Keeping Kids Safe in the Sun

Written by Rachael Maier | Published on October 9, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on October 9, 2014

Protecting Your Kids From Skin Cancer

You protect your kids from potential dangers every day. You teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, to wash their hands to avoid germs, to not run and jump in the house. Teaching them healthy sun habits at a young age can protect them from skin cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Kids and the outdoors go together like peanut butter and jelly. Here are some tips on preventing sunburns without preventing fun.

Cover Up

Although all kids need to be protected from the sun, those with fair complexions burn the easiest and are at the greatest risk for developing skin cancer later in life. Dress them in protective clothing made from material that breathes but isn’t see-through. Long sleeves and pants are best whenever possible. A wide-brimmed or billed hat and sunglasses that offer protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays are sunny day essentials.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you shouldn’t use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months. Their skin is too sensitive. Keep them out of the sun completely and cover them up as much as possible when in the shade. Use an umbrella or a pop-up tent as a portable source of shade. 

Block the Sun, Not the Fun

If your child is older than 6 months, apply a minimum of 30+ SPF sunscreen half an hour before letting them loose in the sun. Consider using a waterproof sunscreen. Waterproof sunscreen is also sweat-proof. Even if they are not in the water, chances are they’ll work up a sweat.  

Cover Sensitive Areas

Kids move, and so does their clothing. Be sure to lotion underneath bathing suit straps and below swimming trunk waistbands. These areas are least often exposed to sun and therefore are the most sensitive and likely to burn. 

Add Some Color

Make sunscreen fun, not a chore. Try colored sunscreen for fussier kids. They can draw on themselves with their favorite colors! You’ll know they’ve rubbed it all in when the colored lotion can no longer be seen. 

Again, Again

Reapply! Have the kids take a break in the shade every hour or after swimming to grab a snack and apply more sunscreen. The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re outside during that time, find a place in the shade. Midday is the perfect time for an extended rest out of the day’s strongest rays.

Beware the Invisiburn

Just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s still going strong, even in cloudy weather. Your kids may not feel like they’re getting burned. But on overcast days, UV rays reflect off sand, water, and concrete. Make sure to apply sunscreen as you would on sunny days. Use a light facial moisturizer with SPF to soothe dry, chapped skin in winter months. 

Sunburn Care

Sometimes the sun proves too strong for even the most diligent caretaker. If your child suffers sunburn, you can’t undo the skin damage. However, you can take steps to relieve any discomfort:  

  • Have them soak in a cool bath, or apply wet compresses that will alleviate the feeling of heat.
  • Apply aloe vera gel to the affected areas for additional cooling. Aloe vera gel is derived from a succulent plant of the same name. When combined with lidocaine, it will relieve any itching and inflammation.
  • An anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen can help lessen the pain and itching.
  • Use lotion or cortisone cream to rehydrate the skin and prevent peeling.   

The best way to introduce your kids to healthy sun habits and teach them to enjoy a sunburn-free summer is to practice protection yourself!

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