June 17 , 2008
Being Safe in the Sun
Jonathan Wood, MD
Four years ago, my first piece forr WABI’s “Healthy Living” was on staying “sun safe” during the summer season. The message is no less important today than it was in 2004, hence a repeat reminder…!
Summertime in Maine is a time for kids to be outdoors. There are plenty of crisp, sunny days and a wide variety of outdoor activities to keep children happy, active, and away from computer and television screens. And yet, those same sunny days we crave can be damaging to us over the long term, unless we take some simple precautions.
It is well established that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light early in life is a major contributor to the development of skin cancer later. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with over a million cases diagnosed each year. Ironically, although most cases of skin cancer occur later in life, the majority of our sun exposure – between 60 and 80 percent – happens before we turn 18 years old. This makes it particularly important to teach good simple “sun habits” to our children early in life.
Some practical summer sun safety tips for kids:
Avoid midday. The midday sun’s rays are the strongest - - when possible, plan high exposure activities for the morning before 10 AM and the late afternoon after 4 PM. UV light can penetrate cloud cover, so use sun protection even on overcast days
Cover up! This is the absolute simplest way to avoid the harmful effects of UV light. Choose lightweight and tight knit fabrics for those high exposure times.
Protect those who cannot protect themselves: Babies under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight. Shaded areas, broad brimmed hats, and canopied strollers are all good ways to keep your baby’s very sensitive skin protected. For older infants and children, routinely use sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours.
Choosing an appropriate sunscreen: Choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that is designed for children. Use a water-resistant or waterproof product and choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at 15 or greater. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure whenever possible and reapply frequently.
Use protective eyewear for you and your children. The cornea, like skin, can be injured by ultraviolet light. This can not only cause acute injury, but can also lead to problems later in life. Remember, sand and water can be a signigicant source of damaging reflected light
If your baby or child gets a sunburn, be sure to give plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Cool water soaks may be soothing. Do not use medicated lotions without consulting your pediatrician.
Check medications. Many medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can increase the skin’s sensitivity to light. Check the warnings that come with the meds, but also consult with a pharmacist or your doctor if you have any questions.
So, enjoy the summer and enjoy the sun! Just be smart and proactive as you do it. And especially in the case of children, remember that the exposure they receive now will, to a large degree, determine the healh of their skin in adulthood. Teach them early to take care of themselves!
For more information on making the summer sun both fun and safe for your children, visit some of the links below to helpfulweb documents:
“Sunwise” - a comprehensive school/home/communtiy based education program from the EPA:
“What is the best way to protect my child in the sun?” (from the AAP, the Amer Acad of Pediatrics):
Ultraviolet Light: a Hazard for Children - - an AAP Policy Statement:
“Sun Safety” – from the Amer Cancer Society: (take the “sun safety quiz”!)