every trip outdoors, but once you get into the routine of doing it, sunscreen application will become habit. The slight inconvenience of toting around an SPF 15 is minimal compared to the benefits – decreased risk of uncomfortable sunburn and perhaps most importantly, decreased risk of future skin cancer development. Also, it reinforces the concept of summer safety in your child, a lesson they may use for the rest of their life.

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