For many folks in the United States, spring cannot get here soon enough. Between torrential rain storms, late winter storms, and generally below average temperatures, American families are eager to get outdoors.
But even if temperatures are a little cooler than what you’d typically expect as this time of year, it’s still important to use precautions when you’re outdoors. Cooler temperatures and even overcast, cloudy skies in no way indicate that your family is safe from sun damage. And for children, the precautions are especially necessary.
The younger the child is, the thinner his or her skin is. This means that they are at greater risk for over exposure. Couple that with the fact that young children do not produce as much melanin and your children have the potential for suffering serious damage.
What are some things you can do to prevent your children from suffering?
1. Have your child wear a hat. Even if your child has a lot of hair, the scalp is especially susceptible and can burn easily. If the hat is large enough to shade the face and ears, that’s even better.
2. Protective clothing is essential. Make sure that the clothing is comfortable and breathes. It is recommended that the clothing not be too sheer, because the sun’s rays will still be able to penetrate.
3. Choose a shady area. If you have access to a pavilion or other structure, take advantage of that. If you will be enjoying a picnic at a park, try to find a large tree that offers plenty of shade. When we attend outdoor sporting events, we pack a portable tent structure that offers shade. If you will be at the beach, a large umbrella or portable cabana will work.
4. Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors. Small children don’t need to spend much time outdoors in order to burn. And even if they are in water or there is a cool breeze, they are still soaking up the damaging rays. Don’t let their “comfort level” in terms of temperature fool you.
5. Use a safe sunscreen on all exposed areas. Apply generously and often (especially if they are in water or sweating).
There have been mixed messages in terms of what SPF (sun protection factor) is the best. Some will argue that the higher the number, the better the protection. Others will argue that the higher numbers don’t offer any more protection that their lower number counterparts.
What is important is what to look for in terms of ingredients. According to the New Zealand Dermatology Society, sun protection is delivered in two ways: chemical absorbers and physical blockers.
If you look at the list of ingredients, you will notice words containing “benzone”. Many sunscreens use these chemicals because they are said to offer complete protection against damage from UVB and UVA II rays and partial protection against UVA I rays. But notice they offer protection against damage. The way these chemicals work is that they absorb the radiation before damage is caused.
Although this sounds like a good form of protection, these chemicals have been linked to forms of cancer and assorted skin problems because they are absorbed easily into the pores of the skin. If fact, Proposition 65 in California lists chemicals and ingredients that are known to cause cancer. Benzophenone (oxybenzone) has been added to that list.
Physical blockers, on the other hand, protect differently. When the sun’s rays hit these blockers, the rays are reflected back (or bounced off) the skin. They are typically not absorbed by the skin and they offer protection against the full UV spectrum. The ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Physical blockers are considered the ideal sun protection because they are safe and do not typically pose a health risk.
Our family loves the sun and being outdoors as much as possible. But sunburn is no picnic and we have seen the damaging effects of the sun’s rays on family and friends. So by all means, get outdoors and enjoy the weather while you can. A few extra precautions will help you to enjoy all that spring and summer has to offer.