Sun Protection for Children

Why protect against the sun?

In the past, sun exposure was thought to be a healthy benefit of outdoor activity. Modern scientific information, however, has shown there are many unhealthy effects of sun exposure, such as early aging of the skin and skin cancer.

What kind of damage does sun exposure cause?

Part of the sun's energy that reaches us on earth is composed of rays of invisible ultraviolet (UV) light. When ultraviolet light rays (UVA and UVB) enter the skin, they damage the skin cells, causing visible and invisible injuries.

Sunburn is a visible type of damage, which appears just a few hours after sun exposure. In many people, this type of damage also causes tanning. Freckles, which occur in people with fair skin, are usually due to sun exposure. Freckles are nearly always a sign that sun damage has occurred, and therefore show the need for sun protection.

Ultraviolet light rays also cause invisible damage to skin cells. Some of the injury can be repaired, but some of the cell damage adds up year after year. After 20 to 30 years (or more), the built-up damage appears as wrinkles, age spots, and even skin cancer. Although window glass blocks UVB light, UVA rays are able to penetrate through glass.

Which types of sun damage lead to skin cancer?

Many years of severe sunburns may be related to the development of the most dangerous kind of skin cancer called melanoma. Melanomas can develop in all age groups including teenagers and young adults. Melanomas can spread to other parts of the body and are potentially fatal.

Basal cell skin cancers usually develop in middle and later life, but can appear as early as the teenage years. These cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body; however, their continuous destruction of skin and underlying structures makes their removal necessary. Squamous cell skin cancers can spread to other parts of the body if they are not treated early.

When should sun protection begin?

Sun protection should begin in infancy and continue throughout your life. It is estimated that we get about 80 % of our total lifetime sun exposure in the first 18 years of life. Therefore, sun prevention in childhood is very important to prevent skin cancer later in life.

How can I protect my children from the sun?

Begin now to teach your children to follow the "ABCs for FUN in the SUN."

A = AWAY. Stay away from the sun in the middle of the day.
B = BLOCK. Use a SPF15 or higher sunscreen.
C = COVER UP. Wear a long sleeve shirt and a hat.
S = SPEAK OUT. Talk to family and friends about sun protection.

What should be avoided?

Stay AWAY from the midday sun and its intense rays. Schedule play times and outdoor activities before 10:00 A.M. and after 4:00 P.M. (daylight savings time 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.). The sun's energy is greatest when it travels through the thinner atmosphere at midday. Sun exposure is more intense closer to the equator, in the mountains, and in the summer. The sun's damaging effects are increased by reflection from water, white sand, and snow.

Avoid long periods of direct sun exposure. Sit or play in the shade, especially when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.

Avoid sunburn. Be aware of the length of time you are in the sun. It may take only 15 minutes of midday summer sun to burn a fair-skinned person.

How can sun damage be blocked?

BLOCK sun damage by applying a broad-spectrum UVA & UVB sunscreen lotion, gel or sunstick with a SPF 15 or higher, and reapply every two hours even on cloudy days. If swimming or participating in intense physical activity, sunscreen may need to be applied more often.

Choose a sunscreen with a SPF 15 or higher. The protective ability of sunscreen is rated by Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The higher the SPF, the stronger the protection. SPF numbers indicate the length of time one can spend in the sun without risk of burning. When using a SPF 15 sunscreen, a fair-skinned person who normally sunburns in 20 minutes of midday sun exposure may tolerate 15 times 20 minutes (300 minutes) without burning. Apply as much sunscreen as you would a lotion for dry skin. Spread it evenly over all uncovered skin, including ears and lips, but avoiding eyelids. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.

Invisible sunscreens work by trapping the ultraviolet energy and preventing that energy from damaging the skin.

Visibly white or colored sunblock creams prevent all light from entering the skin. They often contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide ("chemical-free" sunscreens). They are useful for high-risk areas such as the nose, lips, and shoulders.

Infants under six months of age should be kept out of direct sun and covered by protective clothing. Apply sunscreen beginning at six months of age. Children under six months of age should not have prolonged sun exposure, but if they are going to be in the sun then sunscreen should be used.

How can clothing be used for sun protection?

COVER UP with a hat and light colored clothing when outdoors. Don't play or work outdoors without a shirt. Put on a shirt and hat after swimming or wear a T-shirt while swimming. In addition to filtering out the sun, tightly woven clothing reflects heat and helps keep you feeling cool. Sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays protect the eyes and eyelids as well.

What else can be done?

SPEAK OUT for sun protection now. Do your part to protect others from sun damage. Show your family how to apply a sunscreen by spreading it evenly over your skin. Remember to keep babies out of the sun and use an umbrella over the stroller. Talk to the coach, camp counselor, scout leader, gym teacher and others about the "ABCs for FUN in the SUN." Ask them to help you with the simple changes that can prevent sun damage. Start preventing sun damage in childhood today!

To learn more about Sun Protection for children, please call Adam D. Wray, D.O. our dermatologist at Bingham Memorial Hospital.

*Information provided by the American Academy of Dermatology Copyright 2000