During the summer, it isn’t uncommon for kids to spend hours outside each day. While the fresh air and sunshine are healthy—sun helps the body make vitamin D (which in turn allows the body to absorb calcium)—too much of a good thing can cause a number of issues for your child.
From the pool to the playground, here’s how you can make sure your child is properly protected from the sun.
Why is Sun Protection So Crucial?
Any time your child’s skin is exposed to the sun, it is also exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays. These rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression and even skin cancer, also known as melanoma.
While it is uncommon for children to develop melanoma, damage in a child’s younger years can affect his or her chances of developing the disease later on in life.
Fortunately, there are simple ways you can keep your child safe from the sun.
What Happens if Your Child Gets a Sunburn?
If your child is exposed to the sun for an extended period of time, he or she runs the risk of getting a burn. Aside from a pinkish tint to the skin, your child may experience pain and a sensation of heat in the area that has been burned. Typically, these symptoms will worsen over several hours.
After several days, the skin will usually get itchy and tight, and your child may be tempted to scratch or peel off the skin that’s become loose. It’s important not to do this because the skin directly under the sunburn can easily get infected.
How to Treat a Sunburn
Once you’ve noticed your child’s skin has burned, remove him or her from the sun immediately. Gently apply cool, wet compresses to the burn or place your child in a cool bath to help alleviate the pain and heat.
Aloe vera gel can soothe sunburned areas and a moisturizing cream can help rehydrate skin and minimize the desire to scratch.
If your child’s sunburn causes blisters, call your doctor. Never pop or squeeze blisters as they can easily become infected.
Until the sunburn has completely gone away, do not allow your child back in the sun. This will only worsen the existing sunburn and increase pain.
How to Protect Your Child from the Sun
Sunburns can put your child at a greater risk of melanoma later in life, so it’s important to properly protect him or her from the sun now.
The risk of burning is greatest during midday, when UV rays are most strong and harmful. Try to keep activities indoors during that time. If you do need to be outdoors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Being under a tree, an umbrella or a pop-up tent are great options.
Long-sleeved shirts and pants are also good ways to protect your child’s skin. Although it may seem counterintuitive, darker colors offer more protection than lighter-colored clothing. Remember a hat and sunglasses too. While baseball caps are popular among kids, they typically don’t protect the ears and neck, so a wide-brimmed hat is better.
Last, but certainly not least, always use sunscreen when your child is going to be outdoors, no matter what time of year it is.
What to Look for In a Sunscreen
One of the most common questions parents have about sun safety is what to look for in a sunscreen.
It is recommended that you use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that contains UVA and UVB protection. Any form is acceptable—lotion, cream gel, stick or spray.
Because some children are sensitive to certain ingredients in sunscreen, it’s a good idea to test it before using. Apply a small amount to the inside of your child’s upper arm, then monitor the area for 24 hours. If no rash or redness shows up, it’s safe to use on the entire body.
Most water-resistant sunscreens will last for 40 to 80 minutes. Check the label to know exactly how often to reapply.
Do not apply sunscreen to infants under the age of 6 months as they can easily absorb chemicals into the skin. Protective clothing and shade are typically best for babies.
How to Check Your Child’s Skin
While it’s normal for children to develop new freckles and moles, you should familiarize yourself with the size and color of your child’s so you can quickly identify any changes.
If you find a mole that is asymmetrical (one side is shaped differently than the other); a mix of brown, tan and black colors; bigger than a pencil eraser; notched, uneven or blurry-looking around the borders; itching; or bleeding, let your doctor know immediately.
Because most children’s chances of getting skin cancer are low (about 3 percent), regular dermatologist visits can wait until adulthood. For children who have a parent or sibling with melanoma, the Skin Cancer Foundation suggests seeing a dermatologist twice a year for skin exams beginning at age 10 because these kids are 50 percent more likely to develop the disease.
Medical City Urgent Care Can Help
If your child has suffered a severe sunburn or you’ve discovered an abnormal mole or freckle, consider visiting Medical City Children’s Urgent Care for a thorough exam.
Our kid-friendly locations are designed with children in mind, include pediatric-trained staff and are open after hours and on the weekend.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.