With the heat wave finally receding, now’s the perfect time to take your children outdoors and enjoy all the beauty of the Northwest. While staying active, experiencing nature and getting more vitamin D are all important for your little ones, it’s also important to remember sun safety.
The sun produces two main types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that impact skin health: UVA and UVB. The two differ in their wavelengths – UVA has longer wavelengths – and some of the health effects, but both can damage skin. In general, most of the radiation we get is UVA, which is strongly associated with wrinkling and skin aging, and is also the type that’s found in tanning beds. UVB stimulates the skin to produce vitamin D, and tends to cause skin reddening and sunburn. Both types are implicated in skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and tends to happen after many years of exposure to UV rays. Painful sunburns are much more likely to happen in children, so starting these sun safety habits early can help prevent problems later.
Infants 0 to 6 months: Avoid direct sunlight. An infant’s skin has less protective pigment (melanin) and is too sensitive for sunscreen.
- Avoid walks between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the peak hours for UV radiation exposure, and use a stroller that has a sun cover.
- Dress baby in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs, and a wide-brimmed hat. Baby sunglasses protect eyes and can be stylish at the same time
Infants 6 to 12 months: You can put sunscreen on your baby, but continue to avoid sun exposure through protective clothing and timing of outdoor excursions.
- Use broad-spectrum, SPF 15+ sunscreen to uncovered areas such as hands, ears and the back of the neck
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours and after swimming or excessive sweating
Toddlers: Keeping sun wear on can be challenging. Consistent sun safety habits and simple education may help reinforce the routine.
- Consider spray-on sunscreens for toddlers who won’t sit still. Don’t apply spray sunscreens directly to the face. Remember to reapply every two hours and after swimming or heavy sweating.
- Encourage children to seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use cooling protective clothing, such as cotton. Consider clothing with an ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 30 or above.
Older children and teens: education and availability of sun protection are especially important at this age.
- Keep sunscreen handy – for instance, in a school bag or next to the toothbrush.
- Talk to your teen about the dangers of indoor tanning, and remind him or her that being tan is not the same as being healthy.
- Be a good role model and protect your own skin!
Looking for more information? Learn more tips to protect your family from sunburns here and here. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers some excellent resources to help keep kids fit in the sunshine, choosing sunglasses for kids and more.
Jennifer Tsai, M.D.
Resident Physician in Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital