Keep children safe in the sun

The end of the school year is already here and savvy moms and dads by now have made all the arrangements for summer.

Summer camps and leisurely days at the pool or beach are just a few of the summer rituals for many families. However, if you’re tempted to let your child play outdoors for even a few minutes without proper sun protection, you might want to think twice.

Adolescence and childhood are critical periods during which exposure to ultraviolet radiation is more likely to contribute to skin cancer in later life. Children with fair skin, blond or red hair and blue or green eyes are at the highest risk of sunburn, but darker-skinned children also need sun protection. With this in mind, it’s important that parents teach their children how to enjoy fun in the sun safely.

Limit outdoor playtime between 10am and 4pm.

Avoid unnecessary exposure when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Even on cloudy or cooler days, UV rays remain strong. Shady spots can be just as tricky because of reflected light. If your child is playing outdoors during these hours, make sure to apply ample sunscreen.

Apply sunscreen properly. Apply a thick, even coat to all exposed areas 20-30 minutes before your child goes out in the sun. Choose a sunscreen with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15 or higher. Make sure it’s labelled “broad spectrum”, which means it blocks both UVA and UVB sunlight.

For your little ones, sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide should be selected as these compounds are less irritating than others. Sunscreen sticks are best for the face because they are sweat proof and less likely to drip. Don’t forget nose, ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck; lips can also burn, so apply a lip balm with SPF protection. Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, or after sweating or swimming.

Cover from head to toe. Wearing protective clothing and hats is one of the primary ways of warding off UV damage. When wet, light-coloured clothing transmits just as much sunlight as bare skin. Keep your kids covered with dark colours, long sleeves, and pants whenever possible. And don’t forget the accessories: sunglasses with UV protection to guard against burned corneas, and hats to prevent sunburned scalps and faces. Protective clothing, hats with wide brims, and sunglasses are just as important for babies. At the beach, bring along a large umbrella.

Watch out for medications. Some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so make sure to ask your doctor whether your child may be at risk. Prescription antibiotics and acne medications are the most notorious culprits, but when in doubt, ask.

Parents, you are the best teacher by practising sun safety yourself. If your child sees you following sun-safety rules, he’ll take them for granted and follow suit.

Teach every member of the family how to protect their skin and eye. With proper supervision, children can learn to protect themselves and enjoy summer fun without sacrificing the health of their skin.

Victoria Anderson is project coordinator of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. For more information on sun safety, the Cancer Society or its programmes, call 
949-7618 or email [email protected]