Playing outside is a rite of summer, and the playground, beach, campground and even the backyard beckon to our children.

Most of them will accumulate most of their lifetime sun exposure before they turn 18, and it’s a parent’s duty to make sure they do it safely so they don’t bring a higher risk of skin cancer into adulthood with them.”Just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk of developing skin cancer later in his or her life,” says Marcia W. VanVleet, MD, a pediatrician at Women & Infants Hospital. “Whenever children are outdoors, they need shading against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.”
A child’s skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Dr. VanVleet explains that the summer requires extra planning for outdoor activities. Make sure to avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm, when its rays are the closest, and to check the UV Index. Weather forecasts will include the UV Index or you can find it at http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.

If the UV Index is high, damage to your child’s skin can happen in as little as 10 to 30 minutes, Dr. VanVleet says. She recommends planning indoor activities, seeking the shade of a tree or bringing a shade umbrella whenever you go out, especially during these high risk times.

She also mentions the American Cancer Society’s expression “Slip, Slop, Slap®, and Wrap,” which means:

  • Slip on a shirt. If possible, wear longer sleeves and shorts to cover more skin. Wear tightly-woven fabrics to prevent the sun from reaching the skin through the material.
  • Slop on the >15 SPF. Apply and reapply sunscreen. For maximum benefit, sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going in the sun and then applied again 15 to 30 minutes after being in the sun. Then, reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Some suggest reapplying it every two hours, but especially after children swim or exercise. Even waterproof and water-resistant varieties should be reapplied.
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat. The sun can scorch a child’s face, scalp, ears and neck very easily. Wearing a hat is a great defense, although not all hats provide equal protection. Baseball caps, for example, don’t protect the ears or neck. Try something with floppy material covering those areas or slather them with sunscreen.
  • Wrap on sunglasses. UV rays can also hurt a child’s eyes, leading to cataracts later in life. Look for shades that wrap around to provide more protection, and opt for lenses that block close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays.

Sunscreen Savvy

Not all sunscreen provides equal protection from the sun, and it’s important to note that there is no such thing as “sunblock.” No product totally blocks harmful rays from the sun.

When buying and using sunscreen with your children, Dr. VanVleet suggests:

  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 30 (30 is preferred by dermatologists) but also make sure they are “broad spectrum” to get protection against both UVA and UVB.
  • Use lotions instead of spray and powder sunscreens, which contain particles that can be breathed in by accident.
  • Use sunscreens made especially for “baby” or “kids” because they are less likely to contain allergy-inducing fragrances.
  • Don’t put too much stock into words like “waterproof” and “sweat proof” as the best case is that they are “water resistant.” All products wear off so you will need to reapply after swimming, sweating or rubbing.

Take special care with babies under six months of age, when it is best to avoid direct sun rays at all times. If your baby is not fully shaded and is older than two months, you can use a baby-friendly sunscreen applied only to the exposed areas, Dr. VanVleet explains.

“A baby’s skin is much thinner and its body is different than an adult’s so there is a greater chance for absorption of the chemical ingredients and there is always the risk of an allergic reaction or inflammation,” she says.

For more information about caring for your baby, consider taking a class through the Women & Infants Health Education Department. Call them at (401) 276-7800, ext. 114.