Andrea Meadows, MD, Lexington Clinic Pediatrics
As the temperature rises outside and the days get sunny, I am reminded to start talking to my patients about sun exposure. Sun exposure is known to be the main cause of all types of skin cancer. Even though skin cancer most often occurs in older individuals, the suntans and sunburns people receive as infants and children matter. It’s what we call cumulative exposure – all the sun exposure you get throughout your lifetime contributes to the development of age spots, wrinkles and skin cancers. Sunburns in childhood are even worse because the damage has longer to develop into a cancer.
Here are some tips to keep you and your children sun smart this summer:
1. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. If you can, avoid direct sunlight during these hours. If you have to go out, make sure you wear sunscreen, even if you are planning to be out for a short amount of time.
2. In general, babies under 1 year of age shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight. They can enjoy the warm weather in the shade or under a canopy. Use a stroller that has an umbrella.
3. If your child is under one and direct sunlight is unavoidable, sunscreen can be used. However, be selective in what you apply. Choose a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15-30 and apply carefully, avoiding the hands so your baby doesn’t accidently ingest the lotion.
4. When using a sunscreen for the first time on your child, it is a good idea to do a “patch test” first before you go out into the sun. Apply a small amount of sunscreen to a small area and monitor for a reaction.
5. When going to the swimming pool or beach, make sure to use a sunscreen that is water-resistant. Gel sunscreens like Bullfrog seem to last longer and provide extra protection in the water.
6. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Re-apply often, about every 2 hours or more frequently if swimming.
7. There are new brands of zinc oxide that are clear – use these on the face, ears and shoulders for extra protection.
8. When choosing a sunscreen, make sure it has broad-spectrum coverage for both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens made by Aveeno, Neutrogena and Blue Lizard have been endorsed by dermatologists as providing good coverage.
9. Have your children get used to wearing a wide-brimmed hat to better protect their face, ears and scalp. Sunglasses that help filter UV light will also help protect their eyes.
10. If you are traveling to lower latitudes make sure you are extra careful because the sun’s rays are more powerful in the south and skin takes less time to burn.
11. Some medicines make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. If your child is on a chronic medication it may be a good idea to check with your pediatrician to see if you need to avoid direct sunlight.
So go out and enjoy the sun this summer… just make sure you and your family are protected.