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 the 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 case 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:
· 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
· “Covering up” is the simplest way to avoid the harmful effects of UV light. Choose lightweight and tight knit fabrics for those high exposure times
· 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 two hours.
· Choosing a sunscreen:
o Choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that is designed for children
o Use a water-resistant or waterproof product
o Choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at 15 or greater.
o Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure whenever possible
For more helpful hints on making the summer both fun and safe for your children, visit the Health Topics section of the American Academy of Pediatrics website at http://aap.org/healthtopics/skinhealth.cfm. The whole family can benefit from some simple preventive health behaviors and still be able to enjoy our wonderful Maine summer to the fullest. Enjoy!
Dr. Jonathan Wood, MD