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Sun protection tips for young children

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Babies, due to a lack of melanin, are especially vulnerable to sun damage. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM


As we inch closer to September, many families may want to take advantage of the last full summer month by spending a lot of time outdoors. But whether you’re barbecuing in the backyard or taking a vacation at the beach, it’s important to remember sun protection for any little ones enjoying the summer sun with you.

Babies are especially vulnerable to sun damage due to their relative lack of melanin, the skin pigment that provides some sun protection, so protecting them from harmful ultraviolet radiation is imperative.

“All of the sun damage we receive as children adds up and greatly increases skin cancer risk later in life,” said Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “That’s why it’s so important that parents make sun protection for infants and toddlers a priority and eventually teach children these habits that will benefit them for many years to come.”

The Skin Cancer Foundation wants parents and caregivers to know that skin cancer is highly preventable. The following tips will help keep young children sun-safe for the rest of the summer and all year long.

Seek shade. Avoid direct sun exposure during peak sun hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and use an umbrella while on the beach. On walks, keep to the shady side of the street and use a sun shield on your stroller.

Cover up. Keep your baby covered up with a brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that fully covers the arms and legs. For added protection, look for special clothing marked with an ultraviolet protection factor of 30 or more.

Be careful in the car. While glass screens out most UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn, UVA rays can penetrate windows. Like UVB rays, UVA rays damage DNA and can lead to skin cancer. By law, front windshields are treated to filter out most UVA, but side and rear windows generally aren’t. Consider buying a UV shield, which you can hang over any window that allows sunlight to reach the child’s car seat. Another option is to install professional UV-blocking window film. 

Start sunscreen at six months. Since infants’ skin is so sensitive, it’s best to keep them out of the sun completely. Beginning at six months of age, you can introduce sunscreen use. Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Look at active ingredients; zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good choices because these inorganic filters are less apt to cause a skin reaction. You may want to test sunscreen on the inside of your baby’s wrist. If the child has a little irritation, try another sunscreen.

Use sunscreen as directed. Use sunscreen on all exposed areas not covered by clothing, such as the back of the hands, face, ears and neck. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out and reapply it every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating.

Toddlers rarely stand still, so you may need to get creative with your sunscreen application routine. Sunscreen sticks work well for the face and hands, since the child is less likely to rub the product into their eyes. Sprays are another good option. Make sure to apply the sunscreen evenly and liberally all-over exposed skin, then rub it in. For the face, spray into your hands, then apply to your child’s face.

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