We all need some sun exposure - it's the top source of vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium for stronger, healthier bones, not to mention the lifting effect it has on our mood!
Most children get much of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18, so it's important for parents to teach them how to enjoy fun in the sun safely.
The sun radiates light consisting of UV rays to the earth, when these rays reach the skin they cause tanning, burning and other skin damage.
Unprotected sun exposure is more dangerous for children with;
- moles on their skin (or whose parents have a tendency to develop moles)
- very fair skin and hair
- a family history of skin cancer (including melanoma)
Children don't need to hide from the sun completely or wrap up like a mummy to protect them, but the following steps should be taken:
- ALWAYS wear sunscreen
- Take frequent breaks from the sun by going indoors or moving into the shade. This is especially important between 10am - 4pm, when the sun's rays are strongest.
- Drink plenty water - don't wait until your thirsty. Drinking before you feel thirsty helps keep the water level in your body from dropping too low and leaving you dehydrated.
One of the best ways to protect your family from the sun is to cover up and shield skin from UV rays. Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, their skin burns more easily that older children. The best protection for babies under 6 months is shade, so they should be kept out of the sun whenever possible.
For sunscreen to do it's job, it must be applied correctly. So be sure to:
- Apply sunscreen whenever your kids will be in the sun. For best results apply it about 15-30 minutes before they go outside.
- Don't forget about ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and the back of the neck. Lift up swim suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them. Protect lips with an SPF 30 lip balm.
- Apply sunscreen generously - dermatologists recommend unsing 1oz (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover the exposed areas of the body.
- Reapply sunscreen often, about every 2 hours. Reapply after a child has been swimming or sweating.
- Apply a water resistant sunscreen if children will be around water or swimming. Water reflects and intensifies the sun's rays, so children will need protection that lasts. Be sure to reapply sunscreen when your child comes out of the water.
- Don't worry about making a bottle of sunscreen last; stock up and throw out any that is past its expiration date or that you have had for 3 years or longer.
Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. The best way to protect them is to wear sunglasses. But not all children enjoy wearing sunglasses, especially the first few times. Thre are lots of fun, multicoloured and character frames available - let them choose their own to help encourage them to wear them. And don't forget that kids want to be like grown ups; if you wear your sungalsses regularly, your child may be willing to follow your example.
Sunburn can sneak up on kids, especially after a long day in the garden or at the park or beach. Often they seem fine during the day but then gradulally develop an 'after-burn' later that evening. They will usually experience pain and a sensation of heat - symptoms that tend to get worse several hours after sun exposure. Some may also get chills.
If your child does get sunburn, these tips may help:
- Have your child take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.
- To ease discomfort, apply pure aloe vera gel to any sunburned areas.
- Give your child an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen to ease the pain an itching.
- If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Keep your child out of the sun until the skin is healed, any further sun exposure will only make the burn worse and increase any pain.
Be a god role model by consistently using sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater, wearing sunglasses, limiting your time in the sun and drinking plenty fluids. Doing so not only reduces your risk of sun damage - it also teaches your children good sun sense